Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) was a sort of benevolent patriarch for the generation of Baroque composers that followed him. In that sense, a Corelli Concerto Grosso makes a good starting point for tonight's survey of some of the high Baroque's lesser-known byways. Corelli was a gifted instrumentalist - de rigueur for the Baroque composer - but unlike his contemporaries, Corelli did not compose operas or sacred vocal music. His modest output instead focused on instrumental music and includes five sets of 12 sonatas for one or two violins (Corelli's instrument) and the present set of Concerti Grossi, published posthumously in 1714 as his Op. 6. In their published form, they circulated widely - 17 editions before the century was out - and established the concerto grosso, with its alternation of a large group (the ripieno) with a smaller group (the concertino, in this case, two violins and a cello), as a central form of Baroque instrumental music.
Corelli spent most of his career, from the mid-1670s on, in Rome as an orchestra leader, famously for premieres of the young Handel's oratorios Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno (The Triumph of Time and Truth, 1707) and La resurrezione (The Resurrection, 1708). The Op. 6 Concerti Grossi were certainly written for his own concerts, with Corelli playing in the concertino. He collected the 12 Concertos in 1711, but many of them may date back to the 1680s. The movements of Op. 6, No. 4 follow the layout of another important type of Baroque instrumental music, the church sonata: slow-fast-slow-fast. The majestic opening sets a festive tone; the ensuing Allegro, rich and contrapuntal in texture, abounds with interplay between concertino and ripieno. The Adagio slow movement, with its gently drooping melody, offers a lyrical contrast to the pomp of the Concerto's opening. Corelli expands the concluding fast section into two movements, both of which are marked by transparent textures and a prevailing feeling of lightness: An elegant melody unfolds over a propulsive bass line in the Vivace, and the final Allegro is infused with the spirit of the dance.
John Mangum is the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Program Designer/Annotator.