Arcangelo Corelli | Biography

Biography

Corelli was a gifted violinist, and an influential violin teacher and music director. Although few in number, his works were widely published during his lifetime, spreading his fame and influence across Europe. Born in Fusignano, he studied in Bologna, then a great centre of violin playing. The sonatas that would make his name combine elements of both the liturgical and the courtly traditions of instrumental music. By the mid−1670s he had settled in Rome, where his first professional appointments brought him into close contact with both styles. Corelli’s activities in church music included participation in the celebrations at San Luigi dei Francesi, the Lenten devotions at San Giovanni dei Fiorentini and subsequently at San Marcello. From around 1679 he served as chamber musician to Christina, the former Queen of Sweden, and was later appointed maestro di musica to Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili. As a director, he was known for insisting that his string players use the same bowing when playing together. In 1687 he took up residence at the Cardinal’s Palazzo al Curso, organising regular Sunday ‘academies’: chamber music performances for select groups of aristocratic guests. When Pamphili’s duties required him to move to Bologna, Corelli remained in Rome. He moved to the Palazzo of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, performing similar duties for his new employer and also directing opera performances. Corelli’s compositions encouraged a new wave of Italian influence throughout Europe. His efforts to combine the styles of church and chamber music are most evident in his four sets of trio sonatas published in 1681, 1685, 1689 and 1694. His Sonate a Violino e Violone o Cimbalo, op.5 (1700) also draw on both genres, their title suggesting the use of either violone or keyboard accompaniment. The op.5 sonatas exist in numerous editions. Some publications include recommended embellishments for the slow movements. The 1710 edition by Estienne Roger claims to reproduce Corelli’s own ‘graces’ for the 12 slow movements of nos.1–6. After his death, Corelli’s fame spread further through the posthumous publication in 1714 of his set of 12 Concerti grossi op.6. This comprises revised versions of works that were first performed in Rome in the early 1680s. It was disseminated widely in Northern Europe, and retained its popularity for almost a century, especially in England. Such wide dissemination of his works is almost wholly responsible for Corelli’s reputation. Despite his fame as a violinist, Corelli never toured and almost all his acclaimed performances took place in Rome. One important channel for his later influence was his teaching. Among his many violin pupils were Francesco Geminiani and Giovanni Battista Somis, both of whom went on to become respected composers. His musical style was imitated by many, and his influence was acknowledged by, among others, Tartini, Couperin, Handel and Telemann. Although he was first and foremost a violinist, Corelli excelled in composition and in every other musical activity he turned his hand to. Such diverse and seemingly natural musical talents led one commentator, Angelo Berardo, to describe him as ‘the new Orpheus of our times’.