About this Recording
8.572010 - Viola Recital: Stumm, Jennifer - ROLLA, A.: Viola Sonatas / Duetto / Esercizi (Capricci)

Alessandro Rolla (1757–1841)
Viola Sonatas • Esercizi • Duetto, Op. 18, No. 1


The Italian violinist, violist, conductor and composer Alessandro Rolla may today be relatively unknown. In his own time he had a considerable reputation and his contributions to viola repertoire still retain a place of some importance among original compositions for that instrument. Rolla was born in Pavia in 1757 and studied in Milan, with counterpoint lessons from the cathedral organist, Giovanni Andrea Fioroni. He played his First Viola Concerto in the Basilica of St Ambrose at the age of fifteen, perhaps under the direction of Sammartini, and in 1782 joined the court musical establishment in Parma as principal viola-player, an appointment that allowed him time for concert tours. In 1792 he was appointed concertmaster, consolidating his reputation as a violinist and as the leading viola-player of his time. The period in Parma also brought a number of compositions. In 1795 the young Paganini came to him for lessons. In a later account Paganini told how he arrived at Rolla’s house to find the latter ill in bed. Ushered by Rolla’s wife into an adjoining room, the boy took up a violin and sight-read a concerto by Rolla, which he found there, to the alleged amazement of Rolla, who was surprised to find a boy sight-reading his concerto and told him that he could teach him nothing. Paganini, as this anecdote implies, claimed never to have studied with Rolla, although it seems very probable that he did so during the months he spent in Parma that year, taking composition lessons with Paër’s former teacher Ghiretti, then with Paër himself. Paganini, of course, did much to promote his own legend, so that his stories about himself often lack credibility; nevertheless he seems to have remained on friendly enough terms with Rolla, with whom he appeared in later years in concert.

In 1802 Rolla took up the position of conductor at La Scala in Milan, where he was able, over the next 31 years, to direct performances of operas by Mozart, Paër, Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. He was of assistance to Spohr and to Paganini for their first performances at La Scala and seems to have recognised the promise of the young Verdi, whose application to the Milan Conservatory was at first rejected by his colleagues. Rolla held the position of solo violinist and conductor of the court orchestra of the Viceroy Eugène de Beauharnais and from 1808 to 1835 was professor of the violin and viola at the newly established Conservatory. His work with his orchestra at La Scala and the proficiency of his string-players was of particular benefit to Bellini and Donizetti, and he played an important part in the dissemination in Italy of music by Beethoven both in private and public orchestral performances and in chamber music.

Rolla directed performances of parts of Beethoven’s ballet The Creatures of Prometheus at La Scala, and wrote the music for some eleven ballets, scores which are now lost. His works for orchestra include twelve symphonies and a number of compositions for violin or viola and orchestra. His chamber music includes works for various numbers of instruments, with six nonets, six octets, 33 sextets and 29 quartets, and a number of compositions for violin and for viola. As a composer and seemingly as a teacher he was conservative in his tastes and methods. Born a year after Mozart, he survived into a new age of music, the world of Liszt and Chopin, of Berlioz and Schumann.

The Sonata in E flat major for viola and bass, Op. 3, No. 1, one of several sonatas in this key, first published in about 1804 and here with the bass realised for piano by Franco Tamponi, follows classical patterns in its first movement. This is followed by a slow movement that reflects the Italian gift for melody. The sonata ends with a Rondo that finds a place for technical display in its contrasting episodes.

The Tre Duetti per Violino e Viola, composti e dedicati agli Amatori, da Alessandro Rolla, Op. 18 (Three Duets for Violin and Viola, composed and dedicated to Music- Lovers by Alessandro Rolla) were published about 1835 as the last of some 78 Duos for violin and viola, of which 56 were published. The first of the set, in A major, starts with a Romanza in which the main melody is presented by the viola, followed by some interplay between the two instruments before the return of the theme. In the very brief Allegretto brillante the viola again takes the lead as it does in stating the theme of the following D major movement. The first of the three variations allows the violin decorative semiquaver figuration, and the rapid semiquavers are taken up by the viola in the second variation. The third variation has the violin with triplet semiquaver figuration leading to a conclusion in which the viola provides an initial accompaniment of broken arpeggios, then passed to the violin. The Allegretto brillante returns to form the recurrent theme of the final rondo, marked Allegro bizzarro. The thematic material is here shared more equably between the two instruments in a movement that includes a minor key episode before the final return of the main theme.

The Sonata in D minor, Op. 3, No. 2, included in the publication of about 1804, has only two movements. Its first movement has a minor key first subject with a second subject in the relative major. There is a short development before the due return of the main theme in recapitulation. The other movement of the sonata is in the form of a Rondo, its contrasting episodes, including an Andantino in D major, suggesting operatic elements.

Rolla’s Esercizi were published posthumously and are among many studies that he wrote for his students. Esercizio No. 1, in F major and marked Andante by the editor of the published work, opens with cantabile doublestopping leading to a rapider middle section, after which the Andante resumes. Esercizio No. 2, in E flat major and marked Andante, has a similar cantabile opening, returning after a more elaborate central section in A flat major. The third Esercizio, published with the descriptive title Esercizio e Arpeggio and in G major, starts with an Allegro introduction, followed by an Andantino passage of double-stopping, before divided arpeggios, modulating to E flat major. The study ends with a return to the original key and the double-stopping of the Andantino.

Rolla’s Sonata in C major for viola and bass was not published in his lifetime but is thought to have been written in the second decade of the nineteenth century, during the first years of Rolla’s residence in Milan. The modern edition by Luigi Alberto Bianchi has the bass in a piano realisation by Franco Tamponi. The first movement is in established classical form, its first subject followed by a triplet transition and a secondary theme, leading to a more elaborate closing section. The central development is followed by the return of the first theme and a final recapitulation. The A flat major Romance, marked Andante, suggests the idiom of contemporary opera in melody and ornamentation. The sonata ends with a Rondo, its rapid principal theme heard at the outset and returning to frame contrasting episodes.

Keith Anderson

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