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Magdalena Kostka


Position: Postgraduate student Email:

Sonatas for violin and continuo written by British composers in the first half of the
18th century.

The research focuses on sonatas for violin and continuo written by British-born
composers in the first half of the 18th century. It aims to explore in detail this rich and
fascinating repertoire, which is virtually forgotten nowadays, not least because of its
limited availability in published modern editions and the lack of monographs, articles and
research papers about it in the public domain.

The period witnessed not only the creation of the united kingdom of Great Britain (1707)
and considerable industrial progress but also musical developments such as, for example,
a marked increase in public concert-giving, a remarkable expansion of the music
publishing industry with the unprecedented outputs of engraved music (British and
continental) by a businessman John Walsh and his successors, or the gradual ascendancy
of the instruments of the violin family over those of the viol.

The sonata for violin and basso continuo became one of the most important instrumental
genres of the Baroque era, as is clearly evident from the works of numerous, Italian-,
German- and French-born composers of the period, whose contributions are widely
known, documented and performed. However, the solo violin sonatas of British
composers have largely been neglected by scholars and performers. Founded on a mixture
of foreign influences and the native styles which characterised the instrumental fantasias
and In Nomines of predecessors (e.g. William Lawes and John Jenkins), they developed
under the international influences of the time, including initially the works of foreign
violinist-composers such as Nicola Matteis and Gottfried Finger. Shortly afterwards,
Halle-born George Frideric Handel was to become a powerfully influential figure in
London (permanently from 1712), along with other composers, e.g. Johann Christoph
Pepusch, Jean-Baptiste Loeillet, and violin virtuosos Francesco Geminiani, Francesco
Maria Veracini and Pietro Castrucci.

Foremost among British composers of violin sonatas during the period were William
Croft, Robert Valentine, John Humphries, Michael Christian Festing, Charles McLean
and Joseph Gibbs. Their sonata output forms the focal works of this project. These
sonatas will be thoroughly examined, and analysed in terms of their external designs and
internal forms, textures, harmony, tonality, rhythmic vocabulary, contrapuntal content,
phrasing, ornamentation and other compositional and stylistic features, as well as in terms
of the violin techniques exploited. The British violin sonata of that era will be considered
in the context of the genre as a whole, raising such research questions as: Was there a
typical, British violin idiom for the genre? What are the principal differences and
similarities between British and other European examples of this repertory? What were
the chief foreign influences on British composers and how did they manifest themselves
in their violin sonatas? Where does the British violin sonata ‘sit’ within the context of
European composition, violin playing and aesthetics? To what extent do these composers’
works show a clear line of development from the Baroque towards the galant style?
Research outcomes will enrich knowledge about the position and significance of the
British violin sonata in the first half of the 18th century and trigger the revival of interest
in these works, many of which are inventive, accomplished and technically demanding
and deserve better than their current footnote status in the history of the genre.

Supervisor: Professor Robin Stowell           

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