Italian Baroque Music

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Italian Baroque Music

The Trio Sonata, an instrumental composition generally demanding the services of four players reading from three part-books, assumed enormous importance in Baroque music, developing from its earlier beginnings at the start of the seventeenth century to a late flowering in the work of Handel, Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach and their contemporaries, after the earlier achievements of Arcangelo Corelli in the form. Instrumentation of the trio sonata, possibly for commercial reasons, allowed some freedom of choice. Nevertheless the most frequently found arrangement became that for two violins and cello, with a harpsichord or other chordal instrument to fill out the harmony. Although some composers tended to compromise in matters of form, trio sonatas were more often than not either in the form of the Sonata da chiesa, the Church Sonata, with a sequence of four movements, slow, fast, slow, fast, the quicker movements fugal in character, or in the from of the Sonata da camera, the Chamber Sonata, rather resembling a suite of dance movements. The trio sonata was the foundation of the concerto grosso, the instrumental concerto that contrasted a concertino group of the four instruments of the trio sonata with the full string orchestra, which might double louder passages. The form was adapted to the new Rococo requirements of the later eighteenth century, before being displaced by the duo sonata, for solo instrument and keyboard.

The Italian composer and violinist Arcangelo Corelli exercised a wide influence on his contemporaries and on the succeeding generation of composers. Born in Fusignano, he studied in Bologna, a distinguished musical centre, he established himself in Rome in the 1670s, and by 1679 had entered the service of Queen Christina of Sweden, who had taken up residence in Rome in 1655, after her abdication the year before, and had established there an academy of literati that later became the Arcadian Academy. He dedicated his first set of twelve Church Sonatas, Opus 1, published in 1681, to Queen Christina, describing the work as the first fruits of his studies. His second set of trio Sonatas, Chamber Sonatas, Opus 2, was published in 1685 with a dedication to a new patron, Cardinal Pamphili, whose service he entered in 1687, with the violinist Fornari and cellist Lulier. A third set of trio sonatas, a second group of twelve Church Sonatas, Opus 3, was issued in 1689, with a dedication to Francesco II of Modena, and a final set of a dozen Chamber Sonatas, Opus 4, was published in 1694 with a dedication to a new patron, Cardinal Ottoboni, the young nephew of Pope Alexander VIII, after Cardinal Pamphili's removal in 1690 to Bologna. Corelli occupied a leading position in the musical life of Rome for some thirty years, performing as a violinist and directing performances often on occasions of the greatest public importance. His style of composition was much imitated and provided a model, both through a wide dissemination of works published in his lifetime and through the performance of these works in Rome. The Trio Sonata in B minor, Opus 1 No.6, belongs to the first set of church sonatas. It opens with a brief slow movement followed by a fugal Andante, with an Adagio forming a link with a compound time final rapid fugal movement.

The present release includes two of Corelli's chamber sonatas. The first of these, in chronological order of publication, Opus 2 No.4 in E minor, opens with an impressive Preludio followed by a quicker Allemanda. Four bars marked grave lead to an Adagio, followed by a final Giga, the most frequent conclusion of a dance suite of this period. The Trio Sonata in B flat major, Opus 4 No.9, again opens with a Preludio, followed now by a Corrente, a dance more usually coupled with the Allemande. A very brief slow linking passage leads to a final Tempo di Gavotta, a movement marked here by imitative contrapuntal entries and the characteristic antiphonal use of the two violins in the concluding bars.

The Venetian Antonio Vivaldi achieved a more startling level of technical proficiency than Corelli as a violinist, while as a composer he proved very prolific. He was ordained priest in his native city and was appointed violin master at the Ospedale della Pietà, one of the four charitable institutions founded for the education of orphan girls, but famous for their musical standards. Vivaldi continued his connection with the Pieta intermittently throughout his life, later as director of instrumental music with a normally renewable annual contract that demanded the composition of two concertos a month. In addition to the composition of music for the Pietà, both instrumental and liturgical, Vivaldi busied himself in the opera-house, composing some fifty operas. In 1741 he left Venice, where his music had begun to go out of favour, with the intention of establishing himself in Vienna, where he died shortly after his arrival in the city. The Sonata in C major, RV 779, has been described as a Quartet Sonata in that it was originally written for use at the Pietà and entitled Suonata a violino, oboè et organo, et anco se piace il salmoè, Sonata for violin, oboe and organ with optional chalumeau, to be played by senior pupils Prudenza, Pelegrina, Lucietta and Candida. The sonata has been conjecturally dated to 1710 and was adapted to the more normal instrumentation of two violins and basso (organ) when it was sent to Dresden, where Vivaldi's music occupied an impor1ant place, not least through the agency of the violinist Pisendel, who had taken lessons from Vivaldi in Venice.

Born in Naples in 1686, Nicola Porpora enjoyed a successful international career, principally as a composer of opera and vocal music, and as a teacher of singing. In the last capacity he included among his pupils the famous castrato Farinelli. He spent three years in London where the Opèra of the Nobility had been established in competition with Handel and was later for a number of years in Vienna, where the young Haydn served him as an assistant and pupil. In 1760 Porpora returned to Naples where he died in 1768. His instrumental compositions include a set of Sinfonie da camera, Chamber Symphonies, for two violins and basso continuo, published in London in 1736, the year of Porpora's departure for Venice, where he served again, briefly, maestro at the Ospedale degli Incurabili, resuming a position he had held from 1726 until his departure for London in 1733.

The Italian violinist and composer Francesco Geminiani was born in Lucca in 1687 and took lessons in Rome with Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti. After employment in Lucca and in Naples he moved in 1714 to London, where he won a considerable reputation as a violinist, later publishing popular rearrangements of works by Corelli to suit the amateur market of the time and compositions of his own in similar style. He divided much of his later career between London and Ireland, dying in Dublin in 1762. During the last period of his life he won additional distinction for his theoretical works, which have proved a valuable source of information on contemporary performance practice. The twelve trio sonatas published in 1757 are arrangements for two violins and basso continuo of his twelve Opus 1 sonatas for violin, viol one and harpsichord.

Geatano Pugnani belongs to a later generation. Born in Turin in 1731, he studied with Somis, a pupil of Corelli, and joined the orchestra of the Teatro Regio as a violinist at the age of ten. His international reputation was established by his appearance as a soloist in one of his own concertos in Paris in 1754, the year of publication there of his Opus 1 trio sonatas, later published in
Disc: 1
Sinfonia da camera, Op. 2, No. 6
1 Grave - Allegro - Andante - Allegro - Adagio
2 Allegro
3 Grave - Allegro moderato
4 Grave - Andante
5 Adagio
6 Allegro
7 Andante
8 Presto
9 Grazioso
10 Preludio: Largo
11 Corrente: Allegro - Grave
12 Tempo di Gavotta: Allegro
13 Andante
14 Allegro
15 Largo e cantabile
16 Allegro
17 Adagio
18 Allemanda: Allegro - Grave - Adagio
19 Giga: Allegro molto
20 Adagio
21 Allegro
22 Affettuoso
23 Allegro non troppo
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