The first half of the eighteenth century brought the final flowering of music in a style that later became known as the Baroque, a term borrowed from art history and originally pejorative in its suggestion of roughness and irregularity. The music of Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach and Vivaldi, leading composers of the late Baroque period in Europe, may seem now to be anything but this.
The present collection includes two composers from what is now generally known as the Middle Baroque period, the second half of the seventeenth century. In Italy Arcangelo Corelli had a position of importance in Rome as a violinist and composer, employed by the blue-stocking exiled Queen Christina of Sweden and by those princes of the Church, the Cardinals Pamphili and Ottoboni, enlightened patrons with whom Corelli established a satisfactory relationship. He died in Rome early in 1713. His contribution to music was very considerable, with a set of twelve published Concerti grossi which served as a model for later composers such as Handel, a dozen sonatas for violin and basso continuo, six of them chamber sonatas and six in the more formal style of church sonatas, and forty-eight Trio Sonatas similarly divided. The Concerto grosso, Op. 6, No.8 is the best known of all, with its extra final movement, establishing it as a Christmas Concerto, to be played on Christmas Eve and reflecting in the additional Pastorale the scene of the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. The concerto follows, otherwise, the normal form of the concerto grosso, with a solo group of two violins, cello and harpsichord or organ, the concertino, contrasted with the rest of the string orchestra.
Pachelbel belongs to a similar period in South German music. Born in 1653,hewas an exact contemporary of Corelli and won a high reputation as an organist, notably in Erfurt and then, from 1695 until his death in 1706, in his native city of Nuremberg. The best known of his many compositions today is the Canon and Gigue for three violins and basso continuo. The three-voice canon unfolds over a repeated bass and chordal pattern, in the form familiar from the chaconne, so that it is in fact a set of variations in canon, as one part imitates the other.
Albinoni, distinguished in Venice in particular for his then innovative oboe concertos, is even better remembered today for a composition that was apparently devised by the modern Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto on material derived from Albinoni, a moving and effective Adagio. Albinoni's Venetian contemporary Alessandro Marcello, born in 1684, was a well known dilettante, dabbling in music, poetry and painting, as well as in philosophy and mathematics. His Oboe Concerto in D minor, transcribed for harpsichord by Bach and once attributed to his younger brother, Benedetto Marcello, is a fine example of the Venetian concerto of Vivaldi's time.
Handel, born in Hall� in 1685, made his career largely in England, after an early period at the opera-house in Hamburg followed by important years in Italy and brief appointment to the court of the Elector of Hanover, later George I of England. In Rome he had met Corelli, who found his style of composition too French, but in London he was originally employed as a composer of Italian opera, with a fluent style that he continued to employ in the English oratorio, a form that he largely created himself. The Larghetto from the opera Serse (Xerxes) is better known as Handel's Largo and in its original operatic setting satirises the vegetable loves of the monarch, observed to the amusement of others as he praises the shade of a plane-tree. The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba finds its natural place in the oratorio Solomon, although it is familiar enough in other contexts. His Alexander's Feast concerto was written for use in an interval during the first performance of his setting of John Dryden's Ode for St. Cecilia's Day at Covent Garden in February 1736. The concerto grosso is scored for oboes, strings and basso continuo and follows a lively opening movement with a Largo in which the solo instruments enter in imitation. There is a fugal Allegro and a gently lilting conclusion that would have introduced the second act of the oratorio.