Critical Notes Series: Vivaldi's Cello Sonatas

Introducing the new edition of Vivaldi's 9 Cello Sonatas, published by Artistic Score Engraving.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) was a prolific composer, someone many composers, including J.S. Bach, looked up to. Vivaldi composed for practically every instrument available during his lifetime. In this aspect, he passed on the torch to Paul Hindemith. One would be hard-pressed to name many other composers who accomplished this. 

Vivaldi was quite generous with cellists, gifting them no fewer than twenty-five solo concertos[1], ten solo sonatas[2], a concerto for two cellos, three with violin, and many other concertos grosso where the cello plays a concertante role. 


The Sonatas 

In the twentieth century, six of Vivaldi’s cello sonatas gained popularity as pedagogical works. Several twentieth-century composers orchestrated these sonatas to be performed as concertos. Ironically, cellists who played the orchestrated sonatas did not play the original concertos. The famous orchestrators include Vincent D’Indy (complete), Luigi Dallapiccola (complete), Gaspar Cassadó (RV 40), Paul Bazelaire (RV 40), and others. 

A typical, twentieth-century keyboard realization had the style of Romantic-era piano writing, which was thick and rich almost the entire time. This kind of keyboard realization continued into the 1970s with the Ariston edition of the three sonatas (RV 44, 39, 42). However, when the Ricordi edition published the complete edition of Vivaldi’s works, Gian Francesco Malipiero and Fritz Zobeley were much lighter on the realization. 

All nine of Vivaldi’s surviving cello sonatas are in the sonata da camera (chamber sonata) genre, meaning that the sonatas consist of dance movements, although, for the most part, unmarked. While Vivaldi does not use dance titles in most of the cello sonatas, we can surmise which dances he had in mind, comparing the style in this set to his Manchester Sonatas and other sonatas for violin. 

Allemanda: 41, II; 43, II; 40, II; 46, II; 44, II; 39, II; 42, II 
Corrente: 47, II; 41, IV; 45 IV; 46, IV 
Sarabanda: 47, III, 43, III; 44, III; 39, III; 42, III 
Giga: 40, IV; 42, IV 
Gavotta: 47, IV; 43, IV; 45, II; 44, IV, 39, IV 
Siciliana: 40, III 

As with the Manchester Sonatas, each cello sonata could open with a “Preludio” movement. Vivaldi uses an imitative, sonata-da-chiesa (church sonata) style for the third movement of RV 46. The third movements of RV 41 and 45 are not stylized after dances. 

It is noteworthy that three of the nine cello sonatas are in the key of B-flat major (RV 45-47), a key that Vivaldi used for only one cello concerto (RV423), not the most common key for cello music. Two of the sonatas are in A minor (RV 43 and 44), the key he used five times in his cello concertos. The other sonatas are in E-flat major, E minor, F major, and G minor. 

Some of the cello sonatas share thematic material with other works by Vivaldi and Carlo Marino: 

RV 47, II – Violin Sonata in E minor, RV. 17a, Corrente 
RV 41, IV – Violin Sonata in F major, RV 20 (Op. 2, No. 4), Corrente 
RV 41, III – Violin Sonata in C minor, RV 5, I 
RV 45 II – Cello Concerto in A minor, RV 421, II 
RV 40, I – Cello Concerto in C minor, RV 401, I; Violin Concerto in C major, RV 189, II; likely ultimately borrowed from Carlo Marino’s Violin Sonata in A major, Op. 8, No. 6 
RV 40, II – Violin Sonata in C minor, RV 7a, Allemanda 
RV 46, IV – Violin Sonata in D minor, RV 15, Corrente 
RV 44, IV – Concerto for Strings in C minor, RV 120, I 
RV 42, IV – Violin Sonata in E-flat major, RV 756, IV 


Pedagogical value

As stated before, Vivaldi’s cello sonatas have been enjoying a spot in the young cellists’ repertoire for over a hundred years. These works contain similar features to Bach’s Cello Suites: simple forms, attractive melodies, the stylistic variety between the sonatas, challenging string crossings, and range limited to the first four positions with few exceptions.  

Vivaldi mainly used the tenor range of the cello. The cello part in all the sources uses a mix of bass and tenor clef. Vivaldi tended to use tenor clef in passages where the music went above F4. Our edition gives preference to the bass clef in several passages where the tenor clef was originally used. The use of the C string is not as prevalent as in Bach’s Suites. Most of the occurrences of C-string usage are found around cadences. 

I would like to suggest the following order in which to learn Vivaldi’s sonatas. While the opinion of the progression may differ, my recommendation is to view each sonata as a whole work. 

RV 40: II, III, I, IV
RV 41: I, III, IV, III 
RV 43: I, III, II, IV 
RV 42: IV, III, I, II 
RV 47: I, IV, III, II 
RV 45: I, IV, III, II 
RV 44: I, III, II, IV 
RV 46: I, II, III, IV 
RV 39: I, III, IV, II 


The Sources 

Nine solo cello sonatas are currently available in five manuscripts and one printed source. According to Peter Ryom, the eminent cataloger of Vivaldi’s music in the Ryom Verzeichnis (RV), one manuscript source is partly in Vivaldi’s hand. This source includes sonatas RV 47, 44, and 39, and is currently housed at the Biblioteca del Conservatorio S. Pietro a Maiella in Naples under shelf marks 11188 – 11190. The second source is located in Paris at the Bibliothèque Nationale. This source contains a copy of the six sonatas in the order most cellists know them (RV 47, 41, 43, 45, 40, 46) cataloged under Vm7 6310. The third source is housed in Wiesentheid at the Graf von Schönborn’sche Musikbibliothek, containing sonatas RV 46 and 42, catalogued under 782 and 783. The Graf von Schönborn’sche Musikbibliothek also contains sonata RV 44 under the number 532. While it is difficult to identify the year of composition for these works, the Vivaldi scholar Bettina Hoffmann places the composition around the 1720s.[3] 

Ca. 1740, the French firm Le Clerc published Vivaldi’s six sonatas (RV 47, 41, 43, 45, 40, 46), likely without Vivaldi’s blessing. This publication included new figured bass[4], slurs, articulations, and several recomposed passages. Le Clerc may be viewed as a performance edition for the French audience. As recently as 1988, the Grancino Edition used Le Clerc as the main source for their critical edition. Ricordi (ed. Malipiero) used Le Clerc as the main source. Bärenreiter and Wiener Urtext use the manuscript sources rather than Le Clerc, however, they borrow certain aspects of the ca. 1740 printing. 

Our edition does not use Le Clerc as a source, because we do not believe that it includes Vivaldi’s wishes. The order of the sonatas in our edition will follow the common order: RV 47, 41, 43, 45, 40, 46, 44, 39, 42. 


1) Unmarked Critical Edition - The main, unmarked text is based solely on the following sources: Naples for RV 47, 44, 39, Paris for RV 41, 43, 45, 40, 46, and Wiesentheid for RV42. Changes to the text have been footnoted. The repeat signs at the end of the non-binary movements have been removed.

2) Marked Critical edition with Keyboard - Fingerings, bowings, and the keyboard realization of the basso continuo have been prepared by the editor. 

3) Unmarked Secondary Source Edition (RV 47, 46, 44 only) - scores based solely on secondary sources: Paris for RV 47 and Wiesentheid for RV 46 and 44.

4) Bundled Marked and Unmarked editions - 1) and 2) together



[1] RV 398 – 424. Many of these concertos have only basso continuo accompaniments in the slow movements. RV 404 and 415 are considered spurious by today’s scholars. RV 787 and 788 are incomplete. The slow movement of the RV 538 concerto for two horns has a cello solo with basso continuo accompaniment in the second movement. 

[2] RV 38 – 47. RV 38, in D minor, is now lost. 

[3] Antonio Vivaldi, Complete Sonatas for Violoncello and Basso Continuo, ed. Bettina Hoffmann, Bärenreiter (Kassel, 2003), VIII–XI. 

[4] Vivaldi does not use figured bass, but three times in RV 45, when the solo cello plays below the bass.

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