© Michel Cardin
The London Manuscript

Solo Sonata 23 in a minor
(Smith-Crawford 29)

The complete and updated version of 'London unveiled' by Michel Cardin can be downloaded as pdf files: 'London unveiled'

Considered by non-specialists and members of the guitar/lute fraternity alike to be one of the most appealing of Weiss’s creations, L’infidèle provided one primary impetus for my conversion to the lute. Eugen M. Dombois, with his profoundly magnificent 1971-1972 recording of this sonata, was to convince many guitarists of the stunning expressive capabilities of the Baroque lute, and is responsible for their divorce from the modern guitar.

The colourful title of the work can be best explained by the occasional presence of surprising ‘oriental’ intervals, most notably at the beginning of the minuet. The parallel between musical treatments that were ‘unfaithful’ to conventional harmonic rules, and the usage of the same term to describe Muslims who were reluctant to embrace Christianity must be understood in the context of 1683 when the Turkish advance through Europe was arrested at the gates of Vienna. The leader of the successful Christian forces was Johann III, King of Poland whose successors were to rule Dresden during Weiss’s lifetime, since Saxony and Poland were under the same crown. It is interesting to note also that Weiss was in the service of the Polish royal family during his stay in Rome.

A minor was seen to be "a tonality that could produce majestic and serious affect, so much so that it could turn to flattery. By nature it is well-measured, plaintive yet honest and relaxed. It beckons sleep and can be used to stir the soul in various manners. It is, in other words sweet, even mellow". The extraordinary accuracy of this description becomes immediately apparent upon performance of this 23rd sonata. As is the case with the two preceding sonatas, this one also can be found in the Dresden ms, though the Musette and Sarabande appear in inverse order. Both versions are from the hand of a copyist. Only the minuet can be found in still further sources, the two Warsaw copies, to be precise.

As in The Celebrated Pirate, the first movement, the Entrée, fulfils the function of overture, though in a dynamic, grandiose fashion, possibly bringing to mind the glory of the previously mentioned King Johann Sobieski. Unlike the allemande of Sonata no 22, it becomes clearly evident that in the case of this Entrée, the repeats are necessary. The courante (Cour:) mixes nostalgia with liveliness while offering completely original compositional techniques, the best examples of which can be found in the elaborate cadences at the ends of both sections. It comes as a bit of a surprise to hear the Love Story theme 250 years ahead of its time!

The Sarabande seems to symbolise the implacable progress of destiny. The unique musical atmosphere lends itself nicely to the presentation of lute music at a slow tempo. The Menuet is also idiosyncratically ‘lutish’ in its skilful use of campanellas, where most of the notes are distributed one per string. The resultant shimmering texture fully exploits the inherent richness of the late Baroque lute. Moreso than in the other movements, the Musette seems to speak directly, revealing hidden layers of meaning by times deeply poetic, giving vent to the alternation between tender phrases and those of a more bellicose nature, the latter serving to remind us of the title of the sonata. It is curious to note that the musette is the only work in the sonata to make use of the two last courses. It is possible that the sonata was originally composed without the musette, for the eleven course instrument, only to be revised at a later date, after Weiss had preceded his contemporaries in adopting the thirteen course lute. One could even surmise that he chose to honour his newly found instrument by composing a piece to celebrate the novelty of the low A! Though the Dresden ms offers a reworking of the other movements with a view to full utilisation of the thirteen course lute, the London version has proven to me to be equally pleasing to perform, the sonic equilibrium being quite correct in all respects. Similarly, the melodic and rhythmic variations found in the Dresden musette do not constitute a marked improvement, with the exception of one measure which seems to have fallen victim to a copying error in the London ms. The Paÿsane retains the omnipresent majesty of the sonata, providing in addition, an engaging dance feel; an heroically victorious conclusion to the work.

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