Drei Sonaten für drei Violinen


Abbé António da Costa (1714-1780?) was a Portuguese musician who, born in the city of Porto, left the country around 1749 for Rome, from where he moved to Vienna, where he is thought to have died around 1780. Misantrope, he despised the positions offered to him, living most of his life in poverty. His intelligence and idiosincratic behaviour attracted the attention of the high nobility, in whose salons he sometimes played his compositions for violin or guitar. Charles Burney, who in 1772 met him at a musical party at Lord Stormont's house, found “his musical opinions as singular as his character”. In his travel diary, Burney also noted that in Costa's compositions, “melody is less attended to than harmony and uncommon modulation; and that the time is always difficult to make out, from the great number of ligatures and fractions (…)”.

This stylistic analysis matches these Drei Sonaten für drei Violinen, perhaps the earliest works by António da Costa found so far. (For more, please see Ciacchi & Dellaborra, 2020.) The manuscript score, archived in the Austrian National Library, in Vienna, has the following inscription on fol.7: “Canoni dell’ Abate Portoghese”.

These trios most probably date from 1752, as they seem to be those referred to in a letter, dated February 28, 1752, that António da Costa sent from Sant'Antonio dei Portoghesi, in Rome, to amateur friends in Porto: “(…) here are two [trios] to join the others and make half a dozen” (“ahi vão dous para ajustar com os outros a meia duzia”). The two trios sent must therefore be nrs. V and VI below, meaning that nr. IV had already reached Porto. He also mentions that he forgot to copy the bass part of the Allegro of the first trio (“Esqueci-me de copiar o último Allegro no basso do primeiro trio”) - that is, nr. V - which could be found at the end of the manuscript score sent to Porto.

Intended as they were for amateur violinists, these works are far from virtuosistic. But they clearly show the originality of the abbé's style, full of modulations, chromaticisms, and the “ligatures and fractions” that Burney found so intriguing and tracing “a new road” with desdain from following “the steps of others”. The use of ties and spicatto notes also matches with the fragment of a piece for the guitar that Burney heard Costa playing in the same party (4-9-1772), which he recorded from memory in his travel book (page 290):

V: 1 clef=treble
%%MIDI program 1 40
%%staves  1  
[V: 1]	%----- edit between the lines
   [Q:"Andante"] (GAB)| (Adc)z2 (GBA) | GEF z2 Acf | .B(ag) .A(gf) (GBd) | {F}E2F z2 GAB | Adc "_&c."  X 

The epithet “Canoni dell’ Abate Portoghese” refers to the imitative style of most of these pieces. Costa refers in his letter to two “fugues” that come out beautiful if played in tune and all parts well in time (“(…) essas duas fugas (…) ajustem-nas bem afinadinhas, limpas, e muito a tempo todas as partes, e verão que cousa sae tão bonita”). Although not fugues in the strict sense of the time, these are probably the “Andantino cantabile” and the “Allegro” of nr. V.

Burney (page 292) mentions a duet for two violins by Abbé Costa which was so difficult “both in time and style” that couldn’t be properly played by violinist M. Startzel and himself after many trials, in the same party, after dinner. (During dinner, Burney, Gluck and Costa had an interesting conversation - “we all talked more than we eat”).

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[S1] Trio IV (Posato)
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[S2] Trio IV (Allegro assai)
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[S3] Trio IV (Adagio)
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[S4] Trio V (Andantino cantabile)
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[S5] Trio V (Allegro)
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[S6] Trio V (Posato)
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[S7] Trio VI (Largo)
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[P2] Violino II.do
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[P3] Violino III.zo
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costa/index.txt · Last modified: 2024/05/26 09:32 by jno
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