Arcangelo Corelli was born at Fusignano in 1653 into a family that had enjoyed considerable prosperity since the fifteenth century. Legend even suggested descent from the Roman general Coriolanus and further improbable anecdotes surround a childhood during which he seems to have taken music lessons from a priest at Faenza, continued at Lugo, before, in 1666, moving to the famous musical centre of Bologna, where he was able to study the violin under teachers of the greatest distinction, their precise identity subject to various conjectures. The basilica of S. Petronio in Bologna boasted a musical establishment of considerable prestige under Maurizio Cazzati, with some 33 musicians. In addition the city had been the home of a number of learned academies since the middle of the sixteenth century, largely replaced in 1666 by the Accademia Filarmonica, an association that came to exercise wide influence.
By 1675 Corelli was in Rome, his presence recorded in various lists of violinists employed in the performance of oratorios and in the annual celebrations of the feast of St. Louis of France. Stories of a visit by Corelli to France before this, and of the jealousy of Lully, are generally considered apocryphal. In Rome, however, Corelli's career is well enough documented. He served as a chamber musician to Queen Christina of Sweden, at least intermittently, until her death in 1689, and in 1687 directed a large body of musicians, with 150 string players and 100 singers, in a concert in honour of the ambassador of King James II, Lord Castlemaine, entrusted with negotiations for the return of England to the Catholic faith. At the same time he received even more significant patronage from Benedetto Pamphili, great-nephew of Pope Innocent X, created Cardinal in 1681 and an exact contemporary of the composer. In 1687 Corelli became maestro di musica to the Cardinal and took up residence in his Palazzo on the Curso, with his pupil, the violinist Matteo Fornari and the Spanish cellist Lulier, his colleagues in many performances. While normally responsible for an orchestra of some ten players, there were occasions when very large groups of musicians were assembled.
In 1690 Cardinal Pamphili was appointed papal legate to Bologna and Corelli moved to the Palazzo della Cancelleria, of the newly created Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, the gifted young great-nephew of Pope Alexander VIII, who had acceded to the papacy in 1689. Cardinal Ottoboni remained Corelli's patron until the latter's death in 1713, thereafter behaving with generosity to his heirs. In Rome Corelli was held in great respect as a violinist and as a composer, although stories of less satisfactory performances during a visit to Naples, where he was defeated by the violin-writing of his colleague Alessandro Scarlatti, and of his inability to cope with the allegedly French style of the young Handel, suggest, at least, some technical limitations. At his death Corelli left a large collection of pictures, bequeathing a painting of his own choice to Cardinal Ottoboni and a Brueghel to Cardinal Pamphili, with his musical instruments and manuscripts going to Matteo Fornari. By special papal indulgence he was buried in the Pantheon in Rome in apart of the church holding the remains of artists, sculptors and architects, his epitaph the work of his patron.
The surviving compositions of Corelli are relatively few in number but disproportionately far-reaching in their influence. He published four sets of a dozen trio sonatas each, in 1681, 1685, 1689 and 1694. In 1700 he dedicated his Opus 5 solo violin sonatas, a set of twelve, to Sophia Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg. All these works were re-published extensively during the composer's life-time and in the following years and widely imitated. The set of twelve Concerti grossi was finally published posthumously, with a dedication to the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm. The concertos represent a collection of compositions that seem to have been known in Rome at least since the early 1680s.
The concerto grosso of the later seventeenth century owes a great deal to Corelli, whose compositions in this form served as a model for many imitators. The concerto is essentially an expansion of the trio sonata, a composition either in the form of a dance suite or a weightier church form for two melody instruments and a basso continuo shared by a chordal and a bass instrument. The Concerto grosso contrasts the small trio sonata group, known as the concertino, with the fuller string orchestra, the concerto grosso of ripieno players.
The first eight of Corelli's concerti grossi are in the form of concerti da chiesa (church concertos), with fast movements generally in fugal form. The remaining four of the collection are concerti da camera (chamber concertos), dance suites. The concertos were published in seven part-bocks. Georg Muttat, who heard something of these compositions of Corelli in Rome in 1682, imitated them and prefaced a 1701 edition of his selected compositions by detailed instructions for the performance of works of this kind.
Concerto No.7, in D major, starts with an introductory passage marked Vivace, followed by a fugal Allegro in which the opening ascending arpeggio figure is announced by the solo first violin. The movement ends with a short Adagio. The whole orchestra joins in the opening of the next Allegro, which goes on to contrast the soloists and the larger group. There is a B minor Andante largo in which musical interest centres on the concertino, and after a characteristic cadence, the solo first violin launches into a fugal Allegro. The concerto ends with a dance-like Vivace, interrupted by the more elaborate figuration of the solo players.
The eighth concerto, the so-called Christmas Concerto, fatto per la notte di natale (made for Christmas Eve), is probably the best known of the whole set of twelve. It starts emphatically in a passage of six bars marked Vivace, followed by the characteristic suspensions of a slow movement. There is a fugal Allegro, against a busy cello bass-line and an E flat major slow movement that is interrupted by a dramatic Allegro passage. An Allegro in simple dance rhythm leads to a fugal Allegro, before the optional Siciliano, the Pastorale ad libitum, that marks the concerto as suitable for the season in which shepherds once learned of the birth of Christ.
The last four concerti grossi of Corelli are in the form of chamber concertos, their movements generally described in their titles. The ninth concerto, in F major, starts with a Preludio, this slow introduction followed by an Allemanda, the traditional German dance that would open a set, coupled, according to custom, with a livelier Corrente. The Gavotta is started by the concertino and a brief Adagio transitional passage leads to a quick Minuetto, played at a much faster speed than contemporary German composers would have permitted.
Concerto No.10, in C major, has an Andante largo Preludio, with brief contrasts between concertino and ripieno. All join in the Allemanda, which is joined by a short chordal Adagio to its companion Corrente, with contrast between the two groups. The following Allegro has no dance title, but is not fugal in texture, and is capped by a final rapid Minuetto.
The eleventh concerto, in B flat major, has a slow introductory Preludio, after which the concertino laund1es into an Allemanda, over a busy solo cello bass-line. A short chordal Adagio serves as a link into a further Andante largo, recalling the opening Preludio. The soloists introduce a slow Sarabanda and the concerto ends in a cheerful Giga, ltaly's debt to England.
The Opus 6 Concerti grossi end with a twelfth concerto, in the key of F major, its slow Preludio introduced by the concertino. There is a following Allegro that relies heavily on the rapid figuration of the solo first violin part and a chordal Adagio that leads to a Sarabanda, unusually marked Vivace, a reminder that the Sarabande was not always a slow dance. The concerto ends with a Giga.
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in 1983 by members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamber orchestra and then as an orchestra large enough to tackle the standard classical repertoire. Based in Bratislava, its name drawn from the ancient name still preserved in the Academia Istropolitana, the orchestra works in the recording studio and undertakes frequent tours throughout Europe. Recordings by the orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as well as works by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.
The Gzech conductor and composer Jaroslav Kr(e)cek was born in southern Bohemia in 1939 and studied composition and conducting at the Prague Conservatory. In 1962 he moved to Pilsen as a conductor and radio producer and in 1967 returned to Prague to work as a recording supervisor for Supraphon. In the capital he founded the Chorea Bohemica ensemble and in 1975 the chamber orchestra Musica Bohemica. In Czechoslovakia he is well known for his arrangements of Bohemian folk music, while his electro-acoustic opera Raab was awarded first prize at the International Composer's Competition in Geneva. He is the artistic leader of Capella Istropolitana.
Reviewswonderfully sonorous music, expertly recorded - CD Review