Trinity College of Music is now firmly installed in the magnificence
of the King Charles Court of the Old Royal Naval College, one of London's
finest architectural complexes (Wren, Hawksmoor & Vanbrugh) overlooking
the Thames and opposite the cluster of skyscrapers now beginning to
surround Canary Wharf in the Isle of Dogs. There are many daytime events
open to the public at all the London music colleges, with regular Tuesday
lunchtime music at Trinity. This lecture recital, in the elegantly restored
and acoustically excellent Peacock Room, was followed by a lunch reception
for all who came to hear Agnes Kory share with us her research
on the unaccountable eclipse of the ‘tenor violin', an instrument rather
like a small cello, tuned midway between the viola and the standard
cello and held between the knees.
Kory at Trinity College of Music
(photo by Catherine Wyatt)
Agnes Kory believes that this instrument played a more
significant role than is generally realised today and that our contemporary
'authentic' baroque movement falls short of its claims to authenticity
unless it is prepared to provide for the permanent revival of the tenor
violin. The nomenclature of string instruments is a minefield. She contends
that the small bass violin, in effect the tenor violin, lived on well
into the eighteenth century under a thoroughly confusing multitude of
names, and that by the late seventeenth/early eighteenth century it
was generally referred to as the violoncello.
J. S. Bach composed for violoncello, violoncello piccolo
and for viola da gamba. His violoncello suites remain in the lower registers
(except in the sixth suite where he composes for a five-string instrument);
while for the virtuoso obbligato cello parts of the cantatas Bach uses
the five-string violoncello piccolo or, as she argues, the tenor violin.
Arnold Dolmetsch found it incomprehensible that the tenor violin ever
came to be discarded - ' The instrumental tenor part, like the tenor
part in the vocal quartet, is indispensable in music...the tenor violin,
being tuned an octave below the treble, would quite naturally double
the melody of the violins in octaves'. Problems of higher registers
were solved by the tenor violin (smaller cellos designed to facilitate
more demanding solos) until such times when the violoncello technique
had become more developed.
After the publication of Ms Kory's Galpin Society Journal
paper ‘A Wider Role for the Tenor Violin?’ (1994), she purchased her
small cello, which was demonstrated in her recital (Stoss, early 19th
century, restored by Dietrich Kessler, who authenticated it as a tenor
violin). The G-f# compass of Torelli's Sonata for violoncello and continuo
is within the first position of the tenor violin and its technical demands
practically exclude the large bass violin. Marcello's well known sonatas
for violoncello and basso continuo are extremely difficult on the violoncello,
their compass (G-g', G-g', A-a', G-a flat’ G-a', G-g') suggesting the
first position on the tenor violin, upon which they are far easier.
In conclusion, Ms. Kory's proposition is that the cello-type tenor violin
was regarded by many composers as the cello; therefore our contemporary
'authentic Baroque' movement is not fully authentic without reviving
the tenor violin as an ensemble/solo instrument.
Her presentation was followed by performances of four
'exercises' by Caldara, the Torelli sonata and one of Marcello's, seated
on a low chair with the small instrument held between her knees, her
tenor violin having a distinctive, rich tone, very even in quality from
string to string. She was accompanied sympathetically by Bridget Cunningham
on harpsichord and finally they were joined by Ildiko Allen for a Bach
aria with obbligato tenor violin. A delightful little concert to follow
this illuminating and convincing presentation.
An updated version of Ms Kory's Galpin Society paper
is due to appear this year in "Raccolta di studi musicali, Ed.
R. Carnevale, Nuove Edizioni Neopoiesis, 2002". Agnes Kory is Director
of the Bela Bartok Centre of Musicianship
and can be contacted by anyone interested at email@example.com
or on 020 7435 3685.
timely release of virtuoso violoncello sonatas by Barrière (1707-47)
(Alpha 015 - Independent Distributors
) has one sonata played by Bruno
Cocset on the 'ténor de violoncelle' and another on 'basse
de violon'. It can be warmly recommended and that fairly new label has
some impressive releases of early and baroque music.
Peter Grahame Woolf