CONCERTI GROSSI, opus 6 & THEIR TRANSCRIPTIONS
Arcangelo Corelli’s career flourished during one of Rome’s most artistically fertile periods. He was born in 1653 near Ravenna to a family of well-to-do landowners, and was sent to study the violin in Bologna, home of a number of famous string players who handed on the tradition to their young prodigies. By 1675, he had moved to Rome where he quickly established himself as one of the city’s greatest virtuosos and most celebrated musicians, known equally as a performer and composer. He earned further fame as an orchestral director who imposed exceptional discipline on his players. He led performances in the homes of Queen Christina of Sweden, Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili and Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni; and directed public concerts at civil ceremonies, religious services, or private banquets. Throughout the 1680s and 1690s his works appeared in print at regular intervals, culminating in the celebrated opus 5 sonatas.
The decades surrounding 1700 saw a rapid increase in the number of music publishers and music publications in Europe. Corelli was among the composers who most benefited from the expanded audience and wider dissemination of instrumental music. He was the first popular composer whose reputation derived from his publications, and because of them, his works became the earliest instrumental classics. The opus 5 violin sonatas, for example, went through forty-two editions and countless arrangements and parodies in the century from its publication to 1800. From about 1710, Corelli retired from public appearances and concentrated on selecting and revising pieces for the set of concertos that he would publish as opus 6. The set was published in 1712 in Amsterdam, where they were beautifully engraved rather than printed from moveable type. While Corelli certainly composed a vast quantity of chamber music, only his twelve concertos for two violins and violoncello—along with an Introduction and Sinfonia to Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier’s oratorio Santa Beatrice d’Este—are all that remain of his orchestral music.
THE WORKS IN THEIR ORIGINAL FORM
Corelli’s collection of concerti grossi represents a lifetime of public performance, during which he may have composed well more than a hundred concertos. These twelve are in fact a set of individual movements, assembled by Corelli to form models of his concerto grosso style. Corelli repeatedly made improvements to his works, hardly being able to leave well enough alone. And all the opus 6 concertos have more movements than a typical concerto, providing yet another reason to believe that they were assembled from various manuscripts. It is likely that any one them derives material from as many previous sources as there are movements.
They are usually divided into two groups. The first eight are in the sonata da chiesa style, though only one—the so-called “Christmas concerto” with its final pastoral movement—has a tie to religious imagery or celebrations. The last four follow the format of the sonata da camera, indicated by the presence of dance movements. But such a division hardly does justice to either the heterogeneity or the kaleidoscopic variety of opus 6. The style of the music reflects Corelli’s playing style: “learned, elegant, pathetic,” in the words of one contemporary. All the concertos are models of subtlety and nuance, and they share a singing, cantabile expressiveness that spurred a thousand clichéd imitations.
In 1708, he wrote “[I am] fully aware of my own weaknesses, so that only recently, in spite of numerous, long drawn-out corrections, I scarcely had the confidence to put before the public eye those few works I entrusted to the printer.” Despite his humbleness, these concertos are brilliant examples of the oft-changing and contrasting elements that are so integral to Corelli’s compositional style. It is interesting to note the full title of the collection: Concerti Grossi con duoi Violini e Violoncello di Concertino obligati e duoi altri Violini, Viola e Basso de Concerto Grosso ad arbitrio, che si potranno radoppiare (Concerti grossi for two violins and violoncello in the obligatory solo group and two other violins, viola and bass in the orchestra [ripieno], which is optional and whose numbers may be increased). In other words, the elasticity of their scoring enables performances by as few as three or four players, or as many as are available.
Title page from the 1725 publication by J. Walsh, London.
Flauto primo - Concerto in G Minor, opus 6, no. 8 from the 1725 publication by J. Walsh, London.
It was standard practice in the early eighteenth century for publishers to offer arrangements of popular works, to be played “at home” or by instruments more commonly played by talented amateurs. Keyboard transcriptions of great works are prominent in this genre, as are works re-scored for performances by recorders. In 1725, the London publisher J. Walsh printed an edition of the Corelli opus 6 concertos, which employed recorders of several sizes and pitches to play the solo violin parts in Corelli’s original orchestration. The recorder was a very popular instrument (as it is to this day), and without a doubt these transcriptions were extremely well received. The question of authenticity as reflected by Corelli’s knowledge of the transcriptions, however, has recently been more satisfactorily answered. While the assumption has been made that Walsh was merely cashing in on some popular music, a letter has been found which clearly indicates the business relationship between Corelli and Walsh: Corelli was indeed collecting royalties from Walsh, so any arrangements by the publisher must have been known to the composer, and in fact authorized.
Jeffrey Thomas and Michael Zweibach
AMERICAN BACH SOLOISTS
performing on period instruments
JEFFREY THOMAS, conductor
Sixth Flute: Fred G. Morgan, Australia; after Hallett/Stanesby, London, circa 1700.
Alto: Fred G. Morgan, Australia; after Bressan, London, circa 1700.
Voice Flute: Fred G. Morgan, Australia; after Bressan, London, circa 1700.
Hanneke van Proosdij
Sixth Flute: Alec Loretto, New Zealand, 1999; after Stanesby Jr., London, circa 1725.
Alto: P. van der Poel, Utrecht 1991; after Stanesby Jr., London, 1725.
Voice Flute: P. van der Poel, Utrecht 1990; after Stanesby Jr., London, 1725.
Petrus Paulus de Vitor, Brescia, 1750.
Carlo Antonio Testore, Milan, 1720.
Joseph Panormo, London, 1811.
Joop Klinkhamer, Amsterdam, 1998; after Michael Mietke, Berlin, circa 1720.
CONCERTO GROSSO (Ripieno)
George Craske, London, circa 1840; after Guarneri del Gesu.
Zachary Isaac Carrettin
Matieu Hardie, Edinburgh, 1811.
Ægedius Klotz, Mittenwald, circa 1730.
Timothy Johnson, Indiana, 1999; after Stradivari.
Albani Family, circa 1700.
David Daniel Bowes
Richard Duke, London, circa 1780.
Anonymous; copy of Mathias Eberle, Salzburg, 1696.
Timothy Johnson, Indiana, 1999; after Nicola Gagliano, Naples, 1785.
Anonymous, Austria, circa 1830.
John Brombaugh & Associates, Oregon 1980.
This recording was made possible in part by The Regents of the University of California.
Producers: David Tayler & Jeffrey Thomas
Recording Engineer: David Tayler • Digital Editing: Hanneke van Proosdij
Digital Remastering (2019): Chris Landen
Cover Art: “Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Bernardine and Fra Jacopo” (1452) by Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1497)
Recorded February 27–March 1 2001 in St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere, California