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Hyperion Records

CDH55240 - Corelli: La Folia & other works
Photograph by Malcolm Crowthers.
(Originally issued on CDA66226)

Recording details: May 1986
St Barnabas's Church, North Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: September 2008
Total duration: 56 minutes 44 seconds

'Highly enjoyable' (Gramophone)

'Excellent performances from all concerned, and recording quality to match' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'The most persuasive account of Corelli on disc' (The Rough Guide to Classical Music)

La Folia & other works
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Arcangelo Corelli was born into a wealthy family in the small Italian town of Fusignano in 1653. His musical studies began in earnest when he moved to Bologna in 1666; four years later he was admitted to the Accademia Filarmonica there. By 1675 he was in Rome, where the young ‘Arcangelo bolognese’ became known as a rising star among the fine violinists of the city. He regularly performed at the highly elaborate church services that were major musical attractions in Rome, as well as frequently taking part in oratorios and operas. In about 1679 he entered the service of the exiled Queen Christina of Sweden as a chamber musician. To this remarkable lady, a discerning music-lover who had abdicated her throne and embraced Roman Catholicism in 1654, Corelli dedicated his first printed collection of trio sonatas (Op 1, 1681).

Corelli’s trio sonatas fall into two traditional categories: ‘da chiesa’ (‘church’ sonatas), scored for two violins with archlute or cello (violone) and organ basso continuo; and ‘da camera’ (‘chamber’ sonatas), for two violins with cello and harpsichord. The movements of the church sonatas are characterized by tempo indications only, and the fast ones are often fugal; the sonata da camera is typically a linked group of dances, preceded by a prelude. The Sonata in G major Op 1 No 9 opens with a ‘call to attention’ and triplet flourishes over a held chord. Broken-chord figurations form the basis of the short Allegro that follows before the flourishes return, this time in the dominant. The central lyrical Adagio in sarabande rhythm is sandwiched between two fugal movements, the second based on the same broken-chord idea.

In 1684 Corelli took over the responsibility of providing the orchestra for the powerful Cardinal Pamphili; two years later he was officially engaged as the Cardinal’s master of music and took up residence in his palace. The Op 2 set of twelve trio sonatas, of the ‘da camera’ variety, were probably performed at the Sunday ‘academies’ held there. Corelli, his favourite violin pupil Matteo Fornari, and the cellist G B Lulier (also a composer) regularly performed with the harpsichordist Pasquini and as concertino soloists with the Cardinal’s orchestra. The last of the set, Op 2 No 12, is a Ciacona (‘Ciaccona’ on the score), more or less a set of variations over a ground based on a familiar descending four-note figure. Op 2 No 4 opens with a Preludio in a lilting triple-time and a fast Allemanda. After a short lilting Grave and before the final dance comes an abstract Adagio in the ‘da chiesa’ style.

The Spaniard Lulier and Corelli frequently collaborated in the production of oratorios, Lulier providing the vocal music and Corelli the sinfonias. One such collaboration was S Beatrice d’Este, performed in Roma and Modena in 1689; Corelli’s Op 3 set of Sonate da chiesa was dedicated to the Duke of Modena in the same year. These are more elaborate than the first set, exploiting the virtuosity of the players of all three instruments. The extended opening flourishes of Op 3 No 12, over long held ‘pedal’ notes, are a violinistic interpretation of the style of the organ toccata; these give way to a short Adagio where the typical Corellian ‘walking bass’ makes a brief appearance. Then comes a Vivace, in which the cello shows its paces and an Allegro in which the violinists do the same; the sonata ends with an exciting fugue.

When his patron Pamphili moved to Bologna in 1690, Corelli was taken up by the young Cardinal Ottoboni and took part in the famous academies held in the Ottoboni Palace every Monday evening. To Ottoboni was dedicated another set of Sonate da camera (Op 4, 1694). (It says something for the temporal aspiration of the Princes of the Church in Rome at that time that Corelli’s church sonatas all had secular dedicatees while the Cardinals seem to have preferred chamber sonatas.) Op 4 No 3 opens with a Preludio built over a sturdy bass line. This is followed by three dances which are as unlike their French counterparts (courante, sarabande and gavotte) as one could wish.

The large musical establishments of his wealthy patrons gave Corelli the chance to develop his best-known and most influential works, the orchestral concerti grossi. Although they were sometimes performed by enormous orchestras of over a hundred players, these were probably originally played by a domestic ensemble of about fifteen musicians. But they were never published in his lifetime, even though at his death in 1713 Corelli had just put the finishing touches to an edition of twelve. In his will he left the plates to his constant disciple Fornari who issued them in 1714 as Corelli’s Op 6. For many years afterwards they were solemnly performed at the Pantheon, Corelli’s burial-place, on 8 January, the anniversary of his death.

Corelli was one of the most sought-after violin teachers in Italy—his distinguished pupils included Castrucci, Gasparini, Geminiani, Bonporti and Locatelli—and the set of violin sonatas he dedicated to Electress Sophia Charlotta of Brandenburg (Op 5, 1700) were landmarks in the history of violin playing. Over forty further editions of the work appeared during the eighteenth century; Geminiani even produced a successful arrangement of them as concerti grossi. The most famous, Op 5 No 12 (‘La Folia’), is almost too familiar to require comment, but mention should be made of Corelli’s unprecedented instinct for the overall balance of the variations: always he judges exactly when to succeed fast with slow, hectic with calm. And lest the role of the accompanists be forgotten, the sonata ends with a sequence of dazzling semiquavers for the basso continuo.

In England, arrangements of the Op 5 sonatas for recorder and continuo appeared in which the formidable double-stops are negotiated by frantic broken-chord playing. In about 1713, two of them appeared (anonymously) in London in highly competent arrangements for the still-popular viola da gamba. But even though there was a Corelli craze in England at that time, these were probably not a local product; a manuscript containing these arrangements and similar versions of the rest of the Op 5 set surfaced in Paris some years ago. Stylistically, however, they seem closer to North German than French writing for the viol. In fact there was a strong continuing tradition of virtuoso viol playing at the Brandenburg court; perhaps one of Sophia Charlotta’s chamber musicians was responsible? The considerable technical demands on the violist are only matched in gamba sonatas by North Germans such as Kühnel, Schenck and Höffler. In each case the solo part is played an octave lower on the viol than on the violin; Op 5 No 11 (originally in E) has been further transposed down a tone to D major, an excellent key for the gamba. Corelli’s already complex contrapuntal texture is made all the richer by the additional opportunities for full chordal playing on the six strings of the viol.

Tim Crawford © 1987

Other albums in this series
'La Folia' (CDA67035)
La Folia
MP3 £6.00FLAC £6.00ALAC £6.00Buy by post £10.50 CDA67035  Download currently discounted
'Vivaldi: La Folia & other works' (CDH55231)
Vivaldi: La Folia & other works
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55231  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Bach (CPE): La Folia & other works' (CDH55232)
Bach (CPE): La Folia & other works
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDH55232  Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service  
'Scarlatti: La Folia & other works' (CDH55233)
Scarlatti: La Folia & other works
MP3 £3.75FLAC £3.75ALAC £3.75Buy by post £5.50 CDH55233  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)   Download currently discounted
'Geminiani: La Folia & other works' (CDH55234)
Geminiani: La Folia & other works
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55234  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Marais: La Folia & other works' (CDH55235)
Marais: La Folia & other works
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55235  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
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