Sylvius Leopold Weiss



American musicologist D.A. Smith claims that Sylvius Leopold Weiss should be appreciated as are G.P. Telemann, F. Couperin, D. Scarlatti or other most important German composers in late baroque era. Weiss was one of the most prolific lute composer and his music is one of the best originating from Germany in that period. Analyzing many pieces for baroque lute written by Weiss (more than 500 known to us), we can divide his works in two big parts – the first, early period (until 1725) and second, mature phase. To be specific, the manuscript written in London contains early works and so does the manuscript Weiss a Roma, while the manuscript from Dresden contains mature works. It is important to emphasize that, during his stay in Rome from 1710 to 1714, Weiss was a guest in Zuccari palace. Rome was a very rich city at the time, frequented by important baroque composers and home to the Pope, cardinals and music academies (e.g. members of Sobieski family, patrons of Weiss, made part of Accademia degli Arcadi) where Weiss met very important musicians such as Scarlatti and possibly Corelli.

Lute and music written for it did not manage to find its audience easily from the start. Some of the most important documents we have today that prove this fact are contained in Thomas Mace’s book, Musick’s Monument published in London in 1676 and E.G. Baron’s Historisch-theoretische und practische Untersuchung des Instruments der Lauten from 1727 published in Nürnberg as a reply to Mattheson’s critics. Namely, lute was considered an oldfashioned, women’s instrument, too difficult to play. Because of these reasons, lute composers (Weiss among them) were not interesting to the audience and they never had the significance they deserved. Nevertheless, Sylvius Leopold Weiss was a very fruitful composer, a true virtuoso on the lute, able to transmit both his personality and the beauty of music in general through his works.

One of the most important family in the late XVII century was polish family Sobieski. After the death of King of Poland, John III Sobieski in 1696, his wife the queen Maria Casimira decide to retired in Rome in 1699. His son, prince Aleksander come several times to visit his mother in Italy and probably in 1710 Sylvius Leopold Weiss come in the company of the prince in Rome. The queen became an important patroness of music. The importance of her role was very high and that show us the fact that maestro di capella in 1708 was Alessandro Scarlatti, who was succeeded in January of 1709 by his son Domenico. Sobieski family became a member of the Accademia degli Arcadi, a social and artistic insitution founded by Cardinal Ottoboni. From 1702 the queen residence was beautiful Palazzo Zuccari situated at the top of the Spanish Steps.

Our lutenist, Weiss was surrounded by very important people and musicians. He must have played theorbo or archlute continuo in at least half a dozen of the operas composed between his permanence in Rome 1710-1714 by Domenico Scarlatti for the queen. In this period Weiss left one manuskript called Weiss a Rome (F-pnI) for baroque lute where he wrote several Fantasias, Preludes and one Fugue. There is no known documentations for Weiss’s whereabouts from his Roman sojourn until 1718, when a letter from Dresden elector to Karl Philipp thanks the latter for the loan of his musician Weiss. Sylvius Leopold probable left Rome with the family Sobieski with the queen Maria Casimira in the summer of 1714, the prince Aleksander died in November in Rome.

Few years coming our lute player moved and visited Innsbruck, Prague and Dresden. In 1717 Weiss return to Prague and it seems that with a collaboration of luthier Thomas Edlinger made 13-course lute with bass rider. Weiss was still composing exlusively for 11-couse French lute in 1717, because we know several compositions from that year. The Sonata 1 (WeissSW 33) from London manuscript (GB-Lbl30387) is marked (in French) “Original made in Prague,1717”, and another autograph of the same piece in the Vienna manuskript (A-Wn1078). Tombeau sur la Mort de M. Cajetan Baron d’Hartig (SW 11) dated March, 1719, is one of the earliest pieces for thirteen courses. Manuskript from Rome remain controversial as he contain compositions for 13-course lute and in that case the birth of 13-course lute is doubtful. It could be that Weiss strated writing a manuskrpit today called Weiss a Rome while he was in Rome but he finshed him many years after.


Sonata 1 WeissSW 33 (D-Dl)

Prelude, Allemande, Courente, Bourée, Sarabande, Minuetto I e II, Gigue

Fantasia in d WeissSW 82 (F-pnI)

Adagio, Presto, Adagio

Chaconne WeissSW 14.6 (GB-Lbl)

Suite 25 WeissSW 49 (D-Dl)

Allemande, Courante, Bourée ,Sarabande Grave, Minuetto, Presto

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