An Analysis of the Domenico Dragonetti String Quartets and their Manuscripts

Open Access
Bainbridge, Alexandra Noriene
Graduate Program:
Master of Arts
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
September 05, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Marie Sumner Lott, Thesis Advisor
  • Charles Dowell Youmans, Thesis Advisor
  • middle class
  • string quartets
  • Domenico Dragonetti
  • Dragonetti manuscripts
Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846) contributed to the double bass repertoire as a composer and extended the scope of the instrument as a virtuoso performer. Despite the increasing respect paid to Dragonetti by bassists in the 165 years since his death, he remains largely absent from modern musicological discourse. An examination of Dragonetti’s musical and non-musical activities and his “forgotten” compositions sheds new light on musical society of the nineteenth century and the influence of middle-class ideals on the development of music. The string quartets, which exist in manuscripts copies currently housed at the British Library, show the middle-class, cosmopolitan, and Classical-Romantic elements that make Dragonetti’s works a reflection of the times. An investigation of the string quartet (Lbm Add. MS 17727-17730) manuscripts’ features illuminates some of the problems that have prevented the dissemination and discussion of his works. The manuscripts containing the quartets divide each volume into three sets, but thorough inspection of the works reveals the sets represent different versions of the same works. Thus, what looks like eight quartets at first glance actually contains only five quartets with separate “draft” and “fair copy” versions preserved together in the bound volumes. Because no one has considered Dragonetti as a composer in previous studies, these works have heretofore gone unexamined, and no modern scholarly or performing edition exists. Dragonetti’s string quartets bear signs of the transitional style that flourished around the turn of the century, with elements of a clearly Classical aesthetic appearing alongside Romantic elements. The quartets make use of conservative structures to try out innovative techniques and harmonies, assimilate cosmopolitan features from styles and traditions around the globe, and show evidence of domestic middle-class music-making. Analysis of Dragonetti’s “forgotten” string quartets unveils how lesser-known composers’ music, more than that of their more famous contemporaries, reveals what average musicians and patrons of music heard, bought, played, and enjoyed during the early nineteenth century.