While excavating a section of my sheet music filing cabinet the other day, I came across the sonatas of Ignazio Sieber (c.1680-c.1757). His six sonatas for alto recorder and basso continuo were published, probably in 1722, together with an equal number by Johann Ernest Galliard. Since Galliard’s name appears first on the frontispiece, I dutifully filed them under ‘G.’ No wonder I lost track of them for a while.
Sieber certainly isn’t a household name but his sonatas for alto recorder and basso continuo are worth a look. We have very little biographical information on him, but see from the the publication’s title page that he was living in Rome (‘demeurant à Rome’) around the time his sonatas appeared in print. Not surprisingly, his writing for the recorder reflects the typical early 18th-century Italian taste for not extending higher than an E’’ and for hovering lower than that most of the time. Sieber hangs around in the high register more than Bononcini, Bigaglia, or Bellinzani for example, but he still doesn’t ask a player to spend a long time up where the air is thin. Italian recorders from the time have a beefy low register and a weedier high register than their German counterparts, for example, which would likely have affected how musicians composed for the instrument.
Certainly more interesting and demanding than the Galliard sonatas that precede them, Sieber’s sonatas are in C major (two), a minor, and g minor (three!), all key choices which echo Händel’s opus 1 recorder sonatas (also thought to have been written in Italy). The music is well written for the instrument, lies comfortably, it’s reasonably challenging, and he has a witty way with passagework. The slow movements include some examples of notated ornamentation but there’s much additional scope for a player to experiment with phrasing, articulation, pacing, and further elaboration. The continuo parts similarly offer a lot of opportunity for creative experimentation.
As with many lesser-known Baroque sonatas, the writing isn’t dazzling or brilliant throughout but then, let’s admit it, neither is Vivaldi’s. Plus, Sieber’s music provides considerable opportunity to add your own thoughtful two-cents-worth well beyond a few ornaments. You can team up with him to create something extra, an interpretation which you might call even more ‘your own’ than your versions of Telemann or Vivaldi. I’ve heard similarly unfamiliar pieces dismissed as not worth working on, but I wonder if such judgement is passed either because the recorder part has too few fast sixteenth note passages, and/or because the player lacks imagination. As we all know the components of a good piece and a good performance are many and varied; and if you do really want more fast arpeggios, you can almost always add some…
Plus, if you’re looking to create a program of music from a certain city or region, in a certain style or by a particular group of composers, having repertoire like this is a real boon.
A link to the facsimile at IMSLP (don’t be fooled by the initial title – Sieber’s sonatas are here!):