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ClassicsOnline Home » CORELLI: Violin Sonatas Nos. 7-12, Op. 5
Arcangelo Corelli’s fame as both violinist and composer was widespread throughout
seventeenth century Europe. His surviving works are relatively few in number but farreaching
in influence, both in terms of performance practice and compositional technique.
The twelve Opus 5 Sonatas for violin and continuo are notable for their juxtaposition of
slow movements of a lyrical, elegant beauty akin to the human voice, and brilliant,
technically demanding fast movements. Sonatas Nos. 1-6 are available on Naxos 8.557165.
By David Denton
Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713)
Violin Sonatas, Op. 5, Nos. 7–12
"It is wonderfull to observe what a scratching of Corelli there is every where - nothing will relish but Corelli… And no wonder after the Great Master made that instrument speak as it were with human voice, saying to his scollars - Non udite lo parlare? " ("Do you not hear it speak?"). Thus wrote Roger North, friend of Purcell, passionate amateur musician, and prolific writer on music, about the extraordinary popularity of Corelli's music in faraway England, and none of his numerous publications was more popular than his only set of sonatas for solo violin and continuo, dedicated in Rome on 1 January 1700 to the exceptionally musical Electress of Brandenburg, Sophie Charlotte, who conducted operas from the two Mietke harpsichords that still survive at Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin.
This disc continues where Naxos 8.557165 left off. That earlier issue contains the first six sonatas of Opus 5, and a full biographical note by Keith Anderson. This second and final set of six sonatas is very different. They have their own title-page as a Seconda Parte, and are largely Sonate da camera, as opposed to the Sonate da chiesa of the first group. These Corellian categories, abstract forms including fugues for the latter, dances in the former, are already beginning to fuse in Opus 5, and soon became extinct. The Preludii and Adagios of our sonatas are indistinguishable from those of the first group, and call for the same lush ornamentation as was presented by the Amsterdam publisher Roger in his 1710 reprint of the first six sonatas as being Corelli's own. Doubts have been cast on this assertion, but Roger backed it up with an invitation for anyone to stop by his shop on the Dam and have a look at the composer's manuscript.
François Fernandez's ornaments thus take their cue from Corelli, as well as from other sets of eighteenth-century ornaments for the first six sonatas. For Sonata IX in A major, however, we have a full set of ornaments from Corelli's pupil Francesco Geminiani, including ornamented - one might even say re-composed - repeats for the two fast movements. This puts one in mind of C.P.E. Bach's preface to his Sonaten mit veränderten Reprisen : "It is indispensable nowadays to ornament repeats. One expects it of every performer…Almost every thought is expected to be altered in the repeat." That was in 1760, and Geminiani was also a generation younger than Corelli, so we have felt justified in declining to go quite that far in the other fast movements.
Listeners may wonder why no cello is playing along with the bass line. There is some controversy about whether this is "authentic". The title-page specifies accompaniment of "violone ò cimbalo", which has been interpreted as an either/or, while others maintain that "ò" is a catch-all. I for one think it would be madness to forgo Corelli's gorgeous harmonies with a cello accompaniment only; harpsichord and cello strengthens the bass-line; harpsichord alone, however, offers some advantages of clarity, certainly when a double-manual instrument is used. To listeners who object to my choice of a Flemish double instead of a traditional single-manual Italian harpsichord, I would answer that Italians were building harpsichords with two manuals by 1700, and northern instruments were not unknown in Rome. As early as Frescobaldi's day, an Antwerp harpsichord was said to be "the wonder of the city", and the whole problem is probably the result of the expense and short print-runs of copperplate engraving. It just was not practical to print a separate part for the bass, as was done in earlier type-set printing.
We have chosen a diapason of a'=400 Hz, almost a whole tone below modern pitch. This puts us within the range of Roman pitch for Corelli's era, and seems very congenial to François Fernandez's Guarneri instrument. Our temperament is that of the Paduan theorist Valotti, slightly modified for the two sonatas in E.
Sonata VII in D minor begins with an unusual Vivace Preludio, a real dialogue between solo and bass. A lively Italian Corrente, a slow Sarabanda inviting copious ornamentation, and a particularly brilliant Giga complete this typical Sonata da camera.
Sonata VIII in the plaintive key of E minor has the more usual slow Preludio, albeit only Largo, not Adagio, which at this period was the slower of the two. Each half of this 3/4 movement begins with a canon between solo and bass. An Allemanda, a Sarabanda with an andante-type bass, and a rather sad Giga follow.
For the Sonata IX in A major we have used Geminiani's ornamentation, as mentioned above, including the completely changed repeats in the fast movements. The key of love duets in contemporary Italian opera casts a happy glow over this sonata, only briefly interrupted by an Adagio in the parallel F sharp minor. The Tempo di gavotta, a brilliant Allegro alla breve, is an unusual hybrid between binary and rondo-form.
Friendly F major, the key of Sonata X, lends its pastoral lushness to one of Corelli's most beautiful Adagios. Allemanda, Gavotta, and Giga too seem redolent of country gaiety. The light, lovely Sarabanda is but a pause for breath in this, the only sonata without a single movement in a minor key.
Sonata XI stretches the bounds of Corelli's tonal world with the harsh key of E major; double sharps make their appearance in the continuo-player's figures. The only bow to the Sonata da camera comes in the final movement, a humourous Gavotta : all the others are straight out of a Sonata da chiesa, especially the penultimate Vivace, a densely-fugued contrapuntal masterpiece.
There is no twelfth sonata. XII is entitled Follia, and is a set of 22 variations on the dance tune of that name which goes back to fifteenth-century Portugal and was a great favourite throughout the baroque era. The "madness" implied in the title was said to reflect the wild mood of the dancers; Corelli takes us a step further into a state of general derangement. Geminiani, in one of his treatises, names Corelli's variations as the ultimate work of the violin literature, and says "I have had the pleasure of discoursing with him myself upon this subject, and heard him acknowledge the Satisfaction he took in composing it, and the Value he set upon it."
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CORELLI: Violin Sonatas Nos. 7-12, Op. 5