Arcangelo Corelli: CDs & DVDs: Best CDs & DVDs of Arcangelo Corelli

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Arcangelo Corelli: CDs & DVDs - The Best CDs & DVDs of Arcangelo Corelli

Arcangelo Corelli: Overview

Arcangelo Corelli: Arcangelo Corelli (b. Fusignano, 17 Feb 1653; d. Rome, 8 Jan 1713).

Arcangelo Corelli was born at Fusignano, a small but ancient town about halfway between Bologna and Ravenna, on the rich plain of the Romagna. His family was one of the best known in the region, among them being lawyers and doctors rich enough to endow a number of churches and to play a notable part in local politics. They seem to have had no tradition of music, and it is a puzzle why Arcangelo should have taken up the art; yet it is clear that his talent revealed itself at an early age. Although his father died before he was born, the family circumstances were comfortable enough, and they sent Arcangelo to study with a priest at the nearby town of Faenza, and then at another, Lugo. From there he went, at the age of about thirteen to Bologna, at that time a musical centre of some consequence, with a great many good instrumentalists who had banded themselves into an Accademia Filarmonica, which was virtually an excellent orchestra. Arcangelo Corelli was admitted to this body in 1670, and later in life he liked to acknowledge himself as a real Bolognese on the title pages of his publications.

It is not known what happened in the next few years but by 1675 he was in Rome, where his fame was to be assured. He may have begun his life there as a theatre violinist; certainly he played in the ensemble of the church of S Luigi dei Francesi on the days of its patron saint, when the gentry were strongly in evidence at High Mass and first Vespers. Starting as a back desk player, he gradually worked himself up to lead the orchestra, and by 1679 he was also directing the orchestra at the Teatro Capranica, apparently earning substantial fees. The seal was set on his reputation by the publication of his Opus 1, a set of trio sonatas, in 1681, dedicating it to one of the most important of Roman patrons, Queen Christina of Sweden, who was also a keen attender at the celebrations of the saint's day at S Luigi dei Francesi; and Arcangelo Corelli directed the music for a grand festival organised by her when James II of England sent an emissary to negotiate the (abortive) return of Britain to the Catholic faith in 1687. In that year, he became music master to Cardinal Panfili, in whose palazzo he lived, along with his favourite pupil and a man servant.

By this time he was receiving offers from elsewhere, notably Modena, not very far from his native country and he may even have visited the court there for a short time. Nevertheless, the accession of Alexander VIII to the papacy in 1689, meant that Alexander's nephew, Pietro Ottoboni, became a rich cardinal and could indulge his obsession with music on a more than ample scale. He immediately engaged Arcangelo Corelli to direct the music of his household, which included a series of Monday concerts famous throughout Italy. Pupils indeed came from as far away as England, since Lord Edgecumbe studied with him and commissioned a portrait; while the nephew of Samuel Pepys, heard him delightedly at a Christmas Eve Mass in 1699. He was honoured by being admitted to the exclusive Accademia dei Arcadi, which included Alessandro Scarlatti and Bernardo Pasquini among its members.

By this period his fame as a composer was at its height. He had published four books of trio sonatas in the years up to 1694 and in 1700 a set of sonatas for solo violin and continuo appeared. Their influence was enormous, and indeed this corpus formed the basic repertoire of the violinists of the next generation, notably Locatelli, Geminiani, Dubourg (Handel's leader for operas and oratorios) and Castrucci. Nevertheless, it seems that in his later years, the younger virtuosi outpassed him in both technique and stylistic knowledge. About 1701 he visited Naples, to be astonished that the players of the royal orchestra could read his concertos at sight almost as well as his own orchestra in Rome could play them after rehearsing, and on the same visit, a passage in a masque by A. Scarlatti which went up to a high F proved too difficult for him - but not for the local leader! There is also the famous story told by Handel's biographer, John Mainwaring, which tells that Arcangelo Corelli, leading the orchestra in the overture to the German's oratorio The Triumph of Time, annoyed him so much that Handel snatched the violin from Arcangelo Corelli's hands to show him how it went: to which Arcangelo Corelli replied, 'But, my dear Saxon, this music is in the French style, which I do not understand.' The French style involved double dotting and notes inegales, and was now common throughout Europe (Bach frequently used it), so this suggests a by now insular attitude on Arcangelo Corelli's part.

Nevertheless, when an ill-founded rumour circulated in 1708 that Arcangelo Corelli had died, Arcangelo Corelli was mourned by no less a person than one of the Electors of the Holy Roman Emperors. He gave up playing in public about 1710, and two years later became seriously ill. In January 1713, he made his last will, and died on the night of the 8th of that month. He was widely mourned, his patron Cardinal Ottoboni ordering that he should be placed in a triple bier of lead, cypress and chestnut wood and laid in a tomb of marble in the church of the Rotunda in Rome (today known by its former title, the Pantheon). He died a relatively rich man, with a capital of about £6,000 (a substantial sum in the 1 8th century - according to the estimates of Burney - and a collection of over one hundred paintings, including a Breughel and some landscapes by Poussin. One of his violins may have been a Stradivarius, and he also owned an 'old violoncello', a two-manual harpsichord and a violone. He also left the Concertos of Op.6 to be published by a pupil, Fornari, and these, his most famous works, were issued in 1714. His compositions were among the most popular of the 18th century and continued in the repertoire, especially in England, for over seventy years.

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