Early Music Performer
Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli
Twelve 'Sonate da camera' for violin and continuo
2 vols., ed. Michael Talbot
(Edition HH: Launton, 2011)
With one or two exceptions, migrants and exiles have not fared well in our received narrative of musical history. This is partly because until relatively recently musicologists tended to have a nationalistic agenda, seeing music as part of their nation's artistic heritage and often using it to assert cultural superiority over other countries-witness the nineteenth-century competition between Germans and Austrians to find the person who had supposedly 'invented' the Classical symphony. Migrants did not generally fit in to this agenda (Handel being the exception that proves the rule), particularly those who had left their native land at an early age to settle permanently in another country, as Carbonelli seems to have done. He came to England around 1720, married an English girl, and worked in London for the rest of his life as a virtuoso violinist, eventually becoming a successful wine merchant as well as a musician. Like most of the Italian composers who flocked to England in the eighteenth century, attracted by its extraordinary wealth and its relatively egalitarian and peaceful society, Carbonelli has been largely ignored by Italian and English scholars alike-until now.
In Carbonelli's case there are several other factors that have conspired to ensure his neglect. He is known to have written concertos, sinfonias and songs, though the only music by him that seems to have survived is the present set of twelve Sonate da camera, published in 1729, which has given the mistaken impression that he was an unimportant, limited composer. Also, the contemporaries of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi have suffered from the 'great men' conception of musical history, with its assumption that their least important works are somehow intrinsically more important and worth performing than the finest works of their contemporaries. This is all changing rapidly, thanks in part to the increasing availability of facsimiles of original sources and the willingness of recording companies to explore new repertory, often before modern editions are published.
Carbonelli's published collection is a case in point. A facsimile was published by King's Music in the 1980s, presumably inspiring the fine 2003 recording of five of the sonatas by Hélène Schmitt on Alpha 046. Portions of her CD can be heard on YouTube, and another facsimile, made from the copy in the Utile Dulci collection at the Musik- und theaterbiblioteket in Stockholm, is now freely available online
Incidentally, this Stockholm copy shows that the collection exists in two states. Talbot, who used the British Library copy, describes it as 'privately printed' and mentions a newspaper advertisement showing that it was sold by John Walsh. However, he does not mention that the Stockholm copy is an example of an issue that has the statement 'Sold by JOHN WALSH at the Harp and Hoboy in Catherine Street in the Strand' added rather crudely at the bottom of the ornate title-page, followed by an advertisement for Walsh's publications of Handel. This is a rare omission from Talbot's extremely full and illuminating introduction, which is a model of its kind, telling the prospective performer everything s/he needs to know about the composer, the collection, and the musical style of the sonatas, as well as discussing relevant issues of performance practice. Talbot makes out a good case for Carbonelli's sonatas in the introduction, rightly praising their seriousness and artistic ambition, their 'stylistic richness' (drawing on Valentini, Albinoni and Vivaldi as well as Corelli, the main model), and their 'command of musical form, with logical development and skilful combination of memorable musical ideas'. Playing through them I was struck by the balance struck between the considerable technical demands of the solo part and the rich harmonic implications of the carefully figured continuo part. Even prominent early eighteenth-century composers sometimes found it difficult to write convincingly in only two parts, but it is a test that Carbonelli passes with flying colours.
It is good to report that the edition is worthy of the music. It is clearly and elegantly printed, with the continuo figures included in the bass part (allowing performances in which the cellist replaces the keyboard by adding chords), and with a sturdy ring-bound score that sits flat on a music desk. My only reservation is that editorial slurs have been rendered by dotted lines rather than the slashed slurs used in most British scholarly editions-a more elegant symbol, in my opinion. Talbot provides a simple and generally well conceived continuo realisation, though he mentions that Italian keyboard players at the time might have played in a more elaborate style. He refers to a sample realisation by Giorgio Antoniotto, but he could also have mentioned the written-out realisations for the whole of Corelli's op. 5 by Antonio Tonelli (1686-1765) (modern edition: https://petrucci.mus.auth.gr/imglnks/usimg/9/9c/IMSLP52777-PMLP28348-Opus_5__Tonelli_BC_.pdf). They often have full chords in both hands and double fugal entries and other features of the solo part -which Talbot avoids doing. All in all, this is a fine edition of fine music. I hope that it will lead to more performances and recordings, and will encourage Talbot to explore more of the music by Italians in England. Perhaps he could give us an edition of the orchestral arrangement he mentions of Carbonelli's Sonata no. 10, made by William Hayes, Professor of Music at Oxford.
We are grateful to the editor of Early Music Performer for permission to reproduce this review