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Luigi GATTI (1740-1817)
Six Sonatas for Violin & Viola (c. 1783)
Sonata No.1, in B Flat Major [12:57]
Sonata No.2, in D Major [14:41]
Sonata No.3, in A Major [13:15]
Sonata No.4, in F Major [11:48]
Sonata No.5, in E Flat Major [17:10]
Sonata No.6, in C Major [15:32]
Paolo Ghidoni (violin), Alfredo Zamara (viola)
rec. 2009, Museo Civico ‘Ala Ponzone’, Cremona, Italy
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94145 [41:34 + 45:06]

Luigi Gatti may not have been entirely forgotten, but he certainly belongs in that large group of composers who have remained more or less “unregistered in vulgar fame”, as Shakespeare puts it in Antony and Cleopatra.

Luigi Gatti was born in Lazise, on the eastern shore of Lake Garda, his father Francesco having been appointed organist at the church of SS. Zenone e Martino in Lazise in 1739, one year before the birth of Luigi. (The church in the town which now bears the same name was built in the middle years of the nineteenth century, replacing the one that Francesco and his son would have known).

While Luigi was still a boy, the family moved to Mantua. No doubt Luigi received his initial musical education from his father. Later he took minor orders, without having any kind of parish responsibilities. According to the biographical notes provided here by Professor Alessandro Lattanzi of the University of Bern (a major authority on Gatti), “in 1768 [Gatti] entered the Cappella di S. Barbara as second tenor, where he was to rise to vice-maestro in 1779. He was also secondo maestro of the so-called Colonia Filarmonica, which was annexed to the Royal Academy of Mantua and, on the death of Giambattista Pattoni in 1773, he became primo maestro di cappella”. Meanwhile he was also becoming active in the theatre. His opera Allessandro nell’India (using a libretto by Metastasio which had previously been set by Leonardo Vinci in 1729) was a considerable success when performed in Mantua in 1768.Gatti was coming to play a larger role in the cultural life of Mantua. In the following year (1769) he was commissioned to write a cantata, Virgilio e Mantua (Virgil, according to tradition, was born in a village close to Mantua) for the inauguration of the Teatro Scientifico, a private theatre associated with the Reale Accademia of Mantua.

A year later, in January 1770 Gatti met Mozart père et fils at the very handsome church of S. Barbara (built between 1562 and 1572 by the Mantuan architect Giovanni Battista Bertani), as they visited Mantua during the young Mozart’s first Italian journey; Wolfgang gave a concert at the Accademia Filarmonica, and Gatti took the opportunity to copy out the score of one of Mozart’s early masses. (Gatti seems to have been rather good at cultivating relationships with the important and the famous). What a composer needed above all, of course, was patrons. In 1777 another visitor to Mantua offered a significant opportunity. Anton Theodore Colleredo von Waldsee-Mels was the second cousin of Hieronymus Joseph Franz de Paula Graf Colloredo von Wallsee und Melz who, in 1772 had become Prince Archbishop of Salzburg. Anton-Theodore was also the younger brother of Count Carlo Ottavio, who was president of that Reale Accademia of Mantua of which Gatti was by now primo maestro di cappella. So, when soon after being created Archbishop of Olomouc in 1777, Anton-Theodore should come to visit his family in Mantua (his mother was Eleanora Gonzaga) it was perhaps to be expected that the Reale Accademia should do something to mark his visit. This took the form of a cantata in his honour, composed and performed (at his own expense) by Gatti; Anton-Theodore evidently remembered Gatti favourably since, as Alessandro Lattanzi has demonstrated (in his essay ‘Luigi Gatti and Anton Theodore Colleredo’, in Keine Chance für Mozart, ed. E. Neumayr et al, 2013) it was surely he who recommended Gatti for the post of Hofkapellmeister in Salzburg, which post he took up in February 1783 at the invitation of Anton-Theodore’s second cousin – Hieronymus Colleredo, Prince Archbishop of Salzburg. Leopold Mozart had hoped (perhaps expected?) to be given this post himself and he was, to put it mildly, less than pleased that it should have gone to Gatti, of whose abilities he had a low opinion (though some extent this may have been the result of jealousy).

Wolfgang Mozart wrote of “that ass Gatti” in an October 1782 letter to his father, but in February 1783, writing again to Leopold he asked his father to seek Gatti’s help in finding a suitable Italian libretto for a projected opera buffa, describing Gatti, this time, as “always willing” to help. Relations between Gatti and the Mozarts cannot have been too bad, for in April 1784, in another letter to his father, Wolfgang requested Leopold to organize the making of a copy of “Gatti’s Rondo and duet” to be sent to Vienna for Baron de Beine de Malchamp. Indeed, it is striking that after Wolfgang’s death in 1791, Gatti was active in obtaining copies of some of Mozart’s works from the archives of the cathedral for his sister Nannerl, which she might sell to the publisher Breitkopf in Leipzig. Cliff Eisen, in the entry on Gatti in the 2006 Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia suggests (p.189) that he did so because “he recognized this as an opportunity for his personal profit and began to deal with Breitkopf directly”. Mozart scholars seem sometimes imbued with Leopold’s suspicious dislike of Gatti and their animus towards him may be one reason why his work was so universally neglected until quite recently.

Musically speaking, Gatti, while no match for the younger Mozart was not a mere “ass”. He was an assured and competent composer, who clearly loved the work of both Haydn and Mozart. A few years ago, I reviewed on this site a previous album of Gatti’s music, also issued by Brilliant Classics. I wrote there that I the music suggested that Gatti was not “a composer of any great originality; but it certainly suggested that Gatti had an assimilative and articulate musical mind, high technical competence and a genuine gift for lyricism”. If anything, my estimate of Gatti’s abilities has grown on listening to these new CDs. Perhaps his virtues are more suited to this more intimate kind of music, chamber duets rather than the concertos on the previous disc. In addition, all these ‘sonatas’ were probably composed after his arrival in Salzburg, while the concertos on the previous disc include at least one written while Gatti was still in Mantua, which would help to explain the greater feeling of maturity here. Archbishop Colleredo was himself a violinist – Charles Burney calls him “a good performer on the violin” – and Gatti’s sonatas may have been composed for his use, as were a similar set by Michael Haydn. Lattanzi quotes from a biography of Colloredo by C. Gärtner which tells us that the Prince-Archbishop sometimes mingled “with the court musicians and [played] the violin with them” before dinner.

Gatti’s sonatas, Lattanzi suggests were probably written at “the very beginning of Gatti‘s stay in Salzburg”. (It was a long stay, since Gatti held his post until his death in March 1817). Relatively few of Gatti’s works were published during his own lifetime – these particular sonatas survive in an autograph manuscript (Sonate à Violino e Viola) at the Biblioteca Muicale Greggiati in Ostiglia (south east of Mantua) and in a set of parts (as Sonate per Violin solo con accompagnamento di Viola) in Salzburg.

The title given to the sonatas in the copy in Salzburg, gets it about right – the Violin (though the part is far from virtuosic) is the primary instrument here, with the viola taking a secondary role. As Lattanzi observes in the CD booklet, “Within this repertoire, the sonatas by Gatti and Haydn are both in strong contrast to those of Mozart. However skilful, the former’s violin technique is not as challenging as the Sonata in B flat, K 424, and the viola part shows a sophisticated but non-thematic accompaniment. Unlike the splendid isolation of Mozart’s duos, the six sonatas recorded here characteristically reflect the skills and taste of archbishop Colloredo, thereby depicting one of the most intimate scenes of musical life at the Salzburg court”.

To make the same point in more general terms, the great artist transcends (or further develops) the “skills and taste” of his / her own time. The minor artist is content to work within the prevailing parameters of his time and place (and is perhaps only capable of doing that). It will surely, come as no surprise to anyone to learn that Luigi Gatti is a lesser composer than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But that does not mean that he is unworthy of attention. These sonatas are marked by melodic fluency and some fine lyrical passages, the product, perhaps, of his early experience as a composer of opera. They possess a polished charm. Gatti is, in the best sense a minor composer – which is not, of course, the same thing as a ‘bad’ composer. Like the interesting minor artist in any media – poet, painter or composer – Gatti has assimilated from greater figures (in his case most obviously Haydn and Mozart) those things that he can use, and has a clear enough sense of his own limitations not to attempt that which is beyond him.

All of them in three movements, these six sonatas prove to be thoroughly enjoyable listening, even if Gatti’s music cannot rival either Haydn’s for wit and inventiveness or Mozart’s for strength and abundance, let alone its sublime humanity. If you have the opportunity try to hear the fourth sonata, in D Major, the first movement of which opens with a Cantabile section of quite distinctive beauty, the rich colour of the viola’s accompaniment being used especially well; the central movement (Minuetto) is a largely restrained affair, with its chief emphasis being on courtly dignity, while the closing movement (marked ‘Allegro assai’) provides an upbeat finale. This sonata may not be great music, but it makes no pretension of being so, while it is entirely successful in doing what it does set out to do – creating music which is interesting and rewarding for those who perform it and enjoyable for those who hear it performed. All six of the sonatas are well played, with an appropriate sense of scale and style, by violinist Paolo Ghidoni (playing the Stradivari ‘Vesuvius’ of 1727) and violist Alfredo Zamara (his instrument being ‘La Stauffer’ by Amati (1615). The violin is used courtesy of the Minicpality of Cremona and the viola courtesy of the Stauffer Foundation of Cremona. Both instruments are tonally beautiful, as can be heard in the nicely balanced recording by Maurizio Carretin.

The Music Conservatory in Mantua has, in recent years, led an ambitious project to locate Gatti’s manuscripts, and the second part of a two-volume thematic catalogue of Gatti’s work will soon be published (volume I has already appeared). The Conservatory has already done much to rescue Gatti’s work from the shadows into which his ‘not being Mozart’ has largely thrown it. Recordings such as this, with which the Conservatory was associated, are one fruit of the extensive research on Gatti undertaken by scholars such as Lattanzi and others. Sensibly they make no exaggerated claims for Gatti’s music, but its gradual re-emergence will, like this present recording, give pleasure to many listeners and fill a gap in knowledge of the music of the Classical era.

Glyn Pursglove



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