Imitation is the highest form of flattery and Arcangelo Corelli had this in spades. Although not reponsible for creating the concerto grosso form, Corelli wrote the first great music for it and popularized it.
Concerti Grossi of Corelli and Friends
April 17, 2010
at Boston University
$25 General Admission
Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 10 in D minor
Concerti Armonici No. 3 in A major
Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 1 in D major
Concerto a quattro Op. 1 , No. 2 in C minor
Consider much of the visual art produced in the historical period known today as the Baroque, and it is clear that, even in the most dramatic scenes, a sense of balance and proportion pervades the works of the masters. The careful positioning of physical forms, and the measured use of light and shade (chairoscuro), both give order to what might otherwise devolve into chaos on canvas, and enhance the drama by balancing opposing forms and implied motions.
As with so many aesthetic movements in Western art, musicians found a way to express equivalent principles of variety and balance in sound, of which the concerto grosso, one of the major instrumental genres of the Baroque period, is a prime, if not the prime, example. The musical "palette" is provided by two groups of performers: the concertinists, a small group (often two violins and cello, though other combinations are to be found) and the contertinists together with ripienists, a larger ensemble with multiple players per part. Within the genre, these two blocks of instruments are combined in a dazzling variety of ways; the result is a genre existing somewhere between the solo concerto and an orchestra proper, or perhaps "chamber music with accompaniment," thought the accompaniment hardly plays a secondary role. No matter what the label, the concerto grosso offers a structural vehicle through which inventive composers of the Baroque could construct paintings in sound of particular contrast and drama.
Arcangelo Corelli, unlike practically all his predecessors in the tradition of Western classical music, achieved his fame as a composer solely through instrumental works. While not credited with inventing the genre, Corelli was surely the most significant early practitioner of the concerto grosso. His output was small by most standards, but what was published, and especially his Opus 6 collection of concerti grossi (of which we will perform no. 1 tonight) secured his place in the panoply of revered composers of the Baroque. His influence is evident in generations of composers that followed, most notably Vivaldi and J.S. Bach, and even later in the "Neoclassical" experiments in the twentieth century. Tonight we choose just three notable followers of Corelli's example, namely Handel, Locatelli, and van Wassenaer.
The works by the three "imitators" on tonight's program reveal the plasticity of the concerto grosso genre. Lest we think, for example, that the concerto grosso composers adhered strictly to Italianate melodies or even formal designs, one only has to hear the French overture of Handel's contribution. His contrapuntal writing might not even be out of place in an English oratorio.
Locatelli is the only composer who had extended direct contact with Corelli as his pupil. Like Corelli he was also a violin virtuoso, and it seems he recognized the virtue of his teacher's compositional innovations, as evidenced by his own concerti grossi, published when Locatelli was just in his mid-twenties.
Until recent scholarship proved otherwise, the collection of six Concerti Armonici by Count Unico Willem van Wassenaer, a Dutch nobleman, was long thought to be the work of Pergolesi. Van Wassenaer never intended to be known as the composer of these works; the nobility, after all, were not suppoed to be too talented in the skills of craftsmen such as musicians. The most striking feature of the concerto tonight is its seven-part texture, on full display in the lush sonorities of the opening movement, and used to great effect as "voices" join and diverge in the contrapuntal passages later on.