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Timeline 019: Arcangelo Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli And The Development Of The Concerto

Arcangelo Corelli (left) and Guiseppe Torelli were two influential composers to the development of the concerto.

The concerto is a popular genre of instrumental music that was developed during the Baroque.  It is characterized by one or more instruments (the concertino) acting as the soloist while other instruments (the ripieno) accompany the principle line. When it is one instrument accompanied by many we called it a “solo concerto." When there are multiple instruments sharing the spotlight we call this a “concerto grosso."

To discuss the origins of this form we’ll have to journey back to 17th Century Italy and explore the music of two composers; Arcangelo Corelli and Guiseppe Torelli.

Arcangelo Corelli was born in 1653, the son of a wealthy landowner not far from Bologna. He began is musical career as a violinist in Rome and became quite famous as a performer. He was known for his quiet temper yet strictly disciplined manner as a performer, composer and teacher. Corelli has the distinction of being the first composer to be known mainly for his instrumental works. His reputation was helped in large part due to a boom inmusic publishing that was taking place at the turn of the 18th Century. His most notable works are his concerto grossi. After his death in 1713, a collection of 12 of his concerti were published. These works became extremely popular all throughout Europe and became influential for many composers, including George Frideric Handel.

Giuseppe Torelli came from a more modest background, born in Verona in 1658.  He also garnered an early reputation as a violinist first in Bologna and then in Vienna.  His early compositional output consisted of instrumental works written for solo performers.  In these works we see Torelli experimenting with form.  These experiments matured in the publication of his Opus 8 “Concerti grossi con una pastorale”.  Much like Corelli, this work was published just after his death in 1709.  In this opus we see the structure of three movements for each concerto with the tempo pattern fast – slow – fast, following the Italian opera overture.  There is a sense of clarity in these pieces as well.  Torelli left dense counterpoint behind in favor of a clear melodic line with regular cadences and arrivals.  It is this structure that was adopted in the 18th century as the convention of the concerto.  

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.
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