Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto Grosso no. 8 in g minor, op. 6, mvt. 3

"Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia."
~Kurt Vonnegut

My first personal exposure to Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) was actually in a movie.  It was 2003 and and I had just started my second year of college and my dad was excited about this new Russell Crowe movie, "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" which was based off the 'Aubrey-Maturin' novel series by Patrick O'Brian which followed a fledgling captain and borderline homeless doctor through several years of naval adventures in the early 1800's as they progress into an almost unstoppable duo.  A big plot point was the fact that both Captain Aubrey and Dr. Maturin were accomplished musicians.  In preparing for the movie, Russell Crowe even took violin lessons regularly, studying with Australian violinist/composer/conductor Richard Tognetti to augment his performance.

Speaking of violinist/composer/conductors, Corelli happened to be in that club as well.  Corelli's early life is one of much historical contention, but we do know is that Corelli was talented at violin and composition and did frequent the podium.  

There's a famous anecdote where Corelli is playing a piece written by Handel (another Baroque composer, 30 years younger than Corelli) and he refuses to play a passage because he felt it was written too high for violin.  The young Handel apparently obliged and played the offending note, royally agitating the senior Baroquian.  

TUGGER!  You're my only friend!
I'd pop that Handel right on his nose, I would!

Corelli was also a big proponent of the form known as Concerto Grosso.  A concerto is a work that features a soloist in front of a larger instrumental group, whereas the grosso just means there's a small group instead of a soloist.  The work usually goes back and forth between the smaller group (known as the concertino) and the larger group (known as the ripieno).  

Kinda like the London Phil backing Pink Floyd.
The piece we are looking at today was featured in "Master and Commander" and is one of my personal favorites.  It comes from what is known as the "Christmas Concerto".  On the original score, Corelli wrote, "Fatto per la notte di Natale" which translates from Italian to say, 'Made for the night of Christmas.'  

The entire work is 6 movements long, but for the purposes of this exercise we will focus on movement 3 (Adagio-Allegro-Adagio).  You'll notice the first portion is slow, with a steady pulse of 16th notes being transferred throughout.  The middle section picks up speed and introduces a new theme which then transitions back to the original in a brief example of ternary (remember Alan Rickman?).  

The "Christmas Concerto" was published a year or so after Corelli died.  He wrote it for one of his patrons, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who was an ardent supporter of the arts in his time.  It was probably played for a Christmas around 1690 and then potentially sat unplayed until it was rediscovered after Corelli had passed and archivists went through his effects.

The other neat part about music from this time period is "basso continuo".  This was a part in the music usually fulfilled by an organ or harpsichord and then an accompanying bass voice.  The idea was you would have something that would be able to do chords, but then also you have the capability to accentuate the bass end of the spectrum with a more melodic instrument.  The really weird part is that it just had notes written for the cellist/bassist while the keyboard (or guitarist or whatever your chordal instrument was) had to figure out the chord to play based on the bass note written and a few numbers, also known as "figured bass".

I figured bass would be easier than this.

The numbers (figured bass) would show the notes to be played by indicating how far away they were from the written bass note.  This is a precursor to the modern form that jazz musicians still use today.

All you need is love.  And a melody.  And chord symbols.

The jazz symbology moved the notation to the top of the melody and eliminated the written bass part (most of the time) as the bass notes are implied through the chord notation.

I adapted this piece for four trombones and it was played at my wedding, (and later I recorded it in a closet and overdubbed myself) so this week you get two listening examples.  The first one is a more traditional example featuring instruments closer to what you might expect to hear in the Baroque era.  The concertino is represented by the two foremost violins and the male cellist on the left.  The ripieno is the remaining strings with the bassist, harpsichord (weird, piano-looking thing) and lutes making up the basso continuo:

Homework: Write about your favorite winter holiday or Christmas memory.

You can leave your answer in the comments.

See you next Friday.


The recording of Concerto Grosso no. 8, mvt. 3 for four trombones is my property which I release into the Creative Commons.

The image of Russell Crowe and "Tugger" comes from South Park and belongs to Comedy Central.
The album cover belongs to Pink Floyd.
The jazz excerpt is "Autumn Leaves" with music by Joseph Kosma.
The figured bass excerpt is by Henry Purcell and is in the public domain.