Saturday, 1 July 2017


“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts—such is the duty of the artist.” - Robert Schumann 

Marco Uccellini (Forlimpopoli, Forlì 1603 or 1610 - 10 December 1680) was an Italian Baroque violinist and composer. His output of mainly secular music for solo violin is considered to have been important in the rise of independent instrumental classical music, and in the development of violin technique.

Uccellini’s life, like many composers of the 17th century, is not well documented; however, enough information exists to create a rough biography. He was born into a reasonably affluent noble family in Forlimpopoli, Forlì, who had owned land in the area since the early 14th century. Many members of the family held ecclesiastical posts locally, including Uccellini’s father Pietro Maria, and it is likely that Marco went to study at the seminary in Assisi sometime in the early 1630s. Evidence from his will suggests that Uccellini began his formal musical education there, possibly under another notable early violinist-composer, Giovanni Battista Buonamente, who was then serving as maestro di cappella at the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi.

He became musical director (Capo degl’instrumentisti) of the Este court in Modena from 1641 to 1662, and was the musical director (maestro di cappella) of the Modena cathedral from 1647 to 1665. Afterwards he served as maestro di cappella at the Farnese court in Parma until his death. At the Farnese court, he composed operas and ballets, but none of this music survives; thus, he is mainly known today for his instrumental music.

Uccellini was one of a line of distinguished Italian violinist-composers in the first half of the 17th century. His sonatas for violin and continuo contributed to the development of an idiomatic style of writing for the violin (including virtuosic runs, leaps, and forays into high positions), expanding the instrument’s technical capabilities and expressive range. Like other 17th-century Italian sonatas, Uccellini’s consist of short contrasting sections (frequently dances) that flow one into another. Uccellini’s innovations influenced a generation of Austro-German violinist-composers including Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Heinrich Ignaz Biber, and Johann Jakob Walther.

It can be assumed from the highly idiomatic and virtuosic nature of Uccellini’s violin compositions that he was himself a brilliant violinist. Besides introducing several technical innovations necessary to play his difficult music, he was an early populariser of music written explicitly for solo violin and continuo; at the time, it was common for composers not to specify instruments in their works, preferring to write parts adaptable between instruments of similar ranges.

Here are Lucy van Dael (Violin); Bob van Asoeren (Harpsichord, organ); Toyohiko Satoh (Liuto-attiorbato); and Jaap ter Linden (Violoncello) playing Uccellini’s playing some of Uccellini’s violin sonatas:
1. Sonate Op 4: Sonata quarta detta ‘La Hortensia virtuosa’ 0:00
2. Sonate Op 4: Sonata seconda detta ‘La Luciminia contenta’
3. Sonate Op 4: Sonata overo Toccata quinta detta ‘La Laura rilucente’
4. Sonate Op 4: Sonata nova
5. Sonate Op 5: Sonata quarta 16:36
6. Sonate, Op 5: Sonata terza
7. Sonate, Op 5: Sonata ottava
8. Sonate, Op. 5: Sonata quinta
9. Sonate, Op 5: Sonata decimal
10. Sonate, Op 5: Sonata prima
11. Sonata Op. 9/1: Sinfonia prima 47:22
12. Compositioni armoniche, Op. 7: Sonata prima 50:34
13. Compositioni armoniche, Op. 7: Sonata seconda

The illustration above is Bartolomeo Bettera’s “Musical Instruments and Sculpture in a Classical Interior” 17th century.

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