There is so little evidence of the existence of Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli that, violinist Andrew Manze writes ‘One could be forgiven for thinking that he was invented by a mischievous musicologist one wet Wednesday’. Traditional proofs of existence have failed as far as Pandolfi goes: no portraits, anecdotes, biographies, letters, diaries, or memoirs are to be found. That he exists at all is evidenced by some of his music -opus 3 and 4 - and that he is mentioned in passing by an underling at the court of Hapsburg.

Opus 1 and 2 are nowhere to be found, though Manze speculates that either they went to the bottom of the Danube with the other contents of the boat moving the Innsbruck music library to Vienna that sank in 1665, or Pandolfi was indulging in some ‘innocent braggadocio’ and simply numbered his first two works 3 and 4. Single copies of these works rest in Civico Museo di Bologna. Deductions about his life must be made from the musicians he was influenced by, the ones he in turn influenced - placing him in context as part of the continuum of musical development, and so on - and the dedications on his 12 violin sonatas.

What is immediately evident is that Pandolfi was both an accomplished musician and an equally skilled technician on the violin. Don’t confuse these. Technicians can produce tens of notes a second with great accuracy, whilst musicians are actually worth listening to. A happy medium has to be struck to make a great performer. His sonatas are virtuosic but hauntingly beautiful. They show a quirky and intelligent grasp of harmony and a listener’s expectations such that you’re never sure where his melodies will go next, but it’s always beautiful.

Manze writes; ‘Pandolfi is like a grand master of chess who chooses a conventional opening and then varies it ingeniously.’ His sonatas are unpredictable, but are bound in a tight web of self- and cross-references, with bass line motifs recurring in different sonatas, for example. Although Pandolfi does on occasion play fast and lose with the rules of harmony, his music is deeply rooted in the baroque era in that his trust in the skill of the interpreter- be it performer or listener- is implicit in his directions to the performer, encouraging him to ornament wherever he sees fit.

Pandolfi was born between 1620 and 1630, and was at Innsbruck from 1652 to 1662. After this, he disappears. Some rather less inspiring sonatas were published in Rome in 1669 under the name Mealli, but they are so inferior in terms of intelligence and imagination to the others that it seems impossible that they share a common hand. Pandolfi’s life is as mysterious as his works. As far as I can discern, only Harmonia Mundi have published the Pandolfi violin sonatas, played by Andrew Manze, and they are well worth getting hold of for around £10. Do so, soon.

Sources: my own knowledge
Sleeve notes to Pandolfi: Complete Violin Sonatas

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