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8.557165 - 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 1653 into a family that had enjoyed considerable prosperity since the fifteenth century. Legend even suggested descent from the Roman general Coriolanus, and further improbable anecdotes surround a childhood during which he seems to have taken music lessons from a priest at Faenza, continued at Lugo, before, about the year 1670, moving to the famous musical centre of Bologna, where he was able to study the violin under teachers of the greatest distinction, their precise identity subject to various conjectures. The basilica of San Petronio in Bologna boasted a musical establishment of considerable prestige under Maurizio Cazzati, with some 33 musicians. In addition the city had been the home of a number of learned academies since the middle of the sixteenth century, largely replaced in 1666 by the Accademia Filarmonica, an association that came to exercise wide influence.

By 1675 Corelli was in Rome, his presence recorded in various lists of violinists employed in the performance of oratorios and in the annual feast of St Louis of France. Stories of an earlier visit by Corelli to France and of the jealousy of Lully are generally considered apocryphal. In Rome, however, Corelli’s career is well enough documented. He served as a chamber musician to Queen Christina of Sweden, at least intermittently, until her death in 1689, and in 1687 directed a large body of musicians, with 150 string players and a hundred singers, in a concert in honour of the ambassador of King James II, Lord Castlemaine, entrusted with negotiations for the return of England to the Catholic faith. At the same time he received even more significant patronage from Benedetto Pamphili, great-nephew of Pope Innocent X, created Cardinal in 1681, and an exact contemporary of the composer. In 1687 Corelli became maestro di musica to the Cardinal and took up residence in his Palazzo on the Corso, where his pupil, the violinist Matteo Fornari, was employed, and the Spanish cellist Lulier, his colleagues in many performances. While normally responsible for an orchestra of some ten players, there were occasions when very large groups of musicians were assembled.

In 1690 Cardinal Pamphili was appointed papal legate to Bologna and Corelli moved to the Palazzo della Cancelleria, the residence of the newly created Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, the gifted young great-nephew of Pope Alexander VIII who had succeded to the papacy in 1689. Cardinal Ottoboni remained Corelli’s patron until the latter’s death early in 1713, thereafter behaving with great generosity to Corelli’s heirs. In Rome Corelli was held in great respect as a violinist and as a composer, although stories of less satisfactory performances during a visit to Naples, where he was seemingly defeated by the violin-writing of his colleague Alessandro Scarlatti, and of his declared inability to cope with the allegedly French style of the young Handel, suggest, at least, some limitations. At his death Corelli left a large collection of pictures, bequeathing one painting each to Cardinal Ottoboni and Cardinal Carlo Colonna. His musical instruments and manuscripts went to Matteo Fornari, now for twenty years his companion and colleague. By special papal indulgence Corelli was buried in the Pantheon in Rome, in a part of the church holding the remains of artists, sculptors and architects, his epitaph the work of his patron.

The surviving compositions of Corelli are relatively few in number but disproportionately far-reaching in influence. He published four sets of a dozen trio sonatas each between 1681 and 1694, while his important set of twelve Concerti grossi, Op. 6, the publication of which had been arranged in 1711, was issued posthumously in 1714, although these works had been known for some thirty years in Rome. He published his set of a dozen Violin Sonatas, Op. 5, in 1700, with a dedication to Sophia Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg.

The twelve violin sonatas, described as Sonate a Violino e Violone o Cimbalo, draw on the conventions of the more formal sonata da chiesa (church sonata) and the dance suites of the sonata da camera (chamber sonata), the two forms now beginning to merge. The published title, with an apparent alternative of either violone or keyboard instrument in accompaniment, has been the subject of argument. Some suppose that one or the other may be used, with the violone, a cello, playing the bass line and as far as possible filling out the chords implied by the figured bass, or with a keyboard instrument alone. Others have interpreted the Italian ‘o’ as ‘and/or’. There has been further discussion of the ornamentation of slow movements. Various early editions of the sonatas and manuscript copies of the same period include ornamentation, notably of the Adagio movements of the first six sonatas, in some allegedly as played by Corelli and elsewhere in versions proposed by other virtuosi. It would seem that violinists were often judged on their ability to ornament Corelli’s sonatas, which long held a hallowed place in violin repertoire.

The first six sonatas are broadly in the form of church sonatas, although two have final Giga movements, familiar from the chamber sonata form. Sonata No. 1 in D major, here with an organ accompaniment, starts with a decorated Adagio in which an Allegro interpolation suggests a further element of the prevailing embellishment. The following Allegro is in the contrapuntal form expected in a church sonata. Here the violin states the subject, adding a second entry in double stopping, before the entry of a third voice in the bass. A further rapid Allegro of more transparent form leads to a second ornamented B minor Adagio and a final contrapuntal Allegro in 6/8, with the violin again offering the subject and answer, before the third entry in the bass.

Sonata No. 2 in B flat major, again with organ accompaniment, starts with an ornamented slow movement, followed by a fugal Allegro in which the subject and answer are once more provided by the violin, before the third entry in the bass. The simpler Vivace leads to an ornamented G minor Adagio and a final fugal Vivace. A similar pattern is followed in Sonata No. 3 in C major, with organ accompaniment, at least in the initial Adagio, succeeded by a fugal Allegro, with a cadenza-like passage over a sustained pedal note, and a second Adagio, in A minor. The rapid Allegro leads to a final Giga in 12/8, in which each half of the movement is duly repeated in an embellished version. Sonata No. 4 in F major, here accompanied by harpsichord, has the expected embellished opening Adagio, leading to a fugal Allegro, with the three voices entering as before, the first two entrusted to the violin, followed by a third entry in the bass. The following Vivace is again in simpler texture, leading to a D minor Adagio and a concluding Allegro that has the mood of a dance, in spite of an initial suggestion of counterpoint. There is an opening ornamented Adagio to Sonata No. 5 in G minor. The fugal Vivace demands subtle handling of the bow, as the subject and answer overlap. The movement ends with an arpeggiated Adagio. The third movement modulates from E flat major, succeeded by a Vivace that brings initial dialogue between the violin and the bass of the harpsichord, a Giga with decorated repetitions of each half in conclusion. The first part of the collection ends with the Sonata No. 6 in A major. The decorated opening Grave is succeeded by a fugal Allegro, the entries appearing in descending order, the first two from the violin and the third in the bass of the continuo, played by the harpsichord. As elsewhere in such movements there are passages of brilliant arpeggiation. The lively following Allegro leads to an F sharp minor Adagio and the last movement is again a fugal Allegro in 6/8, concluding the set of six more technically demanding sonatas.

Keith Anderson


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