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The Cheney Flute Sonatas Manuscript: An Early Collection for the Traverso, Containing Music by Pepusch and Others

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 November 2021


This article describes and evaluates a manuscript album of English provenance from the early eighteenth century containing 24 anonymous solo sonatas for the transverse flute (traverso) and continuo. These are especially interesting in that they date from a period when this still rather novel instrument had, in England, very little purpose-written repertory within that genre. A study of concordances and contextual factors reveals that a large number of them, plus some movements in pasticcio sonatas, are by J. C. Pepusch, whose musical style in solo sonatas is examined in detail. The article includes an inventory with musical incipits of the individual compositions.

© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Royal Musical Association

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1 An article by Jeremy Barlow on the musical interests of the Cheney family over five generations will appear in a forthcoming volume of The Consort, <>. Dates relating to this family that appear in the present article have been communicated to me privately by him.

2 Leading players of the traverso active in London from the first decade of the century included Pietro Chaboud (from Italy), Peter Latour (probably from France), and John Loeillet (from Belgium).

3 Two contemporary examples of published musical collections carefully fitted to a predetermined length are Chelleri’s, Fortunato Cantate e arie con stromenti (London: William Smith, 1728)Google Scholar and Barsanti’s, Francesco VI Sonate per la Traversiera o German Flute … Opera Seconda (London: Benjamin Cooke, 1728)Google Scholar, each of which occupies precisely 32 pages.

4 A striking instance of a manuscript executed as a quasi-facsimile of its published (in this case, printed rather than engraved) copy text is D-HAu, E19, which reproduces the entire content of the Orgelübung-Vorspiele (Leipzig: Breitkopf, 1782) of the Stettin organist and composer Christian Michael Wolff.

5 Concerns over the increasingly disbound state of the volume have led to the recent repair of its spine.

6 For both paper types (those used for the endpapers and the music, respectively) the chainlines are horizontal, confirming upright quarto format. The principal element of the watermark in the music paper is a crowned shield bearing a fleur-de-lys and surmounted by a much smaller fleur-de-lys. This is a very generic design used over a long period that closely resembles the watermark numbered 1804 in Edward Heawood, Watermarks, Mainly of the 17th & 18th Centuries (Hilversum: Paper Publications Society, 1950). Heawood’s example comes from a book published in Oxford in 1703, but since variants of this design are found as late as the 1740s, no useful conclusions regarding date can be drawn. My thanks to Jeremy Barlow for this information.

7 On the general subject of performer-centred and composer-centred musical cultures, see Talbot, Michael, ‘The Work-Concept and Composer-Centredness’, in The Musical Work: Reality or Invention?, ed. Talbot, Michael (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000), 168–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Indeed, a much later (nineteenth-century?) owner or user of the manuscript, recognizing the author, has inked in above the start of the first three sonatas ‘Corelli’s 10th’, ‘Corelli’s 9th’, and ‘Corelli’s 8th’, respectively.

9 It is striking that the manuscript offers no evidence of contemporary use such as supplementary bass figures or corrected notes. Perhaps its first owner was a flute-playing collector who instructed a copyist to seek out 24 suitable sonatas for his private, domestic use.

10 D-BNu, S2981. Unknown to Cook, this intriguing manuscript merits a dedicated study. Compiled by an unknown hand, most likely in England, it bespeaks familiarity with an extraordinarily wide range of repertoire for, or arranged for, traverso by English, French, German, and Italian composers.

11 See Donald Frederick Cook, ‘The Life and Works of Johann Christian Pepusch (1667–1752), with Special Reference to his Dramatic Works and Cantatas’, 2 vols. (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of London King’s College, 1982), i, 45. The second volume of Cook’s authoritative thesis contains a thematic catalogue of Pepusch’s works, the opening section of which (pp. 16–86) lists, with incipits for all movements, 167 solo sonatas, nearly all of which are for violin plus a bass part most often described as ‘for bass viol or harpsichord’. Cook’s catalogue uses ‘I:’ as an identifying prefix for all the numbers allocated to solo sonatas.

12 A representative example of such a tutor is Walsh and Hare’s Instructions and Lessons for the German Flute, first advertised in the Post Boy of 23–5 May 1721. The burgeoning public demand for idiomatic music for the traverso, by then commonly known as the German flute, is signalled at the end of the decade by the same publishers’ advertisement in The Craftsman of 20 April 1728, which lists among ‘New Music this Day published’ no fewer than five separate items aimed specifically at traverso players: Pietro Chaboud’s well-known anthology of 12 solos ‘fitted to the German flute’ (published earlier in two separate instalments in 1723 and 1725); John Grano’s Solos for a German Flute; four collections of Handel songs ‘curiously fitted for a German Flute and a Bass’; Six Sonatas for 2 German Flutes by John Loeillet; and a set of six solos for a German flute ‘by several eminent Authors’.

13 Defoe, Daniel, Augusta Triumphans: or, The Way to Make London the Most Flourishing City in the Universe (London: Roberts, 1728), 16, 19.Google Scholar

14 The upper limit, e′′′, in fact appears only three times in the Cheney volume: in Sonatas 3, 12, and 22. Sonatas 10, 19, and 22 all have g′ as their lowest traverso note. Holman, Peter, in Life after Death: The Viola da Gamba in Britain from Purcell to Dolmetsch (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press), 101Google Scholar, is right to point out – with reference to viola da gamba parts, but the same can apply to any instrument – that puzzlingly restricted compasses may sometimes be the product of nothing more significant than transposition.

15 Hawkins, Sir John, A General History of the Science and Practice of Music, 5 vols. (London: Payne, 1776), v, 197.Google Scholar

16 The order of the fourteenth and fifteenth keys is reversed (becoming B ♭, B) in some of Pepusch’s sixteen-key cycles. If the contrasting keys sometimes used for internal slow movements are added to the mix, the tonal palette expands still further to include A♭ major, E♭ minor and B♭ minor.

17 This distribution pattern conforms very closely to that generally observable in sonatas for traverso published in England between 1728 (Roseingrave) and 1769 (Eiffert), as tabulated in Michael Talbot, ‘“Esteemed One of the Best Masters of the German Flute”: Simon Balicourt (1706–57), an Instrumentalist and Composer in Georgian London’, The Consort, 74 (2018), 52–78 (p. 60). Johann Joachim Quantz seems to have been the only composer of traverso music who sought to expand the instrument’s key range to the maximum possible extent.

18 The ‘or’ (equivalent to Italian ‘o’ in the Corellian tradition) should probably not be taken as implying that the harpsichord and stringed instrument were mutually exclusive; rather, it means that the notation for the two instruments is identical. One has the impression that this ‘or’ was traditional and formulaic: not something to ponder over too deeply. Nor should one trouble oneself overly with the matter of whether the bass part in the Cheney sonatas descends as far as C (suggesting the violoncello – this occurs only a couple of times) or stops at D (suggesting the six-stringed bass viol). Even if one does not follow Holman (Life after Death, 101) in imagining that viol players looked far enough ahead to retune their lowest string down to C specifically to accommodate this note, there was enough flexibility in the performance practice of the time to tolerate as a matter of course the transposition up an octave of unobtainable notes.

19 There is also a different ‘Hamilton’ set (Cook 1–8) containing only eight sonatas, all in C major (this uniformity of key offsetting great variability in other parameters).

20 For example, Cook I: 131 is a composite of Cook I: 140 (movements 1 and 2), Cook I: 129 (movement 3), and Cook I: 158 (movement 4).

21 The evolution from a larger number of short movements to a smaller number of long ones is an observable secular trend in multimovement instrumental compositions between 1650 and 1800. Parallels to this trend can be found equally in literature (opera librettos, in particular) and painting, as first noted in David Burrows, ‘Style in Culture: Vivaldi, Zeno, and Ricci’, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 4/1 (1973), 1–23, where the bold but persuasive concept of a general ‘cultural style’ is proposed. Pepusch’s overwhelming preference for a four-movement cycle in solo sonatas already situates his compositional activity accurately within the first quarter of the eighteenth century.

22 This often-puzzling area of inconsistency is discussed with reference to some major Italian composers in Michael Talbot, ‘The “Stylized” Dance in Italian Sonatas of the Late Baroque’, De Musica Disserenda, 2/2 (2006), 99–105.

23 One cannot but concur with William S. Newman’s descriptions of Pepusch’s sonatas in The Sonata in the Baroque Era (Chapel Hill, 1959), 314, as having ‘a fine sense of line if not great melodic originality’ and differing from those of Corelli by which they were influenced in being ‘more intensive in [their] concentration on single ideas’.

24 There is, however, one older composer who was equally fond of this device: G. B. Vitali (1632–92).

25 GB-Lam, MS90, 54, and 172.

26 Ibid., 287–90.

27 This must be especially true of the two mentioned collections, which according to an anonymous preface introducing the first volume had passed to its writer from a friend of the deceased musician. This friend is unlikely to have been in a position to distinguish original works from arrangements with absolute certainty, and Walsh is anyway most unlikely to have insisted on such a distinction.

28 In the England of the 1710s the Siciliana was a newly introduced dance, and it is possible that the affixing of this title to the movement in question occurred at a time when its essential melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic characteristics had not yet crystallized properly in the public mind. Within only a few years of its introduction, however, the Siciliana had become one of the most stereotyped and universally recognizable of dance forms.

29 For the record, there is a set of trio sonatas by a certain Giovanni Carlo (Joseph Karl?) Schmitpaur published in 1701 (RISM A/1 S1766) that likewise employs the direction ‘puoco allegro’, so Pepusch – if he was indeed the composer – was not the only composer to use this variant form of the adverb.

30 Cheney Sonatas 9 and 13 open with the same formula.

31 That Pepusch had no qualms about introducing foreign material silently into his compositions is shown by his importation of the slow movement, in E minor, of Vivaldi’s ‘Cuckow’ Concerto, RV 335 (beefed up by the addition of inner parts), into his A major violin concerto (Cook 3: 017), possibly in order to gratify a soloist for whom this extremely popular concerto by the Venetian had become a frequently paraded ‘warhorse’. On this concerto and Pepusch’s part in its transmission, see Talbot, Michael, ‘Migrations of a Cuckoo and a Nightingale: Vivaldi’s Concerto RV 335 and a Reconsideration of RV 335a and RV Anh. 14’, Studi Vivaldiani, 16 (2016), 5387.Google Scholar

32 D-Bsa, SA 4646.

33 D-HRD, Fü 3602a.

34 Selfridge-Field, Eleanor, The Works of Benedetto and Alessandro Marcello: A Thematic Catalogue (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 348–50.Google Scholar

35 Fü 3643a and 3642a, respectively. Neither source is listed in Cook’s catalogue.

36 D-HRD, Fü 3699a. I am grateful to Markus Henneke at the archives of Schloss Herdringen and Rainer Birkendorf at Deutsches Musikgeschichtliches Archiv in Kassel for facilitating my access to a reproduction of this violin sonata.

37 There is, however, some use of introductory ritornellos in solo sonatas, including ones for recorder, written in England around 1700, perhaps under Finger’s influence, by such men as Daniel Purcell and William Williams. In contrast, English sonata composers seem never to have embraced the Devise.

38 Among the Italians of Pepusch’s period, Vivaldi seems a significant exception, using continuo introductions (but not the Devise) in a few of his solo sonatas. But he was also exceptional in encountering German music and musicians at an early stage in his career. It has recently been discovered that he must have known Westhoff’s 1694 collection, since on three occasions he borrowed extensive passages in continuous bariolage from it for use in the solo episodes of concertos. See Vlaardingerbroek, Kees and Talbot, Michael, ‘Vivaldi, Bariolage and a Borrowing from J.P. von Westhoff’, Studi Vivaldiani, 18 (2018), 91114.Google Scholar

39 Cook I: 160 ends with a similar, moderately paced ‘Menuet’ in G major.

40 Puzzling, too, are four bars in the middle of the first movement where the traverso is left completely unaccompanied, some writing in octaves for traverso and bass just before the final cadence of the second movement, and the choice of 6/4 metre (surprisingly rare in Pepusch’s music – in the solo sonatas it appears only in Cook I: 118) for the gigue-like finale.

41 The first two movements of Sonata 23 open similarly with the Devise, in each instance connecting the two statements of the motto with a thematically related phrase in the bass.

42 The collection was first advertised, as ‘New Musick Just Published’, in The Spectator of 16 March 1711. The same six sonatas were published in Amsterdam in 1717 as Galliard’s op. 1 in an edition bearing the name of Estienne Roger’s daughter Jeanne in the imprint. To make up the dozen, the publisher appended six sonatas by Ignaz Sieber, a German woodwind player resident in Rome who both earlier and later was a colleague of Vivaldi at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. The copyist of the Cheney Manuscript cannot have used this edition as an exemplar, however, since it amends the bass figures, whereas the figures in Sonata 19 match those of Cross’s engraved score exactly.

43 The choice of E minor is not, however, altogether aberrant for recorders in F. We see it used, for example, in Vivaldi’s flautino (sopranino recorder) concerto in C major RV 443, which moves to E minor for its slow movement. On the equation of flautino with sopranino recorder in F, see Sardelli, Federico Maria, Vivaldi’s Music for Flute and Recorder, trans. Talbot, Michael (Woodbridge, 2007), 188–98Google Scholar.

44 The popularity among certain composers (who included Pepusch) of dual-purpose and multipurpose solo sonatas during the first third of the eighteenth century is explored in Michael Talbot, ‘Vivaldi, Bigaglia, Tartini and the Curious Case of the “Introdutione” RV Anh. 70’, Studi vivaldiani, 20 (2020), forthcoming.

45 Besides GB-Lam MS 90 (see earlier, note 25), GB-Lbl, Add. MS 64965 (mostly trio sonatas) and GB-Lbl, Add. MS 31466 (solo sonatas) stand out.

46 Hawkins, General History, v, 402.

47 Ibid., 404. Burney, Charles, A General History of Music From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period, 4 vols. (London: Becket et al., 1776–89), iv, 637.Google Scholar

48 von Uffenbach, Zacharias Conrad, Merkwürdige Reisen durch Niedersachsen, Holland und Engelland, 3 vols. (Frankfurt and Leipzig: Gaum, 1753–4), ii, 503–4Google Scholar. Sadly, the intended performance of the sonata to conclude the concert was frustrated by the premature departure of the ladies present.

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