CORELLI: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-6, Op. 5
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Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Violin Sonatas, Op.5, Nos.1 - 6
Arcangelo Corelli was born at Fusignano in 1653into a family that had enjoyed considerable prosperitysince the fifteenth century. Legend even suggesteddescent from the Roman general Coriolanus, and furtherimprobable anecdotes surround a childhood duringwhich he seems to have taken music lessons from apriest at Faenza, continued at Lugo, before, about theyear 1670, moving to the famous musical centre ofBologna, where he was able to study the violin underteachers of the greatest distinction, their precise identitysubject to various conjectures. The basilica of SanPetronio in Bologna boasted a musical establishment ofconsiderable prestige under Maurizio Cazzati, withsome 33 musicians. In addition the city had been thehome of a number of learned academies since the middleof the sixteenth century, largely replaced in 1666 by theAccademia Filarmonica, an association that came toexercise wide influence.
By 1675 Corelli was in Rome, his presence recordedin various lists of violinists employed in theperformance of oratorios and in the annual feast ofSt Louis of France. Stories of an earlier visit by Corellito France and of the jealousy of Lully are generallyconsidered apocryphal. In Rome, however, Corelli'scareer is well enough documented. He served as achamber musician to Queen Christina of Sweden, atleast intermittently, until her death in 1689, and in 1687directed a large body of musicians, with 150 stringplayers and a hundred singers, in a concert in honour ofthe ambassador of King James II, Lord Castlemaine,entrusted with negotiations for the return of England tothe Catholic faith. At the same time he received evenmore significant patronage from Benedetto Pamphili,great-nephew of Pope Innocent X, created Cardinal in1681, and an exact contemporary of the composer. In1687 Corelli became maestro di musica to the Cardinaland took up residence in his Palazzo on the Corso, wherehis pupil, the violinist Matteo Fornari, was employed,and the Spanish cellist Lulier, his colleagues in manyperformances. While normally responsible for anorchestra of some ten players, there were occasionswhen very large groups of musicians were assembled.
In 1690 Cardinal Pamphili was appointed papallegate to Bologna and Corelli moved to the Palazzo dellaCancelleria, the residence of the newly created CardinalPietro Ottoboni, the gifted young great-nephew of PopeAlexander VIII who had succeded to the papacy in 1689.
Cardinal Ottoboni remained Corelli's patron until thelatter's death early in 1713, thereafter behaving withgreat generosity to Corelli's heirs. In Rome Corelli washeld in great respect as a violinist and as a composer,although stories of less satisfactory performances duringa visit to Naples, where he was seemingly defeated bythe violin-writing of his colleague Alessandro Scarlatti,and of his declared inability to cope with the allegedlyFrench style of the young Handel, suggest, at least, somelimitations. At his death Corelli left a large collection ofpictures, bequeathing one painting each to CardinalOttoboni and Cardinal Carlo Colonna. His musicalinstruments and manuscripts went to Matteo Fornari,now for twenty years his companion and colleague. Byspecial papal indulgence Corelli was buried in thePantheon in Rome, in a part of the church holding theremains of artists, sculptors and architects, his epitaphthe work of his patron.
The surviving compositions of Corelli are relativelyfew in number but disproportionately far-reaching ininfluence. He published four sets of a dozen trio sonataseach between 1681 and 1694, while his important set oftwelve Concerti grossi, Op. 6, the publication of whichhad been arranged in 1711, was issued posthumously in1714, although these works had been known for somethirty years in Rome. He published his set of a dozenViolin Sonatas, Op. 5, in 1700, with a dedication toSophia Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg.
The twelve violin sonatas, described as Sonate aViolino e Violone o Cimbalo, draw on the conventions ofthe more formal sonata da chiesa (church sonata) andthe dance suites of the sonata da camera (chambersonata), the two forms now beginning to merge. Thepublished title, with an apparent alternative of eitherviolone or keyboard instrument in accompaniment, hasbeen the subject of argument. Some suppose that one orthe other may be used, with the violone, a cello, playingthe bass line and as far as possible filling out the chordsimplied by the figured bass, or with a keyboardinstrument alone. Others have interpreted the Italian 'o'as 'and/or'. There has been further discussion of theornamentation of slow movements. Various earlyeditions of the sonatas and manuscript copies of thesame period include ornamentation, notably of theAdagio movements of the first six sonatas, in someallegedly as played by Corelli and elsewhere in versionsproposed by other virtuosi. It would seem that violinistswere often judged on their ability to ornament Corelli'ssonatas, which long held a hallowed place in violinrepertoire.
The first six sonatas are broadly in the form ofchurch sonatas, although two have final Gigamovements, familiar from the chamber sonata form.
Sonata No. 1 in D major, here with an organaccompaniment, starts with a decorated Adagio in whichan Allegro interpolation suggests a further element ofthe prevailing embellishment. The following Allegro isin the contrapuntal form expected in a church sonata.
Here the violin states the subject, adding a second entryin double stopping, before the entry of a third voice inthe bass. A further rapid Allegro of more transparentform leads to a second ornamented B minor Adagio anda final contrapuntal Allegro in 6/8, with the violin againoffering the subject and answer, before the third entry inthe bass.
Sonata No. 2 in B flat major, again with organaccompaniment, starts with an ornamented slowmovement, followed by a fugal Allegro in which thesubject and answer are once more provided by theviolin, before the third entry in the bass. The simplerVivace leads to an ornamented G minor Adagio and afinal fugal Vivace.
A similar pattern is followed in Sonata No. 3 inC major, with organ accompaniment, at least in theinitial Adagio, succeeded by a fugal Allegro, with acadenza-like passage over a sustained pedal note, and asecond Adagio, in A minor. The rapid Allegro leads to afinal Giga in 12/8, in which each half of the movementis duly repeated in an embellished version.
Sonata No. 4 in F major, here accompanied byharpsichord, has the expected embellished openingAdagio, leading to a fugal Allegro, with the three voicesentering as before, the first two entrusted to the violin,followed by a third entry in the bass. The followingVivace is again in simpler texture, leading to a D minorAdagio and a concluding Allegro that has the mood of adance, in spite of an initial suggestion of counterpoint.
There is an opening ornamented Adagio to SonataNo. 5 in G minor. The fugal Vivace demands subtlehandling of the bow, as the subject and answer overlap.
The movement ends with an arpeggiated Adagio. Thethird movement modulates from E flat major, succeededby a Vivace that brings initial dialogue between theviolin and the bass of the harpsichord, a Giga withdecorated repetitions of each half in conclusion.
The first part of the collection ends with the SonataNo. 6 in A major. The decorated opening Grave issucceeded by a fugal Allegro, the entries appearing indescending order, the first two from the violin and thethird in the bass of the continuo, played by theharpsichord. As elsewhere in such movements there arepassages of brilliant arpeggiation. The lively followingAllegro leads to an F sharp minor Adagio and the lastmovement is again a fugal Allegro in 6/8, concluding theset o