Uploaded on Apr 23, 2008
'Alemanda' by Niccoló Ceccherini (active ca. 1700) performed by Alex Timmerman on the Mandolino, the oldest scion in the Mandolin family.
The music for Mandolino by Niccoló Ceccherini is found in a 1703 manuscript with the title 'Libro per la Mandola'. The music in it is compiled by a certain Signor Matteo Caccini. The manuscript is now preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale (Rés. Vmb.ms.9) in Paris, France. A modern type setting of this music is found in the wonderful book 'The early Mandolin' written by James Tyler and Paul Sparks published in England by Clarendon Press, Oxford (1989).
The Mandolino with its double trings of lamb gut is of Italian origin. The first time the name 'Mandolino' (as a diminutive of its somewhat bigger sister instrument the 'Mandol[l]a') was used comes from written sources of the last quarter of the 17th Century. It is therefore the first mandolin kind to be named as such. It can be seen as the ancestor of all mandolins.
The Mandolino at this time had four double strings of gut that were tuned in fourths, like: e'e' -- a'a' -- d"d" -- g"g". Often survived instruments show that the peg head of the Mandolino carried, instead of 8, only 7 tuning pegs. Something that implies that the top-string, or 'chanterelle', was, because of its vulnerability, single strung. Around 1700 a fifth string pair was added to the lowest string side of the instrument and again some 20 years later, a sixth pair was applied. Now the tuning of the Mandolino had reached its completion: gg -- bb -- e'e' -- a'a' -- d"d" -- g"g".
In the 2nd quarter of the 18th Century musical instrument makers of Genua, Rome and Neaples developed metal strung mandolin variants that were tuned and played differently (the metal strings were stroked with a quill of a birds feather) when compared with the older gut-strung Mandolino that was - as was the custom till then - primarily played with the fingers. Later, after ca. 1750 the gutstrung Mandolino was also played with a quill since it had to compete in volume with its sister instruments. The preferred plectrum (quill) material for the Mandolino and other gut-strung mandolin types was wood. More in particular the wood waist of the cherry tree because with that wood kind the best quality of sound is gained from gut-strung mandolin types.
The new developed variants from Genua, Rome and Neaples had deeper sound chambers and were equipped with canted sound tables to withstand the pressure of the metal strings. The best plectrum material for the metal-strung types was a quill made out of a pen of a birds feather. These new Mandolin types were given the family name 'Mandolino' together with the addition of the town name where the instruments were made. A good example for instance is the already mentioned 'Mandolino Genovese' for which even a kind of tutor from the early 18th Century exists. The six string pairs of the 'Mandolino Genuese' are tuned one octave above that of the guitar while the two other metal strung types, those from Rome and Neaples, were both tuned in fifths at exactly the same pitch as that of the violin.
This naming of younger Mandolin types with an extra additive was a manner that was still in vogue some 75 years later when Bartelomeo Bortolazzi, a composer and a virtuoso on the mandolin, advertised his favourite mandolin type with 4 single(!) strings as the 'Mandolino Cremonese' in his tutor (1803/5). Towards the end of the 19th Century it is again notable that musicians and musical instrument makers worked together and improved already existing types of the Mandolin family. To make distinctions between the older and 'their' improved new examples they now added the name of the province to the family name. A fine example of this is a mandolin type strung with six single strings named the 'Mandolino Lombardo'. This type, like Bortolazzi's 'Mandolino Cremonese' was played with a plectrum made of the wood of the cherry tree, a material very suitable for all other gut-strung mandolin types and also thé material to use for the gut-strung Mandolino from ca. 1750 onwards; a time when this originally fingerstyle played instrument had to compete in volume with its younger metal strung and plectrum played sister instruments.
The photos used for the introduction and end of this video show a detail of the painting titled the 'Florentine musicians' with a Mandola/Mandolino player playing his instrument finger style as was common at that time. The painting is one of many on which mandolinists are depicted playing the Mandolino with the fingers of the right hand.
The 'Florentine musicians' was made around 1685 by Antonio Domenico Gabbiani (1652-1726) and shows seven musicians who, as is believed today, served at the Court of the Granprincipe Ferdinando de' Medici in Florence. Today it is preserved at the Galleria Palatina in Florence, Italy.
Text by Alex Timmerman.
Video by HET CONSORT ©, Zwolle, Netherlands, April 2008.