Music inspired by the classic movie “La Dolce Vita” Fellini’s 1960 film “La Dolce Vita,” set against the backdrop of Roman high society, is the springboard for Baroque Band’s celebration of Arcangelo Corelli, to whom the Band will pay tribute during 2013, the 300th year since the composer’s death. Esteemed by Rome’s 17th- and 18th-century high society, and the foremost violinist of his time, Corelli had a powerful and lasting influence on the orchestra, on violin technique, and on the development of classical music. 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’s influence can be traced from his time, through many famous violinists over the generations, to today.
The Italian peninsula seems to have an undue share of the western world’s significant and great works of art, architecture, sculpture, and music—one can scarcely visit a place in Italy where her great past and present in art cannot be detected. Monuments abound in many forms, and much of Italy’s artistic heritage is intertwined with music. Italy’s rich store of sacred music extends from the middle ages through the present time, and her secular music from the same origins, picking up the invention of opera along the way! While Baroque Band’s program heard this evening is neither religious nor operatic, the invention of the concerto as a type of music was certainly Italian. The term, “concerto,” implies contrast, coming as it does from the Latin word, “concertare,” to contend. Among the earliest uses of the term is that of the title of a collection of Centi Concerti Sacri (1601), or 100 sacred concertos, by Lodovico Grossi da Viadana. In this music, the meaning of concerto refers to the contrast of voices with organ. Nine years later, Claudio Monteverdi would offer his famous “Vespers,” a work that is much more complex in its instrumentation and use of voices. The contending, as it were, of voices and musical instruments was relatively new in 1610—considering also the different styles of music contained in the vespers, one could also say that contrast existed on a stylistic level as well. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the concerto was beginning to favor exclusively instrumental combinations which would offer contrast, one to another. The large group of string instruments along with the continuo is called the “Concerto grosso,” or the “Ripieno”—these terms describe a large group of instruments which would engage in dialogue with a smaller group called the “concertino.” Among such composers as Alessandro Stradella and Giovanni Legrenzi, the reputation of Archangelo Corelli looms large in the history of the instrumental concerto. Corelli’s musical output is not as prolific as that of many of his contemporaries or successors. He concentrated on the solo sonata, the trio sonata, and the concerto and was among the first composers to make his contribution to history mainly by composing instrumental music. Born to a family of prosperous landowners, Corelli took his first musical instruction in the town of Faenza and went at last to Bologna, the site of a revered community of composers such as Cazzati, Vitali, and later, Torelli (not to be confused with our hero). In any event, Corelli established himself in Rome over a period of years, finally becoming one of the foremost violinists in that city. Among his patrons were Christina, the exiled (and now Roman Catholic) queen of Sweden, and Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili. In 1687, Corelli entered the cardinal’s service, but in 1690, another cardinal, Pietro Ottoboni. At the tender age of 22, Ottoboni had been created a cardinal by his uncle, Pope Alexander VIII, and held a good number high offices within the church. Corelli joined the new cardinal’s staff, enjoying a cordial, almost friendly, relationship with his employer. He continued to make music of high repute in Rome, finally fading from public view after 1708. Corelli’s influence cannot be overestimated, whether upon his fellow Italians (he is said to have asked for a note of a minute’s length to be played under a single bow for an audition) or upon the rest of western Europe. Bach, Handel, and Couperin admired his music, as did many others—they all sought to emulate the elegance, balance, and pure sensual beauty that Corelli’s music offers. Within that elegance also resides a fiery temperament—Corelli was said to have turned red in the face when playing the violin! Pietro Antonio Locatelli was among the finest virtuosi of the violin in his time. It was once said that his sweetness in playing cantabile passages—one man remarked that Locatelli’s playing of a Corelli adagio would induce “a canary to fall from its perch in a swoon of pleasure.” His work, “L’Arte del Violino,” which contains 24 caprices, was probably a seminal influence in the work by the same name to be written many years later by Paganini—Locatelli’s music can be virtuosic (one of the caprices has the violinist playing beyond the extent of the fingerboard!) Thought erroneously to be a student of Corelli (the mathematics of respective ages proscribes this), Locatelli probably learned much from Corelli’s contemporary and rival, Valentini. Thus trained in the conservative Roman tradition, Locatelli also embraced the more capricious and virtuosic musical tradition of Venice, most ably represented by Antonio Vivaldi. Locatelli, like Corelli, concentrated on instrumental music—also like Corelli, his output is not large, especially if one omits the works considered to be spurious. Unlike Corelli, Locatelli was most likely a more flamboyant player who, like Vivaldi and many others, extended the range of technical possibilities of the violin. Baroque Band’s Director of Music, Garry Clarke has made an arrangement, or transcription of a work dear to the heart of this writer—this is the Fugue in B Minor on a theme by Corelli, BWV (Bach Werke Verzeichnis, or Bach Works Catalogue) 579. Upon entering the service of the Duke of Weimar in 1709, Johann Sebastian Bach became familiar with contemporary Italian music. The Duke was keen, as were many Germans, to look to France and Italy for musical entertainment (Germans were certainly not ignored, but they were, by virtue of their locality, devoid of the exoticism that foreign music provided). Because of his acquisitions from publishers in Amsterdam, the Duke enjoyed a large library that included music Vivaldi, Corelli, Albinoni, and many others. Bach shows his affection for Corelli’s music by using a subject for a fugue of his own devising. This fugue is extremely effective as a string piece—any medium that will show the development of the subject will give a good and moving hearing of it. Next to the Brandenburg Concertos of Bach, Handel’s Concerti Grossi constitute one of the most important collections of instrumental music from the baroque era. The concerto heard tonight was composed in 1739, about seventeen years after the Brandenburg Concertos, works which, in all likelihood, Handel did not know. Handel came into a musical world that was very much enamored of Corelli’s music. Corelli’s sonatas and concertos served as models for countless such pieces by other composers of the generation or two after Corelli’s death in 1713, and Handel owes a great deal of his musical devices and forms to Corelli. To be sure, Handel’s pieces were composed forty years after Corelli’s and therefore reflect more the fashion of their own time, and Handel was a composer of equal originality and craft to Corelli. Nevertheless, the debt of Bach, Handel and Geminiani (especially in its conscious evocation of Corelli’s style as shown in its title) to Corelli is of great significance.