Arcangelo Corelli

George Bozarth
Co-Artistic Director, Musique du Jour Presents

A seminal influence on the mid-Baroque period for all of Europe was the Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713), who studied violin in Bologna, one of the pre-eminent centers of violin performance, with its musicians at the cathedral of San Petronio and the Accademia dei Filarmonici, into which he was initiated at the age of seventeen.  Four years later he departed for Rome, residing there from 1674 until his death at age 60.


After stints as third, then first violinist in the orchestra of the chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, Corelli became musical director at the lavish Palazzo Pamphili, distinguishing himself as both solo violinist and conductor, and especially as the organizer of special events. In 1691, to honor the British ambassador, who had been sent to Rome by the Catholic King of England, James II, to attend the coronation of Pope Innocent XII, Corelli conducted an orchestra of 150 strings. The concert was sponsored by one of the most learned women of her age and founder of the literary Academy of Arcadia, the arts-loving Queen Christina of Sweden, who had secretly converted to Catholicism in 1654, renounced her throne, and migrated to Rome. (Nicknamed “Minerva,” she had attempted to make Stockholm “The Athens of the North,” welcoming eminent foreign writers, musicians, and scholars to her court, among them her philosophy teacher, René Descartes.)



In 1689 Corelli entered the service of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, one of the great patrons of music and art of his generation who, according to Handel scholar Ellen Harris, “loved pomp, prodigality, and sensual pleasure, but was in the same time kind, ready to serve and charitable.” In addition to Corelli, Ottoboni’s “protégés” included Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi, and Antonio Caldara.




The Britannica records, “It is probable that Corelli also taught at the German Institute in Rome and certain that in 1700 he occupied the post of first violinist and conductor for the concerts of the Palazzo della Cancelleria Apostolica. In 1702 he went to Naples, where he probably played in the presence of the king and performed a composition by Alessandro Scarlatti. . . . [and] it is known that he met George Frideric Handel, who was in Rome between 1707 and 1708.  In 1706, together with the Italian composer Bernardo Pasquini and Scarlatti, he was received into the Arcadia Academy and conducted a concert for the occasion.”





In addition to violin concertos and concertos grosso, Corelli published five books of sonatas da chiesa and da camera (1681–1700) that became so popular they influenced composers not only in Italy, but in France, Germany, and England as well, inspiring an international style of violin sonatas by Tomaso Albinoni and Antonio Vivaldi in Italy, François Couperin and Jean-Marie Leclair in France, Georg Muffat and George Frideric Handel in Germany, and Henry Purcell in England. Johann Sebastin Bach studied the works of Corelli and based an organ fugue (BWV 579) on his Opus 3 of 1689.

Corelli’s church sonatas differ from his chamber sonatas not because of the building’s name where the music was performed — because they both weren’t played only in churches or chambers – but due to their musical style.  What their names imply is that Sonatas da chiesa were composed in the tradition of church music, drawing upon the means of polyphony, while Sonatas da camera were suites of dances, composed in the tradition of secular chamber music.  Today we shall enjoy two of his Sonatas da chiesa.

Let’s begin with Corelli’s Sonata da chiesa for Two Violins and Continuo in D major, Op. 3 No. 2 (Rome, 1689), which follows his standard four-movement plan. Introduced by a brief Grave in duple meter, with chains of syncopated dissonances known as durezze e ligature (harshness and ties/syncopations), the first Allegro, also in duple meter, sports a lively melody followed by other contrapuntal entries that round out an “exposition.” Further imitative polyphony and dialogue ensues. The sweetly sad Adagio, with its sometimes drooping melody, moves forward with points of imitation between the two violins and more durezze e ligature. The Allegro finale, also fugal in texture, offers a surprise – it’s in the 6/8 meter and the binary form (aa|bb) of a Gigue – which, actually, is not that uncommon in Sonatas da chiesa.

Performed by members of the Texas Christian University Collegium: violinists Chayong Lee (2nd-year doctoral student) and Julian Tello Jr. (3rd-year undergraduate student), violist da gamba Stuart Cheney (Professor of Musicology and Viola da Gamba), and harpsichordist Joseph Butler (Professor of Organ and Harpsichord)


In the lyrical Adagio that initiates Corelli’s Sonata da chiesa in C major for Violin and Continuo, Op. 5 No. 3 (Rome, 1700), the composer wrote only long-held notes, expecting the soloist to improvise the ornaments. Some of the embellishments in our recording stem from the 1710 Amsterdam edition by Estienne Roger, who maintained they were “composed by Corelli as he plays them,” to which Rémy Baudet has added his own flourishes. The solo violinist plays both of the initial fugal entries of the perky subject in the Allegro “A” section, followed by others in the harpsichord and more by the soloist.  A contrasting “B” section follows, full of virtuosic fiddlework. An abbreviated fugal “A” section balances the movement, crowned by a written-out Cadenza, again with extra ornaments by our soloist.  The soulful lyric Adagio, with highly ornamented melody, is in the contrasting key of A minor. An extra movement, an Allegro with rapid-fire arpeggios, brings us back to C major, in preparation for a lively closing Allegro Gigue in binary form that has a tonal surprise just before the end of the “b” section.

Performed by violinist Rémy Baudet, violoncellist Jaap ter Linden, and harpsichordist Pieter-Jan Belder.

Movements 1 and 2:

Movements 3 and 4: