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8.553019 - GEMINIANI: Concerti Grossi, Vol. 1
English 

Francesco Geminiani (1687 - 1762)

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 of those Italian musicians who found a ready livelihood in England in the first half of the eighteenth century. Born in Lucca in 1687, he was a pupil of Corelli and of

Alessandro Scarlatti in Rome, after earlier violin lessons 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 his obligations there in 1710, as a result of the alleged frequency of his absences, and led the opera orchestra in Naples from the following year. Here he was referred to as furibondo, a reference to a tendency to freedom in rhythm that 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 Adolf Baron von Kielmansegg, the Hanoverian courtier who had been instrumental in bringing Handel to Hanover and thence to England. Geminiani dedicated his first set of a dozen violin sonatas to v6n Kielmansegg in 1716 and was indebted to the Master of the King's Horse for his introduction to the court of King George L before whom he played accompanied his own insistence, by Handel.

 

Geminiani won the support of a number of the nobility in England and exercised very considerable influence also through his pupils, including the young violinist Matthew Dubourg, who spent a considerable part of his life in Dublin, where he led the orchestra at the first performance of Handel's Messiah, Michael Festing, later Master of the King's Musick, and the Newcastle composer Charles Avison. Charles Burney, whatever his later thoughts 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 exclusive worship... by keeping company with travelled and heterodox gentlemen, who were partial 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 style of writing largely from him. Evidence of this may be seen in his publication in 1726 and 1727 of arrangements of Corelli's twelve violin sonatas as concerti grossi. Through the agency of the Earl of Essex it was proposed in 1728 that Geminiani should become Master and Composer of State Music in Ireland, but from this position he was, as a Catholic, excluded, and the honour went instead to his pupil Dubourg.

 

In London Geminiani continued teaching and performing, taking part in series of subscription concerts and in 1732 publishing two sets of concerti grossi, Opus 2 and Opus 3. He extended his activities, at the same time, to Ireland, where Matthew Dubourg was now established, continuing his connection with Dublin as occasion and Dubourg demanded during the following years. Quarrels with the London publisher Walsh, who had pirated Geminiani's compositions as he had Handel's, would have been settled by the granting of the royal privilege of exclusive rights to his compositions in 1739 and a similar licence in France the following year. Other publications followed in the 1740s, notably his Opus 7 concerti grossi in 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 Netherlands and to Paris, presumably attending the performance in the latter city of a staged version of his musical interpretation, in concerto grosso form, of an episode in Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, under the title The Inchanted Forest. It was in 1748 that Geminiani published his Rules for Playing in a True Taste and the fuller A Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musick in the following year. In 1751 he published his very influential The Art of Playing on the Violin, a vital source of information on contemporary practice. Of less importance are his Guida armonica and The Art of Accompaniment, with a later supplement to the former and a final The Art of Playing the Guitar or Cittra appearing in Edinburgh in 1760, published by his former pupil Robert Bremner.

 

Geminiani finally settled in Dublin, at the invitation of Dubourg, although there were still visits to Scotland and to England. The last concert of his of which there is any record was in Dublin in 1760, when he was still able to give a masterly account of himself, through his artistry concealing the physical weakness of age. He died in Dublin in 1762.

 

The form of the concerto grosso owes much to Geminiani's teacher, Arcangelo Corelli. Written as early as the 1680s, but published only posthumously in 1713, Corelli's twelve concerti epitomize a form that was to appeal to a very wide public, attracting both professional and amateur performance. If the dominant instrumental form of the period was the trio sonata, a composition for two melody instruments, with a figured bass line for cello or viola da gamba and keyboard, the concerto grosso was an extension of this. The latter form contrasts a small solo group, usually of two violins, cello and harpsichord, known as the concertino, with the main body of the now generally four-part string orchestra and its keyboard instrument. It was easy enough to transform the sonata into a concerto by allowing the main body of the orchestra, the so-called ripieno players, to reinforce the louder sections, leaving softer passages to the concertino. The concerto grosso developed soon more individual concertino parts that differed in elaboration from those of the ripieno or concerto grosso. In origin, then, the concerto grosso may be seen as a trio sonata writ large, a trio sonata arranged for orchestra. It should be added that both trio sonata and concerto grosso existed as either secular da camera compositions or as sacred da chiesa works, the former akin to a dance suite in a number of movements and the latter incorporating more solemn fugal elements in the second and often the fourth 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 first time, as well as in parts, as in 1732, but now corrected and enlarged, some thought to the detriment of the works. For this new edition it seems that he borrowed from Dr Burney a transcription that the latter had made many years before, not having the originals by him. Burney adds that Geminiani failed to return the manuscript.

 

The first of the Concerti grossi, Opus 2, in C minor, opens with an Andante, an introduction to an Allegro that starts with a descending arpeggio figure for the first violins, before moving on to contrasting rhythms. Directions in the following movement, marked Grave and then Andante, suggest contrasts of plucked and bowed strings. This movement proceeds immediately to an Allegro.

A second concerto in C minor, Opus 2, No.2, follows a similar pattern, with a slow introduction, leading to an Allegro of contrapuntal interest. A slow movement, with imitative interplay between the upper parts, leads at once to a final Allegro, in which concertina and ripieno are contrasted.

 

Concerto, Opus 2, No.3, has, in its first Allegro, something of the brilliance and melodic contour of Vivaldi. In the key of D minor, it is followed by a relaxation of tension in the gentle slow movement, capped by the final Allegro in triple time.

 

The pattern of a slower introductory movement, linked to a following Allegro, is resumed in the Concerto in D major, Opus 2, No.4, which, as with most of the concertos of Opus 2, lacks the virtuoso demands made on the first violin of the concertina in much of Opus 3. The following Andante varies the key and mode, moving forward directly to a final triple time Allegro.

 

The key of D minor returns in the Concerto, Opus 2, No.5, with its Corellian opening Adagio, introducing a contrapuntal Allegro. This leads to a relatively short Andante, linked to a final movement that brings frequent contrasts between the smaller and larger groups of players.

 

There is a slow introductory movement in the last concerto of the set, the Concerto in A major, Opus 2, No.6. This includes the necessary contrasts of texture of the form, proceeding to an Allegro with an imitative opening and a slow conclusion, marked Grave. The concerto ends with an Allegro marked by the triple rhythms that continued an older convention.

 

Geminiani's Concerti grossi, Opus 3, like the earlier version of Opus 2, differ from Corelli's in that the concertina group includes a solo viola, while the ripieno orchestra is in three parts, scored for two violins and bass, with a keyboard instrument providing the necessary chordal filling. The revised versions of 1755, not followed here, reduce the solo viola part and add a viola to the ripieno. The Concerto grosso in D major, Opus 3, No.1, opens with an Adagio in which concertino and ripieno are immediately contrasted. This leads to an energetic Allegro for the whole body of players, an opening forte being followed by an echoing piano, before an extended passage for solo violin. The opening material returns, following the ritornello pattern of the movement, leading to a further burst of activity from the solo violin. The pattern continues in this way, finally allowing the solo violin some scope for even further virtuosity. There is a short Adagio, with multiple stopping for the two violins of the concertino, leading to a final Allegro in the expected gigue rhythm, here 12/8, four groups of triple quavers in a bar, allotted first to the solo violins. As the movement continues the first soloist assumes greater prominence.

 

The Concerto grosso in G minor, Opus 3, No.2, starts with a movement marked Largo e staccato with an element of dotted rhythm. This introduces a lively triple rhythm Allegro in which the principal solo soon assumes prominence, a pattern that is continued. The solo instruments enter one by one, over a sustained cello note, in the following Adagio, marked by the descending figure of the solo violin in the opening bars. In the final Allegro, with its imitative violin entries, the solo viola has a little more independence and even one triple-stopped chord.

 

The third of the set, the Concerto grosso in E minor, Opus 3, No.3, has the briefest of Adagio introductions, six bars that lead to a contrapuntal Allegro. Here the first solo violin proposes a chromatic fugal subject, answered by the second violin of the concertino, by the cello and by the viola. It is only later that the ripieno players join in a movement that includes other contrapuntal devices. The second movement is an Adagio, with a moving quaver pattern sustained at first by the two violins of the concertino. There are contrapuntal entries in the final Allegro, the subject suggested by the first violin, repeated by the second and briefly, in inverted form, by the viola and then by the cello. The repeated notes of the opening figure continue to hold some importance as the movement proceeds.

 

The Concerto grosso in D minor, Opus 3, No.4 has a slow introduction that is relatively extended, leading to a rapid 3/8 Allegro without significant solo activity. A short Largo then serves as a prelude to a final Vivace in which a gigue-like triple rhythm predominates in relatively short contrasting passages between concertino and ripieno.

 

 


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