Date of Completion
violino piccolo, piccolo violin, Bach, Brandenburg Concerto, BWV 140, Leipzig, Thomaskantor, Knüpfer, Schelle, Pfeiffer, Monteverdi, Orfeo, pochette
Field of Study
Doctor of Musical Arts
In the Baroque era, the violino piccolo was the highest and smallest member of the violin family. Claudio Monteverdi wrote for the instrument in his L’Orfeo (1607), and Michael Praetorius mentioned it in his Syntagma musicum (1619). Surviving piccolo violins include one by Girolamo Amati from 1613 and another by Antonio Stradivari from 1734. They demonstrate that while the body of the instrument is essentially quarter-sized, its neck is as thick as a standard violin. The instrument became extinct by the nineteenth century; new playing techniques on the standard violin resulted in an extended range that precluded the need for the smaller instrument, thus eliminating the unique timbre of the piccolo violin.
Surviving compositions suggests that the instrument was especially prevalent in the Leipzig orbit. The list of Thomaskantoren who wrote for it includes Sebastian Knüpfer, Johann Schelle, and Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as Bach’s successors Johann Gottlob Harrer and Johann Friedrich Doles. This dissertation includes annotated editions of cantatas by Knüpfer and Schelle as well as a concerto by Johann Pfeiffer, who studied in Leipzig and worked in Weimar as the Konzertmeister, a position Bach once held. The most well-known works for the instrument are Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, BWV 1046, and Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140; he also employed the instrument in two additional cantatas. Bach’s works for the piccolo violin demonstrate that this aspect of his oeuvre is the culmination of a long tradition that his contemporaries also maintained.
Lee, Daniel S., "The Violino Piccolo in the Leipzig Orbit, 1650-1750" (2017). Doctoral Dissertations. 1404.