PLAYING HÄNDEL’S GAMBA SONATAS ON A FIVE STRING CELLO

Playing the 12 ‘Kassel’ Sonatas from G.F. Händel on a Stradivari-Size Five String Cello

An edition containing all twelve sonatas came out in the year 2015 by the German company Güntersberg / Heidelberg. The sonatas are documented by three sources (Kassel, London , Berlin); the Güntersberg edition is based on the Kassel source from the 18th Century.
   The Kassel copy is in a very good condition but is lacking the name of the composer. In 2015 the Händel researcher Graham Pont came after handwriting comparisons to the conclusion that the Kassel copy was most likely produced by William Babell who was in the years 1711-1723 Händel’s main copyist. Pont is convinced that the twelve sonatas are the work of the young Händel (1685-1759), composed before the year 1710.
   It probably is not necessary to discuss all of the twelve sonatas in detail because they all have very similar structures and features: They have four movements with titles like Siciliana, Sarabande, Allegro, Adagio, Menuet, Affetuoso, Gigue and have an average length of about six minutes (repeats included). All sonatas except the Sonata 10 were in the Güntersberg edition transposed into keys that can be easily performed on a bass gamba. Those keys can also be comfortably realized on a five string cello. The Kassel manuscript has only a continuo bass line accompaniment without numerals. The Güntersberg edition provides a complete keyboard accompaniment.

Tonal range of the Kassel sonatas:

Number 1 D-dur      Highest position on E-string: 4th position     Lowest string used: d
Number 2 a-moll     Highest position on E-string: 2nd position    Lowest string used: d
Number 3 D-dur     Highest position on E-string: 3rd position     Lowest string used: d
Number 4 G-dur     Highest position on E-string: 2nd position     Lowest string used: d
Number 5 D-dur     Highest position on E-string: 4th position     Lowest string used: a
Number 6 d-moll    Highest position on E-string: 6th position     Lowest string used: d
Number 7 D-dur     Highest position on E-string: 3rd position     Lowest string used: d
Number 8 G-dur     Highest position on E-string: 1st position      Lowest string used: G
Number 9 D-dur     Highest position on E-string: 3rd position     Lowest string used: d
Number 10 F-dur   Highest position on E-string: 4th position      Lowest string used: d
Number 11 D-dur   Highest position on E-string: 4th position     Lowest string used: d
Number 12 D-dur   Highest position on E-string: 2nd position    Lowest string used: d

CONCLUSIONS CONCERNING HÄNDEL’S GAMBA SONATAS

As the list above illustrates the twelve sonatas have a tonal range that fits perfectly the tonal range of a five string cello. There are no high positions and no difficult string changes which means they can be played without major trouble quite quickly. All of them are rather charming and can be considered a precious enrichment to the repertoire of a five string cellist.

(If you are interested in copies of the sonatas transferred to the cello tenor clef please contact us. For a list of pieces for which the use of a five string cello could be appropriate  see Appendix D.)

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