BMC 18

The BAROQUE CONCERTO
Tracing its evolution through the baroque period
from Italy to the rest of Europe and America.


Click linked movements
for music samples.

1: Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto Grosso in c, Op 6/3
     Largo / Allegro / Grave / Vivace / Allegro
2: Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for Bassoon in a minor, RV 498
     Allegro / Larghetto / Allegro
3: Pietro Antonio Locatelli: Concerto Grosso in f, Op 1/8 - Christmas Concerto
     Largo-Grave / Vivace / Grave / Largo / Andante / Pastorale
4: Georg Philipp Telemann: Concerto for Alto Recorder and Bassoon in D
     Largo / Allegro / Grave / Allegro
5: George Friderik Handel: Concerto Grosso in a, Op 6/4
     Larghetto / Allegro / Largo e piano / Allegro
     The Modena Chamber Orchestra,
     Leader/conductor Francesco Calvi
     Wilhelmina Müller, alto recorder, Arturo Antonini, bassoon.

6: Johann Sebastian Bach: Four-Harpsichord Concerto, BWV 1065
     Allegro / Largo / Allegro
     Isolde Ahlgrimm, Robert Veyron-Lacroix,
     Hans Pischner, and Zuzana Ruzicková, harpsichords
     Staatskapelle Dresden, Kurt Redel

Total time 75:41

It has often been said, and not without reason, that baroque music began in Italy. The Baroque Period saw the resurgence of Rome as the Catholic Center of the world, after a long period of decline. Money poured into the City Coffers, artists and sculptors worked to make the Eternal City the living, open-air museum it is today. In music too we can look to Italy for the origins both of the sonata and the concerto – and more precisely, we can single out Arcangelo Corelli. With his famous Concerti Grossi, 1714, Corelli established the concerto form as a composition for multiple players, in which a smaller group of instrumentalists (concertino), is set against the larger orchestra (ripieno), the two taking the theme and its development in alternation. This idea is the continuation of an older Italian church tradition, that of 'antiphonal' singing of verse and response 'echoing' one another.

From the 'concerto grosso' with its alternating groups of ripieni and concertanti, the concerto for soloist and orchestra developed very naturally. The concertanti or smaller group would naturally be formed of the orchestra's better players, the first violinist being the 'leader'. It was quite a natural step for the lead violinist to take a solo part, with the orchestra then accompanying and/or alternating. This development had its precedent in the solo sonata for a single instrument and continuo of keyboard and cello. Here again Corelli took the lead, literally, being himself a gifted violinist. As the preeminent violin virtuoso of the day, he taught many leading violinist-composers of the 18th century.

Other Italian composers took up the violin-concerto model; based in Venice, Antonio Vivaldi wrote some 300 concertos for violin and orchestra, he again being a virtuoso violinist himself. But Vivaldi did not confine himself to the violin in his compositions; writing for a student orchestra of highly-gifted young musicians with a wide variety of talents, for them he composed numerous concertos featuring a wealth of different instruments as soloists, among which were the bassoon, mandolin, guitar, cello and many other instruments.

This wealth of musical development did not go unnoticed in the rest of Europe. Music-making was highly prized by many of the princely and kingly courts, and leading musicians would often travel to study and bring back the latest styles and compositions. During the first half of the 1700s, German music adopted the Italian forms of the concerto and sonata, and with them, much of the Italian baroque "vocabulary" together with the latest Italian compositions. Many eminent composers of the baroque period, notably Handel for example, sojourned in Rome, and Corelli's influence was to spread itself throughout Europe. Pietro Locatelli was a pupil of Corelli who was to take Italian musical traditions northwards to Germany, and to Amsterdam where he eventually set himself up as a music publisher.

It was in fact Handel who brought Italian styles and fashions to England, as well as inviting leading Italian singers to grace his London operas. Handel composed two sets of Concerti Grossi, Op 3 and Op 6, the latter especially showing the influence of Corelli.

Another important influence in spreading Italian, as well as other national musical styles, fashions and compositions throughout Europe was provided by the leading music-publishers, paramount among whom was surely Etienne Roger of Amsterdam who also ran a well-organized Europe-wide distribution and information system. He authorized agents in Rotterdam, Liège and Brussels, London, Cologne, Hamburg, Halle, Berlin and Leipzig to sell his editions. Thus Telemann for example would have been able to browse the catalog, possibly review scores, and order any which interested him in his own city of Hamburg.

While concertos were being written for almost every imaginable instrument as soloist with orchestra, together with various combinations, the harpsichord remained the poor workhorse of baroque music, its purpose being to act as continuo providing a background harmonic base and a thump to keep the orchestra in time. It was Bach who gave the harpsichord solo status in the concerto, and having composed at least eight concertos for harpsichord, he then went on to write concertos for 2, 3 and 4 harpsichords with orchestra. Anyone who has attended a concert with concertos for 3 and 4 harpsichords will know what a lot of fun it can be! Interestingly, Bach's Concerto for 4 Harpsichords and Orchestra is an adaptation of a concerto for 4 violins and strings by Vivaldi. Our performance is a stunning rendition and recording featuring four "greats" of baroque harpsichord performance, with the listener placed right in the center of the action!

Bach's concertos for harpsichord and orchestra were to be the models for the future piano concertos by Mozart Haydn and Beethoven, through the 'romantics' such as Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky.

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