A Curious Case

The first manuscript I encountered in the Greggiati library was a bit of a puzzle.  Under the cataloguing system set up by Donà and Sartori, there were three physical objects grouped together to make up Mss.Mus.B 65, labeled as Volumes 1, 2 and 3 respectively.  Volumes 1 and 2 together contain a complete copy of Paisiello’s opera Il re Teodoro in Venezia–Volume 1 contains all of Act I, and Volume 2 all of Act II.  The manuscript that has been labeled as Volume 3 contains a duplicate copy of the last few scenes of both acts.  Though the binding is similar in some ways to Volumes 1 and 2, it seems likely that it was done at a different time.  Whereas the first two volumes are bound in quarter green leather, volume three is bound in quarter green cloth.  Furthermore, Volume 3 uses a different paper type with different watermarks than the first two volumes.  Since there is nothing on the spine or in the manuscript indicating that Volume 3 is in a any way connected to Volumes 1 and 2, it seems most logical to conclude that we are dealing with two separate entities: A full copy of the opera, and an additional partial copy of the opera.

This raises several interesting questions, the first of which being why the original cataloguers had grouped these volumes together in the first place.  (It was not otherwise their practice to group multiple copies of the same work under a single call number.)  Though of course that question may not be possible to answer, since we cannot know for sure the thought processes of the scholars who worked on the collection, one possible reason may have been the similarity of the scribal hands.  Indeed, untangling the paleographic evidence of these three volumes is perhaps the most challenging task one faces in trying to understand their provenance.

To begin with, it does not appear that Act I in Volume I and Act II and Volume 2 were necessarily copied by the same hand.  There is a significant difference in the formation of the V’s in “Violini,” for example, as well as in the strokes that make up the upper arm of capital T’s and F’s.  There are also slight differences in the formation of the clefs, particularly noticeable in the treble clefs.  When we compare these volumes to the third volume, however, there are apparent similarities.  The V’s, F’s, and clefs of Volume 2 Act I are strikingly similar to those in Volume 3 Act II.  Meanwhile the same elements, especially the figure-eight-like construction of the V’s in Volume 2 Act II find a parallel in Volume 3 Act I.  Neither match is perfect, but the existence of two hands in the partial copy that differ from one another in precisely the same ways as the two hands in the complete copy is suggestive.

At the same time there are elements that link all the volumes and cast doubt on whether there are multiple hands at all, or whether there is just a single hand at work.  The musical notation is similar throughout, particularly in the copyist’s tendency to overshoot crossbeams in drawing eighth-note stems.  Also, the unusual presence of a cross within the counters (that is, the interior white spaces) of some O’s, G’s, and C’s everywhere except Volume 3 Act II blurs the distinction between hands.

Whether we are dealing with one or two hands, there does seem to be enough evidence to suggest that the same copyist or copyists worked on both copies, though the difference in handwriting between the two copies perhaps suggests the passage of time between the execution of each.  Adding further support to this hypothesis is the fact that the layout of the pages of all the shared material is identical, suggesting that both copies were taken from the same exemplar.  It would make sense that multiple copies produced by one copyist, or perhaps one workshop, would share an exemplar.

The second question—perhaps more intriguing—is why Greggiati had acquired both copies at all.  Since Volumes 1 and 2 are complete, Volume 3 necessarily contains duplicate material.  Two obvious possibilities present themselves: either the third volume contains an alternate version of the ends of the two acts, or Greggiati acquired the incomplete copy first, and only later came into the possession of a complete copy.  A comparison of the music of Volume 3 to the first two volumes quickly reveals that the readings are identical, ruling out the first possibility.  Moreover the validity of the second hypothesis is supported by certain details about the third volume.

Greggiati's Note

As is often the case with the manuscripts in Greggati’s collection, Greggati has written page numbers into the upper right corner of each page of the manuscript.  Also common is the fact that he has inserted separate title page before each act and that he restarts his numbering at the beginning of Act II.  What is unusual, however, is that he has not included his added title pages and indices in the page numbering of Volume 3, as he does in Volumes 1 and 2, as well as many other manuscripts I have examined.  Moreover, there is a note at the bottom of the first page of both acts in Greggiati’s hand identifying the music as being “Nell’opera Il Re Teodoro in Venezia.”

This information is duplicated on his title pages.  Thus it seems likely that the selections from Act I and Act II were once separate physical objects, not bound together (requiring him to label the source for each), and that he was in possession of these manuscripts for some time before he had them bound (otherwise he likely would have waited to number the pages until his title pages had been added, as was his usual practice).  The binding and the title pages were later additions.  The fact that the binding of Volume 3 is different from the first two volumes of this call number certainly suggests that it was bound at a different, perhaps earlier, time.  (No study has yet been made of the progression of Greggiati’s bindings, but one suspects that such a study would shed light on the dating of his acquisitions.)

Though we can come to some reasonable hypothesis about the order in which Greggiati obtained these manuscripts, the circumstances of their acquisition remain unclear.  Did Greggiati commission either copy, or did he merely purchase them ready-made?  Why did he settle for a partial copy of the score, rather than hold out for a better, complete copy?  This latter question in turn raises a broader question about the Greggiati collection: what value did the partial score or any item in his collection have for Greggiati?  Were they meant for study?  Was he driven merely by an overwhelming impulse to have?  Was his intention to preserve these items for posterity?  These are the sorts of questions that we still don’t have answers for but that lie at the heart of our project.  Hopefully as we examine more objects, notice trends in his acquisitions, and perhaps connect those data with the information contained in the personal documents he left behind, we will form a more complete picture of Greggati’s habits and motivations, and eventually of the broader phenomenon of collectorship.



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