In an age of burgeoning sheet music production, Vivaldi published two sets of sonatas for the violin but nothing for the cello. This shouldn’t be taken as a sign of his disregard for the instrument, however. There is much music for solo cello – single and multiple-instrument concertos, obbligato roles, idiomatic spot-lit bassline moments, etc., and his cello writing is almost always infused with warmth and generosity. That there are no printed sources probably comes down to market forces. The cello was still a new voice in the solo instrumental world of the early 18th century, and was to remain a fairly specialist one until the 1730s, when it experienced an explosion in popularity in France, rapidly replacing the viola da gamba there as the bass instrument of choice.
Rather than being intended for the public, Vivaldi’s cello sonatas were probably written for pupils or friends, or possibly commissioned by wealthy cellists. Count Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schonborn, an extraordinarily enthusiastic amateur cellist had two of Vivaldi’s sonatas and several concerti in his extensive and heavily cello-centric library. The sonatas share many characteristics of form with the ‘Manchester’ violin sonatas of the mid-1720s, suggesting a similar date. The only printed appearance of the sonatas in Vivaldi’s lifetime was in an unauthorized and edited set of six from the Parisian publisher Le Clerc a year before the composer’s death.
B-flat major is a particularly dulcet-toned key for the cello. Vivaldi wrote three of his nine sonatas in it, clearly relishing the relaxed sonority. The first movement of this sonata is lucid and gently inventive, the second movement full of quirky asymmetrical phrases with changing flavors of passage work, the third a poised and balletic largo, and the last a jocular and rustic dance. The cello’s voice here is an elegant, avuncular, and rich-toned one.
© Alison McGillivray