Arcangelo Corelli: the Period, Life, and Works

Music was discovered thousands of years ago and has only progressively gotten better with the invention of instruments and the development of musical dynamics. During the baroque period, in which Arcangelo Corelli lived and died, music was beginning to evolve into a more diverse musical experience. Arcangelo Corelli was one of the few violins and musical composer pioneers that helped shape music and create some of the most recognized compositions of his era.
According to Baroque Music, Corelli not only shared his musical knowledge with fellow musicians but was known as the “founder of modern violin technique,” the “world’s first great violinist,” and the “father of concerto grosso. ” The period, life, and works in which the great Arcangelo Corelli lived will be discussed in greater detail as the paper progresses. To begin, the baroque period, also known as the “age of absolutism,” is classified by the years 1600, in which opera began, to the death of Johann Sebastian Bach in 1750 (Kamien 99).
Opera was birthed in Italy within the baroque period and provided the people a show of “magnificent extravagance” with more emphasis on the words than the music (Kamien 118-19). Furthermore, the baroque styled opera marked the entrance of castrato singers. These singers were males who had been castrated before they hit puberty to ensure the lung power of men and the vocal range of women. “By combining virtuosity, nobility, and extravagance, baroque opera perfectly expressed the spirit of a grand age” (Kamien 120).

As well as the start of opera, the texture of the music was imperative during the baroque period. In the early baroque period, from 1600 to 1640, musicians favored the homophonic texture of the music. Early baroque composers thought the only way to clearly project the lyrics of the songs was to have a main, constant melody with stressed contrasting sounds by singers against a chorus or using voices against instruments. In contrast, during the late baroque period, 1690-1750, the favored texture was polyphonic, just as it had been during the renaissance period (Kamien 102).
According to NAU, “polyphonic texture contains two or more active melodies… with emphasis placed upon the interplay between lines, rather than on a single melody or a stream of chord sounds” (par 1). In addition, the layering of voices shares importance with the polyphonic texture of the baroque period. “Layering is when two or more voices move at different but closely related levels of rhythmic activity, similar to different parts of a machine moving at different but related speeds” (“Polyphonic” par 2).
Although homophonic texture paved a way for the music of the baroque period, most of the baroque compositions that are well-known used the polyphonic texture which helped “instrumental music become as important as vocal music for the first time” (Kamien 102) In addition, the form of the music in the baroque period was also important. The musical forms varied from sonatas to concerto grosso to the most basic forms. For instance, the two basic musical forms are ternary form, which is a three-part A B A sequence, and binary form, which is a two-part A B sequence.
The most commonly used basic form of the baroque period was the ternary form, which had sounds that mirrored “a statement, a contrast or departure, and a return,” hinting an A B A sequence (Kamien 49-50). Next, the concerto grosso was very essential for the late baroque. The concerto grosso, “a small group of soloists pitted against a larger group of players called the tutti (all),” was used by orchestras in upper-class palaces that provided the soloists with “brilliant and fanciful melodic lines” (Kamien 108).
Finally, the sonatas were popular in the baroque period for churches, performances, and for leisure. A sonata is “a composition in several movements for one to eight instruments. ” In the same way, the trio sonata gained popularity with composers because they were composing for three melodic lines (Kamien 125). With that in mind, Arcangelo Corelli composed a trio sonata in 1689 for stringed instruments called the Trio Sonata in A Minor, Op. 3, No. 10 with four movements (Kamien 126). Although the trio sonata would appear to have three parts, the trio sonata in fact has four instrumentalists, with two high instruments and two instruments for the lower basso continuo (Kamien 125). Relatively, the tempo was an important development of the baroque era. Before the seventeenth century, the tempo was indicated by notations. Conversely, the baroque period was the beginning of using terms to describe tempo which originated in Italy and quickly spread throughout Europe. Consequently, the terms still used today to describe tempo are in Italian.
For example, allegro means a fast tempo, accelerando means becoming faster, and largo means a very slow tempo. Even though the terms were created, some composers still had confusion about the many different meanings that the words could denote. In correlation, “the invention of the metronome allowed composers to become very precise with their tempo markings, however, most conductors and performers still tend to regard tempo as a matter of interpretation” (Miller par 4). In Fusignano, Italy, on February 17, 1653, over 360 years ago, Italian violinist Arcangelo Corelli was born to a prosperous family.
Santa and Arcangelo Corelli Sr. had five children together, including Arcangelo— Ippolito, Domenico, Giovanna and Giacinto. Corelli was named after his father who unfortunately died a month before his birth and as a result, he was raised by his single mother, Santa Corelli (Talbot 181). Corelli’s initial musical studies were with the local clergy near Faenza, Italy, and then finally studied in Bologna, Italy in 1666. “His studies there were with Giovanni Benvenuti and Leonardo Brugnoli, the former representing the disciplined style of the Accademia Philarmonic (to which Corelli was admitted in 1670)” (When par 1).
According to Padre Martini, Arcangelo Corelli took his first violin lessons at Bologna from Benvenuti and then later Brugnoli (Talbot 181). In the mid-1670s, Corelli established himself in Rome, Italy where he found himself in the service of Queen Christina of Sweden in 1679 (“Arcangelo” par 1). Prior to meeting Queen Christina, Corelli “appeared as a violinist in the orchestra that recruited for a series of Lenten oratorios at S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini” in 1676 (Talbot 182). In 1681, Arcangelo dedicated his Opus1 to the Queen of Sweden which he described as the “first fruits of his studies” (Talbot 183-84). In 1684, Corelli began to regularly perform at musical functions for an employer named Cardinal Pamphili. Shortly after beginning his services for Pamphili, Corelli dedicated his Opus 2 to him in 1685 (Talbot 185). Correspondingly, “on July 9, 1687, Cardinal Pamphili engaged Corelli as his music master at a monthly salary of ten Florentine piasters” (Talbot 186). At this time, Corelli and his pupil, Matteo Fornari, moved into Pamphili’s palace to serve their talents.
Sadly, Pamphili moved out of Rome in 1690, which left Corelli to find a new patron. Fortunately, Corelli quickly found patronage in Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, to whom he dedicated his Opus 4 to (Kemp par 1). Luckily for Corelli, Ottoboni viewed him more as a friend than a servant and allowed Corelli to live the rest of his life in his palace (Kemp par 2). Furthermore, Corelli directed opera pieces at the Cancelleria and the Tordinona theatre. In “Naples, Italy on May 1, 1702, Corelli played Scarlatti’s Tiberio, imperator d’Oriente” (Talbot 188).
With his evidently superior skills, “in 1706 Corelli was elected as one of only a handful of musicians to the select the artistic circle known as the Accademia degli Arcadi” (Kemp par 2). Regrettably, after 1708, Arcangelo Corelli discharged himself from the public’s eye, and “busied himself with the composition of concerti Grosso” (Talbot 189). A few years later, in December of 1712, his health began to deteriorate. Consequently, Corelli wrote his will on January 5, 1713, in which he left “all his violins, his manuscripts, the plates of his Opus 4, and his future Opus 6” to his pupil, Matteo Fornari.
Three days later, Arcangelo Corelli, at the age of 59, died in Rome, Italy (Talbot 189) and was buried in the Pantheon, near Raphael Sanzio da Urbino, a famous painter (Kemp par 3). “The anniversary of his death was marked for several years afterward by solemn performances of his concertos in the Pantheon” (Talbot 190). In relation to Corelli’s musical success, his musical style was revolutionary. “Corelli popularized certain rhythmical stereotypes, in particular, the ‘walking’ or ‘running’ bass in which an inessential note is interposed between two harmony notes” (Talbot 196). His allegros are characterized by rapid changes of harmony underlining the metrical structure, repeated notes, widely ranging themes, idiomatic violin writing… and a mechanically progressive rhythm” (When par 6). Even though Arcangelo Corelli was an innovator of sorts, the only device he is named after is the ‘Corelli clash’ (“where the late resolution on to the leading note at a cadence coincides with the anticipation of the tonic note in the companion upper part”) which was popular in 1680’s dance music (Talbot 196).
According to Talbot, “informal matters, Corelli is often credited with the clearest exposition of the difference between the ‘church’ and ‘chamber’ varieties of the sonata, and the establishment of four movements as the norm in both” (196). “Few composers achieved so much so quickly, and with such economical means, as Corelli” (200). Undoubtedly, Arcangelo Corelli created many masterpieces that received much praise during and after his lifetime. His Opus 1, to whom he dedicated to Queen Christina of Sweden, is twelve church trio-sonatas. (“Arcangelo” par 8).
Opus 1 (Opera Prima) was written for “two violins and Violone or Archlute with organ bass and in a somewhat serious contrapuntal style” (Deas 7). Admittedly, Opus 1 has been reprinted “through 35 known editions between 1681 and 1785” (Talbot 193). Following Opus 1 and 2, Corelli created Opus 3 (Opera Terza), which is a set of twelve trio-sonatas in dedication to the Duke of Modena in 1689 (Deas 6). According to Deas, in Opus 3 “there is plenty of vigorous independent part-writing in the many fugal movements and, in the slow introductions and middle movements, poise and dignity that might be called Handelian” (7).
In fact, Johann Sebastian Bach “borrowed the subject of the second movement of Opus 3 No. 4 for an organ fugue” ( Talbot 193). Not before long, Arcangelo Corelli was back at it again with his composition of Opus 5, the most popular opus of his career with 42 editions being reprinted by 1800 (Talbot 193). Opus 5 is a set of twelve violin and bass sonatas that were dedicated to Sophia Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg with no clear date of creation (Deas 6). Corelli’s Opus 5 continued to be performed and used as teaching pieces before and after his death (Zaslaw par 2).
In fact, according to Zaslaw, “no other set of works enjoyed a comparable reception in the 18th century” more than Corelli’s Opus 5 (par 1). Before his untimely death, Corelli started but never finished Opus 6 (Opus Sesta). Opus 6, dedicated to John William, Elector Palatine, was finally finished and published in 1714 (Edwards 526) with help from Corelli’s former pupil Matteo Fornari (Talbot 189). In Corelli’s Opus 6 concerto grosso, “the smaller group consists of two violins and a cello, and the larger of a string orchestra” (“Arcangelo” par 5).
Although Corelli did not invent concerto grosso, “it was he who proved the potentialities of the form, popularized it, and wrote the first great music for it” and if not for him as a model, “it would have been impossible for Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach to have given us their concerto grosso masterpieces” (Arcangelo” par 4). Corelli “reached his creative peak and climaxed all his musical contributions” with the publication of his concerto grosso (“Arcangelo” par 3). In final consideration, Arcangelo Corelli, an Italian violinist, was a heavy hitter of his time period.
Corelli had many pupils that included Francesco Geminiani and Antonio Vivaldi who later went on to influence the famous Johann Sebastian Bach (“Arcangelo” par 9). “His contributions can be divided three ways, a violinist, composer, and teacher. It was his skill on the new instrument known as the violin and his extensive and very popular concert tours throughout Europe which did most to give that instrument its prominent place in music” (“Arcangelo” par 2). “As a violinist, he was one of Europe’s most sought-after teachers, exerting an influence on instrumental technique which spread well into the 18th century” (Kemp par 3).
The point in fact, according to Kemp, “his 48 published trio sonatas, 12 solo violin sonatas and 12 concerti Grossi were quickly recognized as offering supreme models of their kind” (par 3). “As a composer, he was the first to become famous based solely on instrumental composition, the first composer whose reputation was directly influenced by music publishers and the first to produce instrumental works that would become classics” (Cole par 1). Arcangelo Corelli “has taken a place among the immortal musicians of all time, and he maintains that exalted position today” and will forever remain a pioneer for baroque music (“Arcangelo” par 10).
Works Cited

“Arcangelo Corelli. ” Baroque Music. Internet Arton Publications, n. d. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. Cole, Richard. , et al. “Arcangelo Corelli. ” Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary.
Virginia Tech Department of Music, n. d. Web. 15 Feb. 2013 Deas, Stewart.
“Arcangelo Corelli. ” Music & Letters Jan. 1953, Vol. 34, No. 1: 1-10.
JSTOR. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. Edwards, Owain. “Corelli and The Violin. ” History Today 26. 8 (1976): 525-531.
Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. Kamien, Roger. Music: An Appreciation. 7th ed.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print. Kemp, Lindsay. Arcangelo Corelli. ”
BBC News. BBC, 2003. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. Miller, R. J. “The Baroque Era. ” clem. mscd.
Appassionata Music Pub. , 2002. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. “Polyphonic Texture and Genres. ”
NAU. N. p. , n. d. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. Talbot, Michael. “Arcangelo Corelli. ” Italian Baroque Masters. Ed. Stanley Sadie.
New York, London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1984. Print. Whent, Chris. “Arcangelo Corelli. ”
HOASM. N. p. , n. d. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. Zaslaw, Neal. “Ornaments for Corelli’s Violin Sonatas, Op. 5.
” Oxford Journals. Oxford University Press, 1996. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.

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