Thursday, February 17, 8653

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) - Trio Sonata

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)

Church Sonata in Three Parts, Op. 3, No. 7 in E Minor (1689)

Church Sonata in Three Parts, Op. 3, No. 12 in A Major (1689)

Chamber Sonata in Three Parts, Op. 4, No. 1 in C Major (1694)

Concerto Grosso in G Minor (1713)

Arcangelo Corelli (February 17, 1653 – January 8, 1713) was an influential Italian violinist and composer of Baroque music.

Arcangelo Corelli was born at Fusignano, Italy, in the current-day province of Ravenna. Little is known about his early life. His master on the violin was Giovanni Battista Bassani. Matteo Simonelli, the well-known singer of the pope’s chapel, taught him composition.

His first major success was gained in Paris at the age of nineteen, and to this he owed his European reputation. From Paris, Corelli went to Germany. In 1681 he was in the service of the electoral prince of Bavaria; between 1680 and 1685 he spent a considerable time in the house of his friend and fellow violinist-composer Cristiano Farinelli (believed to be the uncle of the celebrated castrato Farinelli).

In 1685 Corelli was in Rome, where he led the festival performances of music for Queen Christina of Sweden and he was also a favorite of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, grand-nephew of another Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni who in 1689 became Pope Alexander VIII). From 1689 to 1690 he was in Modena; the Duke of Modena was generous to him. In 1708 he returned to Rome, living in the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni. His visit to Naples, at the invitation of the king, took place in the same year.

The style of execution introduced by Corelli and preserved by his pupils, such as Francesco Geminiani, Pietro Locatelli, and many others, was of vital importance for the development of violin playing. It has been said that the paths of all of the famous violinist-composers of 18th-century Italy lead to Arcangelo Corelli who was their "iconic point of reference." (Toussaint Loviko, in the program notes to Italian Violin Concertos, Veritas, 2003)

However, Corelli used only a limited portion of his instrument's capabilities. This may be seen from his writings; the parts for violin he very rarely proceeded above D on the highest string, sometimes reaching to the E in fourth position on the highest string. The story has been told and retold that Corelli refused to play a passage which extended to A in altissimo in the overture to Handel’s oratorio il Trionfo del Tempo e Disinganno (premiered in Rome, 1708), and took serious offence when the composer played the note.

Nevertheless, his compositions for the instrument mark an epoch in the history of chamber music. His influence was not confined to his own country. Johann Sebastian Bach studied the works of Corelli and based an organ fugue (BWV 579) on Corelli's Opus 3 of 1689.

Musical society in Rome also owed much to Corelli. He was received in the highest circles of the aristocracy, and for a long time presided at the celebrated Monday concerts in the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni.

Corelli died in possession of a fortune of 120,000 marks and a valuable collection of pictures, the only luxury in which he had indulged. He left both to his benefactor and friend, who generously made over the money to Corelli's relatives. Corelli is buried in the Pantheon at Rome. One can still trace back many generations of violinists from student to teacher to Corelli.

His compositions are distinguished by a beautiful flow of melody and by a mannerly treatment of the accompanying parts, which he is justly said to have liberated from the strict rules of counterpoint.

His concerti grossi have often been popular in Western culture. For example, a portion of the Christmas Concerto, op.6 no.8, is in the soundtrack of the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. He is also referred to frequently in the novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

Corelli composed 48 trio sonatas, 12 violin and continuo sonatas and 12 Concerti grossi.

Six opuses are authentically ascribed to Corelli, together with a few other works.

Opus 1: 12 sonatas da chiesa (trio sonatas for 2 violins and continuo) (Rome 1681)

Opus 2: 12 sonatas da camera (trio sonatas for 2 violins and continuo) (Rome 1685)

Opus 3: 12 sonatas da chiesa (trio sonatas for 2 violins and continuo) (Rome 1689)

Opus 4: 12 sonatas da camera (trio sonatas for 2 violins and continuo) (Rome 1694)

Opus 5: 12 Suonati a violino e violone o cimbalo (6 sonatas da chiesa and 6 sonatas da camera for violin and continuo) (Rome 1700) The last sonata is a set of variations on La Folia.

Opus 6: 12 concerti grossi (8 concerti da chiesa and 4 concerti da camera for concertino of 2 violins and cello, string ripieno and continuo) (Amsterdam 1714)

op. post.: 6 Sonate a tre WoO 5–10 (Amsterdam 1714)


The trio sonata is a musical form which was particularly popular in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Such a work is written for two solo melodic instruments and basso continuo, making three parts in all, hence the name trio sonata. However, because the basso continuo is usually made up of at least two instruments (typically a cello or bass viol and a keyboard instrument such as the harpsichord), trio sonatas are typically performed by at least four musicians. The trio sonatas by Arcangelo Corelli (opus I, 1681, opus III, 1689) set an inspiring example.

The melody instruments used are typically two violins. A well-known exception is the trio sonata in Johann Sebastian Bach's The Musical Offering, for violin and flute.

Johann Sebastian Bach's trio sonatas for organ (BWV 525-530) combine all three parts on one instrument. Typically the right hand, left hand and pedals will each take a different part thus creating the same texture as in a trio. For obvious reasons, these six trios have been transcribed for four musicians in recent times. A further innovation of Bach was the creation of what are strictly trio sonatas, involving a concertante (obligato) harpsichord part and one melodic instrument, thus for two players. Known examples are the six sonatas for harpsichord and solo violin (BWV 1014-1019), three sonatas for harpsichord and viola da gamba (BWV 1027-1029) and the three sonatas for harpsichord and flauto traverso (BWV 1030-1032).


Tomaso Albinoni 12 sonatas da chiesa op.1 and 12 sonatas da camera op.8

Arcangelo Corelli 24 sonatas da chiesa op.1 and op.3, 24 sonatas da camera op.2 and op.4.
Henry Purcell Twelve sonatas of three parts, 1683, ten sonatas in four parts, 1697 (both sets for two violins and BC)

Johann Sebastian Bach, trio sonatas BWV 1036-1039. Some of these are of doubtful attribution, but all are typical of baroque chamber music. They are written for basso continuo and two violins, except 1039 which is written for two flutes and basso continuo (which concurs with BWV 1027).

Dieterich Buxtehude, Op. 1, Six trio sonatas and Op. 2, Seven trio sonatas. Scored for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. These were Buxtehude's only works that were published during his lifetime.

George Frideric Handel trio sonatas op.2 and op.5

Georg Philipp Telemann around 150 trio sonatas, most in the Corelli style.

Johann Pachelbel, Musikalische Erg├Âtzung ("Musical Delight"), containing 6 trio sonatas for two violins and basso continuo. Original score in scordatura.

Antonio Vivaldi, 12 trio sonatas da camera op.1 and 2 sonatas op.5.

Jan Dismas Zelenka, Six trio (or quartet) sonatas, ZWV 181. Scored for two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo. These are technically difficult pieces, containing some extremely demanding bassoon and oboe parts.


The concerto grosso (Italian for "big concert" or "contest," plural concerti grossi) is a form of baroque music in which the musical material is passed between a small group of soloists (the concertino) and full orchestra (the ripieno).

The form developed in the late 1600's.

Alessandro Stradella seems to have written the first music in which two groups of different sizes are combined in the characteristic way. The first major composer to use the term concerto grosso was Arcangelo Corelli. After Corelli's death, a collection of twelve of his concerti grossi was published; not long after, composers such as Francesco Geminiani and Giuseppe Torelli wrote concertos in the style of Corelli, who also had a strong influence on Antonio Vivaldi.

Two distinct forms of the concerto grosso exist: the concerto da chiesa (church concert) and the concerto da camera (chamber concert). The concerto da chiesa alternated slow and fast movements; the concerto da camera had the character of a suite, being introduced by a prelude and incorporating popular dance forms. These distinctions blurred over time.

Corelli's concertino group was invariably two violins and a cello, with a string section as ripieno group. Both were accompanied by a basso continuo with some combination of harpsichord, organ, lute or theorbo. Handel wrote several collections of concerti grossi, and several of the Brandenburg Concertos by Bach also loosely follow the concerto grosso form.

The concerto grosso form was superseded by the solo concerto and the sinfonia concertante in the late eighteenth century, and new examples of the form did not appear for more than a century. In the twentieth century, the concerto grosso has been used by composers such as Ernest Bloch, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Bohuslav Martinů, Malcolm Williamson, Alfred Schnittke, and Philip Glass. Edward Elgar's Introduction and Allegro strongly resembles the instrumentatal set-up of a concerto grosso.


Alessandro Stradella (April 3, 1639 - February 25, 1682) was an Italian composer of the middle Baroque. He was born in Rome and murdered in Genoa.

Not much is known about his early life, but he was from an aristocratic family, educated at Bologna, and was already making a name for himself as a composer at the age of 20, being commissioned by Queen Christina of Sweden. In 1667 he moved to Rome where he composed copiously, mostly sacred music, and began to live a dissolute life. With a friend he attempted to embezzle money from the Roman Catholic Church, but was found out: he fled the city, only returning much later when he thought it was safe. Unfortunately his numerous incautious affairs with women began to make him enemies among the powerful men of the city, and he had to leave Rome for good.

In 1677 he went to Venice, where he was hired by a powerful nobleman as the music tutor to his mistress. As might be expected, Stradella was shortly involved with her, and had to flee when their liaison was found out; but this time the nobleman hired a gang of thugs to follow him and kill him, which they narrowly failed to do. Stradella went next to Genoa, where he wrote operas and cantatas; unfortunately he was again involved in an affair with a poorly-chosen woman, and this time a hired killer caught up with him at the Piazza Banchi and stabbed him to death.

Stradella was an extremely influential composer at the time, though his fame was eclipsed in the next century by Corelli, Vivaldi and others. Probably his greatest significance is in originating the concerto grosso: while Corelli in his Op. 6 was the first to publish works under this title, Stradella clearly uses the format earlier in one of his Sonate di viole. Since the two knew each other, a direct influence is likely.

Stradella wrote at least six operas, as well as numerous cantatas and oratorios. He also wrote 27 separate instrumental pieces, most for strings and basso continuo, and typically in the sonata da chiesa format.

His colorful life and bloody death clearly made a good story for an opera of its own. Three separate composers made operas out of his life, the most famous being Friedrich von Flotow with his Alessandro Stradella (Hamburg, 1844).

American novelist F. Marion Crawford also produced a highly romanticized novel of Stradella's affair and flight from Venice, titled Stradella (Macmillan 1909).


Roger North (September 3, 1653 - March 1, 1734, Rougham, England), English lawyer, biographer, and amateur musician, was the sixth son of the 4th Baron North.

He acquired a good practice at the bar, being helped by his elder brother Francis, who became lord chancellor, and in 1684 the younger was appointed solicitor-general to the Duke of York. In 1685, Roger was chosen as a Tory Member of Parliament for Dunwich. But the Revolution stopped his advancement, and he retired to his estate of Rougham in Norfolk, and increased his fortune by marrying the daughter of Sir Robert Gayer.

He collected books, and was constantly occupied in writing. But he is best known for his Lives of the Norths, published after his death, together with his own autobiography (see the edition in Bohns Standard Library, 1890, by Jessopp), a classic authority for the period. His comments on musical performance practice, in particular, have proven invaluable for musicologists researching the Baroque style in England. In addition to his writing on performance practice he wrote on musical aesthetics, on pedagogy, and on tuning and temperament; one of his most important achievements in this regard was devising a practical and detailed system for mean-tone tuning in the age before equal temperament.

Further Reading:

Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin
Music in the Western World: A History in Documents
Roger North
The Baroque Sonata (Pages 207-208)
The Musical Grammarian (Pages 211-212)


Pier Francesco Tosi (c. 1653 - 1732) was a castrato singer, composer, and writer on music. Born in Cesena to Giuseppe Felice Tosi, a composer and organist, Tosi became one of the most famous castrati of his day.

Tosi began his career singing in church choirs as a boy and young man. He sang in a Rome church, 1676–7, belonged to Milan Cathedral choir from 1681 until his dismissal for misconduct in 1685, made his one recorded appearance in opera at Reggio nell’Emilia in 1687, in Giovanni Varischino’s Odoacre, and was based in Genoa before going in 1693 to London, where he gave weekly public concerts and taught. From 1701 to 1723 he travelled extensively as musical and diplomatic agent of Emperor Joseph I and the Elector Palatine. From 1724 he again taught in London for some years; sometime before 1681 he had become a priest. Although he composed a number of cantatas and arias, he is best known as the author of Opinioni de' cantori antichi e moderni (1723), a treatise on singing. This was translated into English as Observations on the Florid Song by Johann Ernst Galliard in 1742 and into German as Anleitung zur Singkunst by Johann Friedrich Agricola (who also provided an extensive commentary of his own) in 1757. Tosi also wrote some vocal works. He died in Faenza.

Further Reading:

Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin
Music in the Western World: A History in Documents
Pier Francesco Tosi
Observations on the Florid Song; or,
Sentiments on the Ancient and Modern Singers (1743) (Pages 257-259)

[8653 Pachelbel / 8653 Corelli / 8644 Protestant Nigeria]