CORELLI: Concerti Grossi Op. 6, Nos. 7-12
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Arcangelo Corelli (1653 - 1713)
Concerti Grossi Op. VI, Nos. 7 - 12
Arcangelo Corelli was born at Fusignano in 1653 into a familythat had enjoyed considerable prosperity since the fifteenth century. Legend evensuggested descent from the Roman general Coriolanus and further improbable anecdotessurround a childhood during which he seems to have taken music lessons from a priest atFaenza, continued at Lugo, before, in 1666, moving to the famous musical centre ofBologna, where he was able to study the violin under teachers of the greatest distinction,their precise identity subject to various conjectures. The basilica of S. Petronio inBologna boasted a musical establishment of considerable prestige under Maurizio Cazzati,with some 33 musicians. In addition the city had been the home of a number of learnedacademies since the middle of the sixteenth century, largely replaced in 1666 by theAccademia Filarmonica, an association that came to exercise wide influence.
By 1675 Corelli was in Rome, his presence recorded in variouslists of violinists employed in the performance of oratorios and in the annualcelebrations of the feast of St. Louis of France. Stories of a visit by Corelli to Francebefore this, and of the jealousy of Lully, are generally considered apocryphal. In Rome,however, Corelli's career is well enough documented. He served as a chamber musician toQueen Christina of Sweden, at least intermittently, until her death in 1689, and in 1687directed a large body of musicians, with 150 string players and 100 singers, in a concertin honour of the ambassador of King James II, Lord Castlemaine, entrusted withnegotiations for the return of England to the Catholic faith. At the same time he receivedeven more significant patronage from Benedetto Pamphili, great-nephew of Pope Innocent X,created Cardinal in 1681 and an exact contemporary of the composer. In 1687 Corelli becamemaestro di musica to the Cardinal and took up residence in his Palazzo on the Curso, withhis pupil, the violinist Matteo Fornari and the Spanish cellist Lulier, his colleagues inmany performances. While normally responsible for an orchestra of some ten players, therewere occasions when very large groups of musicians were assembled.
In 1690 Cardinal Pamphili was appointed papal legate to Bolognaand Corelli moved to the Palazzo della Cancelleria, of the newly created Cardinal PietroOttoboni, the gifted young great-nephew of Pope Alexander VIII, who had acceded to thepapacy in 1689. Cardinal Ottoboni remained Corelli's patron until the latter's death in1713, thereafter behaving with generosity to his heirs. In Rome Corelli was held in greatrespect as a violinist and as a composer, although stories of less satisfactoryperformances during a visit to Naples, where he was defeated by the violin-writing of hiscolleague Alessandro Scarlatti, and of his inability to cope with the allegedly Frenchstyle of the young Handel, suggest, at least, some technical limitations. At his deathCorelli left a large collection of pictures, bequeathing a painting of his own choice toCardinal Ottoboni and a Brueghel to Cardinal Pamphili, with his musical instruments andmanuscripts going to Matteo Fornari. By special papal indulgence he was buried in thePantheon in Rome in apart of the church holding the remains of artists, sculptors andarchitects, his epitaph the work of his patron.
The surviving compositions of Corelli are relatively few innumber but disproportionately far-reaching in their influence. He published four sets of adozen trio sonatas each, in 1681, 1685, 1689 and 1694. In 1700 he dedicated his Opus 5 solo violin sonatas, a set of twelve, toSophia Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg. All these works were re-published extensivelyduring the composer's life-time and in the following years and widely imitated. The set oftwelve Concerti grossi was finally published posthumously, with a dedication to theElector Palatine Johann Wilhelm. The concertos represent a collection of compositions thatseem to have been known in Rome at least since the early 1680s.
The concerto grosso of the later seventeenth century owes agreat deal to Corelli, whose compositions in this form served as a model for manyimitators. The concerto is essentially an expansion of the trio sonata, a compositioneither in the form of a dance suite or a weightier church form for two melody instrumentsand a basso continuo shared by a chordal and a bass instrument. The Concerto grossocontrasts the small trio sonata group, known as the concertino, with the fuller stringorchestra, the concerto grosso of ripieno players.
The first eight of Corelli's concerti grossi are in the form ofconcerti da chiesa (church concertos), with fast movements generally in fugal form. Theremaining four of the collection are concerti da camera (chamber concertos), dance suites.
The concertos were published in seven part-bocks. Georg Muttat, who heard something ofthese compositions of Corelli in Rome in 1682, imitated them and prefaced a 1701 editionof his selected compositions by detailed instructions for the performance of works of thiskind.
Concerto No.7, in D major,starts with an introductory passage marked Vivace, followed by a fugal Allegro in whichthe opening ascending arpeggio figure is announced by the solo first violin. The movementends with a short Adagio. The whole orchestra joins in the opening of the next Allegro,which goes on to contrast the soloists and the larger group. There is a B minor Andantelargo in which musical interest centres on the concertino, and after a characteristiccadence, the solo first violin launches into a fugal Allegro. The concerto ends with adance-like Vivace, interrupted by the more elaborate figuration of the solo players.
The eighth concerto, the so-called Christmas Concerto, fatto per la notte di natale
(made for Christmas Eve), is probably the best known of the whole set of twelve. It startsemphatically in a passage of six bars marked Vivace, followed by the characteristicsuspensions of a slow movement. There is a fugal Allegro, against a busy cello bass-lineand an E flat major slow movement that is interrupted by a dramatic Allegro passage. AnAllegro in simple dance rhythm leads to a fugal Allegro, before the optional Siciliano,the Pastorale ad libitum, that marks the concerto as suitable for the season in whichshepherds once learned of the birth of Christ.
The last four concerti grossi of Corelli are in the form ofchamber concertos, their movements generally described in their titles. The ninthconcerto, in F major, starts with a Preludio, this slow introduction followed by anAllemanda, the traditional German dance that would open a set, coupled, according tocustom, with a livelier Corrente. The Gavotta is started by the concertino and a briefAdagio transitional passage leads to a quick Minuetto, played at a much faster speed thancontemporary German composers would have permitted.
Concerto No.10, in C major,has an Andante largo Preludio, with brief contrasts between concertino and ripieno. Alljoin in the Allemanda, which is joined by a short chordal Adagio to its companionCorrente, with contrast between the two groups. The following Allegro has no dance title,but is not fugal in texture, and is capped by a final rapid Minuetto.
The eleventh concerto, in B flat major, has a slow introductoryPreludio, after which the concertino laund1es into an Allemanda, over a busy solo cellobass-line. A short chordal Adagio serves as a link into a further Andante largo, recallingthe opening Preludio. The soloists introduce a slow Sarabanda and the concerto ends in