Francesco Geminiani (1687 - 1762)
Concerti Grossi Vol.1
Op. 2, Nos. 1- 6, Op. 3, Nos. 1- 4
The violinist and composer Francesco Geminiani was one ofthose Italian musicians who found a ready livelihood in England in the firsthalf of the eighteenth century. Born in Lucca in 1687, he was a pupil ofCorelli and of
Alessandro Scarlatti in Rome, after earlier violinlessons from his father, whom he succeeded in Lucca in 1707 in the Capella Palatina,the principal musical establishment of the city. He was released from hisobligations there in 1710, as a result of the alleged frequency of hisabsences, and led the opera orchestra in Naples from the following year. Herehe was referred to as furibondo, a reference to a tendency to freedom in rhythmthat was not always welcome, a trait perhaps acquired from his teacher Corelli,who had had his own problems in Naples. In 1714 Geminiani moved to London,where he enjoyed immediate success as a performer and the patronage of Johann AdolfBaron von Kielmansegg, the Hanoverian courtier who had been instrumental inbringing Handel to Hanover and thence to England. Geminiani dedicated his firstset of a dozen violin sonatas to v6n Kielmansegg in 1716 and was indebted tothe Master of the King's Horse for his introduction to the court of King GeorgeL before whom he played accompanied his own insistence, by Handel.
Geminiani won the support of a number of the nobility inEngland and exercised very considerable influence also through his pupils,including the young violinist Matthew Dubourg, who spent a considerable part ofhis life in Dublin, where he led the orchestra at the first performance ofHandel's Messiah, Michael Festing, later Master of the King's Musick,and the Newcastle composer Charles Avison. Charles Burney, whatever his laterthoughts on the subject, admits in a letter of 1781 that as a young man"Handel, Geminiani and Corelli were the sole Divinities of [his]Youth", although he was later "drawn off from their exclusiveworship... by keeping company with travelled and heterodox gentlemen, who werepartial to the Music of more modern composers whom they had heard in Italy".
Indebted as he was to his own teacher Corelli, Geminiani derived his own styleof writing largely from him. Evidence of this may be seen in his publication in1726 and 1727 of arrangements of Corelli's twelve violin sonatas as concertigrossi. Through the agency of the Earl of Essex it was proposed in 1728 thatGeminiani should become Master and Composer of State Music in Ireland, but fromthis position he was, as a Catholic, excluded, and the honour went instead tohis pupil Dubourg.
In London Geminiani continued teaching and performing,taking part in series of subscription concerts and in 1732 publishing two setsof concerti grossi, Opus 2 and Opus 3. He extended hisactivities, at the same time, to Ireland, where Matthew Dubourg was nowestablished, continuing his connection with Dublin as occasion and Dubourgdemanded during the following years. Quarrels with the London publisher Walsh,who had pirated Geminiani's compositions as he had Handel's, would have beensettled by the granting of the royal privilege of exclusive rights to hiscompositions in 1739 and a similar licence in France the following year. Otherpublications followed in the 1740s, notably his Opus 7 concerti grossiin 1746 and a set of cello sonatas, listed as Opus 5, in the same year,works later arranged for violin and harpsichord. He travelled abroad to the Netherlandsand to Paris, presumably attending the performance in the latter city of astaged version of his musical interpretation, in concerto grosso form, of anepisode in Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, under the title The InchantedForest. It was in 1748 that Geminiani published his Rules for Playing ina True Taste and the fuller A Treatise of Good Taste in the Artof Musick in the following year. In 1751 he published his very influential TheArt of Playing on the Violin, a vital source of information on contemporarypractice. Of less importance are his Guida armonica and The Art ofAccompaniment, with a later supplement to the former and a final The Artof Playing the Guitar or Cittra appearing in Edinburgh in 1760, publishedby his former pupil Robert Bremner.
Geminiani finally settled in Dublin, at the invitation ofDubourg, although there were still visits to Scotland and to England. The lastconcert of his of which there is any record was in Dublin in 1760, when he wasstill able to give a masterly account of himself, through his artistryconcealing the physical weakness of age. He died in Dublin in 1762.
The form of the concerto grosso owes much to Geminiani'steacher, Arcangelo Corelli. Written as early as the 1680s, but published onlyposthumously in 1713, Corelli's twelve concerti epitomize a form that was toappeal to a very wide public, attracting both professional and amateurperformance. If the dominant instrumental form of the period was the triosonata, a composition for two melody instruments, with a figured bass line forcello or viola da gamba and keyboard, the concerto grosso was an extension ofthis. The latter form contrasts a small solo group, usually of two violins,cello and harpsichord, known as the concertino, with the main body ofthe now generally four-part string orchestra and its keyboard instrument. Itwas easy enough to transform the sonata into a concerto by allowing the mainbody of the orchestra, the so-called ripieno players, to reinforce thelouder sections, leaving softer passages to the concertino. The concertogrosso developed soon more individual concertino parts that differed in elaborationfrom those of the ripieno or concerto grosso. In origin, then,the concerto grosso may be seen as a trio sonata writ large, a trio sonataarranged for orchestra. It should be added that both trio sonata and concertogrosso existed as either secular da camera compositions or as sacred dachiesa works, the former akin to a dance suite in a number of movements andthe latter incorporating more solemn fugal elements in the second and often thefourth of its four movements. The rigid distinction between the two forms,clear enough in Corelli, did not continue.
The first set of original concerti grossi by Geminiani,after those earlier works based on Corelli, was published in London in 1732,followed by a second edition in 1755 of both Opus 2 and Opus 3,printed for the author by John Johnson, in Cheapside, in score for the firsttime, as well as in parts, as in 1732, but now corrected and enlarged, somethought to the detriment of the works. For this new edition it seems that heborrowed from Dr Burney a transcription that the latter had made many yearsbefore, not having the originals by him. Burney adds that Geminiani failed toreturn the manuscript.
The first of the Concerti grossi, Opus 2, in C minor,opens with an Andante, an introduction to an Allegro that startswith a descending arpeggio figure for the first violins, before moving on tocontrasting rhythms. Directions in the following movement, marked Grave
and then Andante, suggest contrasts of plucked and bowed strings.