I like the challenge of newly discovered repertoire, particularly solo repertoire. I’ve given this piece a couple of tries in performance, but I feel I have not given justice to it. It is an interesting example of polyphonic solo violin music from the time of J.S. Bach.
It also proves that the violin techniques J.S. Bach used were present in other parts of Europe.
I’ve programmed it for a concert in Switzerland later this year, called “The Journey to Bach.”
In comparison to violin music from the 17th century, this piece demands playing in relatively high positions on the A and D strings. The timbre when you play that high on gut strings is dramatically different than on a modern violin. In the 20th century, the given style of playing triple and quadruple stops was to strike only two strings at a time. Violinists, however, should strive for as much variety as possible in playing chords and their use of arpeggiation. In this piece I like to vary the arpeggiation between 16th notes slurred in twos and triplets slurred in threes. It functions as an étude and it’s an example of chordal improvisation on the violin. Listen to other instruments that require specialization in chords—lutes, harpsichords, guitars. I have been influenced a lot in my career by the way harpists, lute players, and guitar players break chords.
“The timbre when you play that high on gut strings is dramatically different than on a modern violin.”
I also seem to have a fascination with tremolo/bariolage effects. I particularly like it with flamenco guitar, and I am always trying to persuade reluctant lutenists to use it. The way that the harmonies drift into each other is just poetic. I love to play it for myself. I find it meditative.
Eighteenth-century musicians were not as bound to the score as we are. They would interpret notation according to the performance practice norms where they were living and working. It’s possible that this piece was taken down by a scribe during a live performance. As such, there are mistakes and inconsistencies.
I have made changes when what was written was unsatisfactory: I changed the bass note in the fifth bar to a B, I cut an extra half bar. I feel strongly that when you first begin to play the piece, you play the notes as written and then if you can’t stand it you change it (especially when it’s a violin piece by a violinist).
Player Monica Huggett is a violinist whose musicianship and expertise in the musical and social history of the Baroque has redefined period performance. She is artistic director of Portland Baroque Orchestra (Oregon), artistic advisor of the Juilliard School’s Historical Performance Program, and artistic director emeritus of the Irish Baroque Orchestra.
Title of Work Being Studied Alla Fantasia
Composer Nicola Matteis, Jr.
Date Composed 1700–20
Name of edition studied Schrank II Collection scores from Die Sächsische Landesbibliothek–Staats und Universitätsbibliothek (SLUB) Dresden. This is available on IMSLP.
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Strings magazine.