Monday, 2 June 2014

Baroque Composers IV - Corelli and Locatelli

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) was an Italian composer and violinist whose style of playing greatly influenced the performance of the instrument for years to come. He was born into a wealthy family and raised by his mother – since his father died a few weeks before he was born. Much of his life is confused by legend and anecdotes that have no evidence to back them up. We know he was in Rome by 1675 and there built an impressive career as a highly respected violinist. Interestingly however he didn’t like the high register and refused to play it.

Finding that out explains a fair bit about his Violin Sonatas, Op 5 which I recently bought the second half thereof from Classicsonline (it’s a set of 12 so there are two volumes). While demonstrating virtuosic elements throughout, they are much lower in tone than most violin pieces, which I find quite refreshing to be honest. The most famous part of them is No 12, which is known as La Folia, it is a one movement but as long as the others and it explores as much ground – if not more. It is a truly remarkable piece.

The lower register of the works also makes the slow movements that much more beautiful to my mind. He works the violin gently over the accompanying continuo or harpsichord to create a real sense of swoon (if you take my meaning). He even has a Sarabanda Largo; sarabandes are usually dances so this slow version is quite remarkable. It sounds at times like the violin part is being broken over the knee of the harpsichord, only gently.

His most famous composition however is his Concerto Grossi, a set of 12 concerto grossi which influenced a number of composers including Handel who wrote his own set instead of following the more modern (at the time) Venetian concerto popularised by Vivaldi. They’re best known because of the so-called Christmas concerto which is brilliant but the rest of them work equally as well. Here’s No 1 from the set. It opens with all the regal pomp you could expect of the age but soon goes into a questioning yet spritely phase that loses nothing of the ornamental beauty but is rich in feeling, if not deep emotion.

Pietro Locatelli (1695-1764) was another Italian violinist and composer who possibly studied under Corelli for a very short time just before Corelli’s death. He spent his early career in Rome , then spent five years travelling Italy and Germany before settling in Amsterdam for the last 30 odd years of his life. Strangely most of his compositions are from his travelling years; in Amsterdam he worked mostly as a teacher and performed publically and privately. In a nice quirk, he never allowed professional musicians into his performances lest they learn too much from him.

There aren’t a whole lot of works by Locatelli and they’re certainly not widely known these days. His Violin Sonatas and Concertos were virtuosic standards in Europe at the time however and he was quite famous as a consequence. I haven't heard much of them to be honest. This concerto (Op 3, No 12) is certainly very nice to begin with, then a couple of minutes in the violin begins some very interesting playing, quite unlike anything else I can think of in the Baroque/Classical repertoire. If that's typical of his works there's much to be explored here.

The first work I knew of his was actually his Opus 1, 12 Concerti Grossi. Of course, this was based on Corelli’s Concerto Grosso but there is a difference. Locatelli makes great use of the violin and string section, usually underpinned by harpsichord. There’s at least one movement where the organ and violin swim together through some beautiful refrains.

Both these composers are very Baroque, with precise playing and rich ornamentation. Corelli does evoke some emotions, particularly in his slower movements, but don’t have the depth shown in later periods. But the music is undeniably beautiful and rich. Well worth taking the time to explore, they also inspire me to find out more about similar composer/violinists of their day like Geminani, Torelli and Tartini who’s my next profile.

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