Very little is known about the two sonatas which appear here in their original keys. They were placed in the library of the Music School in Oxford at the end of the seventeenth century in a form convenient for playing (i.e. unbound). The library was catalogued by Hake between 1850 and 1855 and the sonatas were eventually bound in 1855 with other instrumental and vocal manuscripts of the same period, some of which are dated 1698.
The sonatas are both inscribed on the title page Sonata à Violone Solo. Col Basso per l'Organo, o Cembalo. A third sonata bears the words Sonata à Violino e Violoncino … di Giovannino del Violone. Giovannino (=Little, or Young John) must have been a performer, and although the third sonata has been copied by a different hand, it is conceivable that Giovannino is a connecting link between the three. He cannot, however, be assumed to be their author.
The Violone was a six-stringed instrument with frets, and there is evidence to suggest that the Contrabasso of the same period was similar but probably a little larger; the Violoncino (=Little Violone, or Violoncello) must have been smaller. The word 'Violone' was also used as a collective term embracing all members of the Viol family, which means that the sonatas might well have been written for a tenor or a bass Viol, and not necessarily a Violone as such. Indeed, when they are played on a Violone, or Double Bass the continuo bass line must be played at a lower pitch than the solo instrument, to prevent inversion of the intended harmony. (The use of a Violone/Double Bass continuo or 16' organ tone would overcome this problem.)
The editor has added no ornaments or embellishments to the solo part as it appears in the original manuscript. It is open to debate whether a Violone player, owing to the very nature of his instrument, would have used any but the simplest melodic decorations. Nevertheless, the performer should acquaint himself thoroughly with those seventeenth century traditions that are known today (see Dart, Dolmetsch and Donnington).
Finally the editor would like to thank the late Francis Baines, who first brought the sonatas to light – also Colin Tilney and Margaret Crum for their help and advice.
[The manuscripts are in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Ref: MS Mus.Sch. D.228. More recent research than mine in 1969 suggests that the works may be by Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier, who used the name Giovanni del Violone. Lulier was a virtuoso cellist of Spanish descent, who spent his entire career in Rome and was still performing there in 1699. It is believed that none of his instrumental works survive, but many cantatas, arias and vocal duets, together with oratorios written in collaboration with Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti and others, are to be found in various libraries in Italy. If the present works are indeed by Lulier, then they would have been written for a rather large cello and not for an instrument of 16' pitch such as the Violone or Double Bass.]
Rodney Slatford, April 1970, rev. 2004
Chosen by AMEB (Australian Syllabus).