Press "Enter" to skip to content

Opus 5: Episode 1: The Missing Link – Maddalena Lombardini’s Six String Quartets

In the first episode of Opus 5 of The Counterpoint Club, The Missing Link: Maddalena Lombardini’s Six String Quartets, we explore the string quartets by Maddalena Lombardini, “mother of the string quartet,” and her importance in the timeline of chamber music and string quartet history. We have discussed this time period in the history of string quartets once before on The Counterpoint Club in Opus 3: Episode 2 -R-E-S-P-E-C-T, which focused on the Opus 20 “Sun” string quartets by Joseph Haydn, and it is interesting to see how much we have learned through our research in the years since we published that episode!

In the technique portion of this Opus 5 episode, Skyros Quartet discusses the challenges of doing a deep dive into rehearsing and editing the six string quartets of Maddalena Lombardini, and what we look for in editions when we are reading and working through published scores.
History Segment
During the history segment we talk in depth about the creation of the six quartets by Maddalena Lombardini. In 1766, Maddalena was twenty years old, and we believe that this is around the time she sketched out her string quartets, along with other compositions that would later be published. She may have been inspired by news of the first recorded public performance of a string quartet in Milan, arranged by Luigi Boccherini, along with other famous players, a year before. As a composer, she was extremely fortunate to have lived in a community of world class professional musicians with unusually versatile and comprehensive educations in music. Her talented friends were available to write music for and practice with, and we imagine that these close relationships and Maddalena’s understanding of the abilities and musical tastes of her colleagues is one of the reasons her six string quartets are so conversational in nature, passing around melodies, and intertwining partwriting in a way that did not yet exist in contemporary and earlier string quartets by composers like Alessandro Scarlatti, Franz Richter, Luigi Boccherini, and Joseph Haydn during this pre-1770 time period.

In 1769, Maddalena’s string quartets were first published by Madame Berault in Paris-one of the only women in publishing at the time. Due to laws in France during the 18th century, women composers had to list their husbands as co-authors of their compositions, so this is how the quartets originally appeared. Advertised just underneath Maddalena’s quartets in the Berault catalogue of 1769 are the Opus 9 string quartets by Joseph Haydn, which really illustrates how new the genre of the string quartet was at this time. Previous to the Opus 9 quartets, Haydn had only written twelve more primitive string quartets between 1762 and 1765, but they were most likely conceived of and played by a small chamber orchestra rather than four players. The Opus 9 string quartets do not have the same level of egalitarian and conversational nature that we hear in Maddalena Lombardini’s quartets. In fact, it is highly probable Joseph Haydn would have had access to her quartets for study before writing the set of string quartets that solidified his reputation as the “father of the string quartet”, the Opus 20 “Sun” quartets, three years later in 1772. We believe that, until now, these 1769 string quartets by Maddalena Lombardini have been a missing link in the timeline of the development of the string quartet genre, and not only do we have a “father of the string quartet” in Joseph Hadyn, but also a “mother of the string quartet” in Maddalena Lombardini!

Here is a video of Skyros Quartet performing Maddalena Lombardini’s String Quartet No. 5 in f minor The Lament:

Technique Lesson
In the technique segment, Skyros Quartet talks about the challenges faced by comparing the two less than complete scores and parts that are currently available on the market for the Maddalena Lombardini String Quartets, and why this is the case historically. These published editions come from Hildegard and Furore Verlag, and working through them and what we know about Maddalena Lombardini has felt like being on a musical archeological expedition! Skyros also gives advice on how to read different kinds of scores and interpret them.

Some of the questions we ask ourselves when we are looking through published scores and parts:

  • Is there access to facsimiles of the manuscript(s)?
  • Are the scores based on manuscripts or 1st editions? Or even later than a 1st edition?
  • Is the score an Urtext (as faithful as possible to the composer’s intent), and can we trust that it is accurate?
  • Who did the editing? Did they play live with an ensemble and work through and edit issues together, or was it a more cerebral or hypothetical process/educated guess?
  • Do the edits include expressive ideas, or are they the conception of the composer?
  • Are there misprints (purposeful and marked, or accidental)?

Please comment below if you have additions to this list!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *