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Overview Instrumental Music J S Bach

Early 18th Century Instrumental Music:
The Great String Music


    The violin and its family were behind the high point that occurred in Italian music when the concerto grosso was perfected by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1715) who had spent four years in the great Italian music center of Bologna learning directly from the masters who created music in that important center. There were three main composers of concerti grossi: Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709) and Antonio Vivaldi (1676-1741). Besides these three composers, there were the "conservatives" who continued the tradition of Corelli: Albicastro, Albinoni, Bonporti, Gregori, Mascitti, and Alessandro Scarlatti; there were the "progressives" who continued the tradition of Vivaldi: dall'Abaco, Gasparini, Manfredini, Marcello, Montanari, Taglietti, Tessarini and Giuseppe Valentini; and there was a younger generation represented by two composers: Geminiani and Locatelli. Last but not least, there was Handel, who wrote his own beautiful set of concerti grossi, and J.S. Bach who benefited so much from the music of the Italian school.
    It all began with the sonata.

The Sonata

     Sonata development took place in Northern Italy and especially at San Petronio in the great music center of Bologna. The church was famous all over Europe for its great services adorned with the finest instrumental music and many sonate da chiesa were written  by Bolognesse composers Cazzati and Vitali. There were two types of sonatas: sonate da camera (chamber sonatas) and sonate da chiesa (church sonatas).*  
     Corelli learned the art of San Petronio firsthand during his four year stay in Bologna. Corelli wrote sonatas for violin and sonatas called sonate a tre (or trio sonatas) that were written for two violins plus organ for the church, and a violone (today a double bass) or a harpsichord for the chamber.

The Concerto

     The concerto developed from the sonata. In Bologna there were three types of music: 1) Chamber music 2) Theater music 3) Church music. The church sonatas (sonate da chiesa) were turned into chamber music when they were performed at the academies of Bologna and eventually became the concerto grosso or big concerto.
     The first concerti grossi were written by Corelli and Torelli, but it was Corelli who developed the form to the point that his Conceri Grossi Opus 6 are considered to constitute the beginning of the late baroque period in music. The term Concerto Grosso was originally used by Corelli and Torelli (and by Gregori and Valentini) to designate an orchestra composition and to make a distinction from concerti sacri or concerti ecclesiastici and from the concerti da camera that were not orchestral compositions. Corelli wanted the title concerto grosso to represent music that was orchestral, as opposed to chamber music.
     The trio sonata is the foundation of the concerto grosso, built on the principal of two differently sized contrasting instrumental groups: a concertino group of four instruments (a trio sonata section) and a full string orchestra. 

* Church sonatas used organ, not harpsichord, although this has unfortunately not always followed in recordings. Many people still believe that continuo parts have to be realized by harpsichord, but that is not true.

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)

     Corelli was a very important composer who ushered in the new music of the 18th Century in majesty and beauty. It was he who fully brought tonality to music, and the flowering of his string orchestral music became the underpinnings of our orchestra of today. He was a composer and violinist who was born to a prosperous family of landowners. He studied in nearby Lugo and Faenza, and finally in Bologna, where he studied between 1666 and 1670 with Giovanni Benvenuti of the Accademia filarmonica (to which Corelli was admitted in 1670) and Leonardo Brugnoli, a virtuoso violinist.
     Sometime between 1671 and 1675 Corelli moved to Rome where he may have studied composition under Matteo Simonelli, from whom he would have learned polyphony in the style of Palestrina. In 1675 he is listed as one of the subordinate violinists (Arcangelo bolognese) in Roman payment documents; by 1679 he had begun to lead Roman orchestras. His Opus 1 was published in 1681.
     About 1700, the turn of the century, Corelli's music began to spread all over Europe and soon it became the most popular of all instrumental music. This was also the year in which his violin sonatas, Opus 5, were published. 
     Contemporary violinist Andrew Manze, director of the Academy of Ancient Music, has written that Corelli's Opus 5 constitutes "Arguably the finest and most influential [set of violin sonatas] ever assembled. This publication was the single most important musical link between the shadowlands of the seventeeth century and the eighteenth's Newtonian Enlightenment. All other baroque sonatas can be defined as being pre- or post-Corelli." Geminiani, thought so much of the Opus 5 Sonatas that he made arrangements of them as Concerti Grossi
     Corelli was also the greatest violinist of his day. He invented  technique for the instrument (which was still fairly new) and originated synchronized bowing for orchestras. He was hailed as the greatest of virtuosos of the violin, the Paganini of his day. Corelli's very popular concert tours brought the instrument its prominent place in music. 
     Corelli composed 12 concerto grossi, Opus 6. Records show some of these being played in Rome as early as 1682. They were published in Amsterdam in 1714. The first 8 are da chiesa. Among his many students were included not only Geminiani but also Vivaldi and Handel! It was Vivaldi who became Corelli's successor and who also greatly influenced the music of Bach.

Opus 1 Sonate da Chiesa a trč Op.1 Nos 1-12 (1681)
Opus 2 Sonate da Camera a trč Op.2 Nos 1-12 (1685)
Opus 3 Sonate da Chiesa a trč Op.3 Nos 1-12 (1689)
Opus 4 Sonate da Chiesa a trč Op.4 Nos. 1–12 (1694) 
Opus 5 Sonate a violino e violoncello o cembalo Op.5 Nos. 1–11 and La Folia (1700)
Opus 6 Concerti Grossi Op.6 Nos 1-12 
  Sinfonia (WoO1) to the Oratorio Santa Beatrice d’Este
  Sonata a Quattro WoO2 
  Sonate a Quattro in D major (WoO4) Tromba sola, due Violini e Basso
  Sonate Postume a due violini e violoncello col basso per l’Organo (WoO5-10) 

On the Web:
Baroque Music Org
Excellent Bio

12 Concerti Grossi, Opus 6
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner, director
London 443 862-2

Sonate a tre
Ensemble Aurora, Enrico Gatti, maestro di concerto
Tactus TC 65030101

Violin Sonatas, Opus 5

Corelli: His Life, His Work

Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709)

     Giuseppe Torelli was a composer and violinist who moved to Bologna in the early 1680s and became a member of the Accademia filarmonica. He studied with Perti and played viola at San Petronio between 1686 and 1696. He became maestro di concerto to the Margrave of Brandenburg at Ansbach in 1698. The following year he was in Vienna. In 1701 he was back in Bologna at San Petronio where he remained until his death. Torelli's contribution to our musical heritage has sadly been denied. It is time to uncover the music of this great composer, one of the founders of the 18th century baroque tradition.
     Torelli wrote a very beautiful Christmas concerto that you can listen to here

Trumpet Concertos

On the Web:

Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751)

     Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni was a composer who lived his entire life in Venice. He was born in Venice in 1671, the son of a wealthy Venice merchant. Early on he became a singer and violinist, but he did neither professionally, instead becoming a composer. His first opera, Zenobia, regina de Palmireni, was produced in Venice in 1694 at the same time as his Opus 1, 12 Sonate a tre
      Albinoni composed both vocal compositions (operas, cantatas and serenatas) and instrumental works (sonatas and concertos). He wrote as many as 81 operas, but most all are now lost. He published nine books of music:

Opus 1 1694 12 Trio Sonatas
Opus 2 1700 6 Sinfoniae & 6 Concerti a 5
Opus 3 1701 12 Baletti de Camera (a 3)
Opus 4 1704 6 Sonate da Chiesa for Violin & Bass
Opus 5 1707 12 Concertos
Opus 6 1711 12 Sonate da Camera for Violin & Bass
Opus 7 1716 12 Concertos for strings / oboe
Opus 8 1721 6 Sonatas & 6 Baletti (a 3)
Opus 9 1722 12 Concertos for strings / oboe

     The serenata is a dramatic cantata for two to six voices. Two of these survive. 
      It is very unfortunate to state that much of Albinoni's music was lost during World War II when American and British planes conducted carpet bombing on the city of Dresden, destroying the Dresden State library. This is a reminder of the importance of digitizing what remains of the old music and writings, making it available via the internet to all cultures of the world.

On the Web:
Baroque Music Org

Tomaso Albinoni Complete Concertos Opus 9
The complete Concertos Opus 9 and the adagio for organ and strings (see note below)
I Musici
Philips 456 333-2
This CD by the legendary I Musici string ensemble contains the complete Opus 9 concertos of Albinoni and a very well-known, and beautiful, composition called Albinoni's Adagio in G minor for Strings and Organ that was not written by Albinoni at all, but by one Remo Giazotto. The fact that Mr. Giazotto, an Italian Albinoni scholar, wrote this piece, and not Albinoni, has been passed over by record companies. In fact it was this composition, with its erroneous credit, that led to Albinoni's popularity in the last two decades. Mr. Giazotto based his composition on a fragment of Albinoni's music found in Dresden.

Tomaso Albinoni by Michael Talbot
A paperback edition published by Clarendon Paperbacks in 1990 

Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1685-1764)

      Locatelli was born in Bergamo, Italy, but moved to Rome where he most likely studied composition, probably with Corelli. He was a virtuoso violinist. In 1729 he moved to Amsterdam. Locatelli wrote 24 concerti grossi, first published in Amsterdam in 1720. His Opus 1 consisted of 12 concerti grossi and 12 fugues. These 12 concerti grossi have, thanks to Naxos, now been rendered into recording medium and are available. And they are treasures! In the style of Corelli, No. 8, similar to Corelli, is a wonderful Christmas concerto. Yet these are not imitations, but creations of a fine composer and wonderful treasures to listen to. Let's hope Locatelli and his fellow Italian instrumentalists become known in the 21st Century. This is beautiful music.
Opus 1 12 Concerti Grossi  1721
Opus 3 12 Concerti Grossi  1735
Opus 4 6 Symphonie and 6 Concerti


Opus 7 Concerti a quattro 1741
Opus 10 Contrasto armonico; concerti a quarttro


On the Web:

Concerti Grossi No. 1--6
Concerti Grossi No. 7-12

Francesco Onofrio Manfredini (1684-1762)

      Francesco Manfredini was born in Pistoia, Italy in 1684, and studied in Bologna with Torelli and Perti. He published his set of Concerto Grossi di camera, Opus 1 in 1704, the year he became a member of the Accademia Filarmonica. Next came a set of Sinfonie da chiesa, Opus 2. He became head of music at St. Philip's Cathedral in Pistoia in 1727 and remained there the rest of his life. He left just 43 published works. 
Opus 1 Concertini per camera 1704
Opus 2 Sinfonie da chiesa 1709
Opus 3 Concerti condue violini e basso obbligati, e due altri violini, viola, e basso de rinforzo 1718

On the Web:

Concerti Grossi Opus 3 (1-12)

Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762)

     Francesco Geminiani was born in Lucca, Italy. He went to Milan to study music, then to Rome where he completed music study with two great composers, Corelli and Scarlatti. By 1707 he had returned to Lucca were he was a violinist in the orchestra of the Signoria. He served the court at Lucca until 1710, then conducted a theater orchestra in Naples in 1711.
     In 1714 Geminiani made a permanent move to London where he enjoyed a great success as a violin virtuoso, playing for King George with Handel accompanying him on the harpsichord. Geminiani's Opus 1 Violin Sonatas were published there in 1716. 
     In 1726 he published arrangements and embellished versions of Corelli's Opus 5 violin sonatas converted into concerti grossi. These were very sucessful, as the original works were very well known. His own concertos, Opus 2 and 3 appeared in 1732 and 1733.
     Geminiani was a higly regarded teach and violin virtuoso in England. His Opus1 and 4 violin sonatas were so difficult that very few contemporary violinists dared play them in public. He wrote treatises that were studied by violinists for many, many years. They include A Treatise on the Art of Good Taste in Music (London, 1749), The Art of Accompaniment (London, ca. 1754), and the famous of all three: The Art of Playing on the Violin (London, 1754). 
     He went to Paris in 1754 where he wrote a ballet-pantomime called The Enchanted Forest. It was staged in Paris that year. He returned to England in 1755. He moved to Ireland in 1760 and his last public appearance took place on March 3, 1760; He was 72 years old. A spectator wrote: "fine and elegant taste, and the perfection of time and tune." He died in 1762.

Opus 1 12 Sonate per Violin 1716
Opus 2 6 Concerti Grossi 1732
Opus 3 6 Concerti Grossi 1733
Opus 4 12 Sonate per Violin 1739
Opus 5 6 Violoncello or Violin sonate 1746
Opus 7 6 Concerti Grossi 1746
  The Enchanted Forrest 1754

On the Web:

Concerto Grossi, Opus 7
The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Iona Brown, director
Concerti Grossi Opus 2, 3 and 4
Southwest German Chamber Orchestra of Pforzheim, Paul Angerer, director
VoxBox CDX 5152

Naxos Opus 2 and 3
Corelli's Opus 5 Orchestrated by Geminiani
Various Recordings

Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762): 
Part 1: Life and Works; Part 2: Thematic Catalogue

Overview Instrumental Music J S Bach

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