One of the giants of Italian Baroque, Arcangelo Corelli’s music is a masterful example of this musical style. Born a posthumous son on the 17th of February, 1653, in Fusignano, he is therefore today’s Baroque Birthday Boy!
Corelli worked hard and was accepted into Bologna’s much-esteemed Accademica Filarmonica (Source: Tafelmusik) which had been founded in 1666. With his great dedication to his art, Corelli eventually became an accomplished violinist. Many of his compositions have beautiful parts for the violin, and according to Toussaint Loviko, Corelli was considered by many subsequent of composers of Baroque, Classical and beyond as the “iconic point of reference.”
Corelli had two rivals whom he is said to have had trouble. The first was flamboyant French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, the other George Frideric Handel. Whilst Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s (probably invented) story goes that Lully frightened Corelli away from Paris, after being struck with terrible envy after the young Corelli’s success; Handel is said to have grievously offended Corelli with raising notes high in his music – Corelli only composed music that never “exceeded the third position” for a violin. Handel’s concertos are based on Corelli’s music.
Corelli’s patrons included Queen Christina of Sweden, and the Duke of Modena. Unlike Fux‘s and Bach’s rigid musical structure of counterpoint, Corelli’s is, by contrast, more free and flowing. It has more heart and soul and less mathematical accuracy, though it still maintains an adherence to a balance between contrapuntal and homophonic (perhaps due to his training with composer Matteo Simonelli?). (A History of Baroque Music, pages 117-121).
It’s all about the music, so let’s get back to that now. Here are some sonatas by Corelli, played by London Baroque:
Corelli’s most famous compositions are his concerti grossi, and among these is the what is popularly referred to as the “Christmas Concerto.” A recording of this was used memorably in the soundtrack for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the Earth:
I often listen to this soundtrack when I’m writing, because it also has a Variation on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, a Late Renaissance composer, which I love.
Another favourite cd of mine that I use while I wrote is the soundtrack to Casanova, which is jam-packed full of Baroque deliciousness. It includes Corelli’s Overture From Le Temple De La Gloire, Sonata Op.5 No.7 In D Minor, Sonata For Violin And Bassocontinuo, Op.5 No.11 In E Minor:
You can listen to Casanova’s Confession (Corelli’s Sarabande) from this album below:
Unlike other Baroque composers, Corelli was not a prolific composer, but the quality of his work was so good that it was highly influential nevertheless.
Read more about Corelli: