Volume 15, June 2022
Different Strokes: Giambattista Cimador's chamber music arrangement of Mozart's Haffner (no. 35) and Paris (no. 31) Symphonies

by Mark Elliot Bergman

1. Introduction

Double bassists frequently lament the relative paucity of quality chamber music when compared to the repertoire available to other string players. Raschen (2009) notes, "as chamber music developed into a dominant art form in the 19th century, the double bass retreated from a virtuoso role - playing concertos, chamber music and orchestral music - to a more supportive function that was delegated predominantly to the orchestra" (p. 3).

Certainly, some 19th century works such as Schubert's "Trout" Quintet Opus 114 and Dvorak's String Quintet Opus 77 are frequently programmed. Still, these rare gems do not come close to equaling the impressive breadth and depth of the string quartet repertoire. Within this context, it is surprising that Giambattista Cimador's (née Cimadoro) early 19th-century sextet reductions of Mozart's symphonies (with an optional seventh part for flute) have fallen out of favor (and out of print). They are rarely (if ever) performed or championed by contemporary double bassists. This was not always the case. Lister (2016) presents strong evidence Cimador's fellow Venetian Domenico Dragonetti performed these arrangements in London, where they were very well received. Italian violin virtuoso Giovanni Batista Viotti praised the arrangements with superlatives like "superb" and having "enchanted and astonished everybody" (p.3).  "We can be reasonably sure," Lister adds, that he (Dragonetti), and Viotti, and four others played several, perhaps all six, of these works in at least two afternoon sessions" (p. 4).

Cimador's technical approach to the arrangements exaggerates some of the dramatic elements in the source material. His editorial choices reveal a preference for shorter musical phrases, more extreme dynamics, and a virtuosic approach to string playing employing double, triple, and quadruple stops to create a robust, orchestral sound from the small forces employed.