Arcangelo Corelli

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Arcangelo Corelli, 1698

Arcangelo Corelli (born February 17, 1653 in Fusignano , † January 8, 1713 in Rome ) was an Italian composer and violinist of the Baroque .

Corelli's works had a far-reaching influence on the development of chamber music , the church and chamber sonata as well as the genre of the concerto grosso, which Corelli helped to develop . His virtuoso music-making style became the basis of modern violin technique of the 18th and 19th centuries and influenced numerous composers.


Youth and education

There is very little reliable information about Corelli's early life. He came from a wealthy landowning family in Fusignano in the Papal States . His father, who was also called Arcangelo, died a month before Corelli's birth, so that his mother, Santa Corelli b. Raffini had to take care of the upbringing of her five children alone.

Corelli received his first music lessons from a priest in the neighboring town of Faenza , continued his studies in Lugo and finally went to Bologna around 1670 , where he was probably taught by Giovanni Benvenuti and Leonardo Brugnoli . It is possible that he was accepted into the Accademia Filarmonica there during his stay in Bologna . Even if his formal membership there is not guaranteed by contemporary sources, there are indications that he was present at the meetings of the academy, at which well-known musicians and composers such as Giovanni Battista Vitali and Pietro degli Antonii were present used for the musical exchange of ideas.

Establishment as a musician and composer in Rome

Queen Christina of Sweden

Corelli came to Rome in 1675 at the latest, where he soon became known as one of the leading violinists under the nickname Il Bolognese . Shortly after his arrival, he took part in several concerts by the Chigi family , which enabled him to quickly gain access to the highest circles of the Roman nobility and to establish himself in one of the richest centers of musical patronage of the time. In the same year he also entered the service of the orchestra of the French national church San Luigi dei Francesi and played in numerous celebrations, oratorios and masses in the following years . In 1682 he was appointed concertmaster , a post he held until 1708.

At this time Corelli was also taking lessons in composition and counterpoint from Matteo Simonelli, a singer in the Papal Chapel, after which he began to write his own compositions around 1677. In the same year he joined the orchestra of the former Swedish Queen Christina, who lived in Rome, and in the following years also wrote numerous pieces for the academies founded by Christina. Corelli also dedicated his first printed opus to it, the 12 Church Sonatas Op. 1 (1681), which were a European success, were reprinted in numerous European cities and made Corelli well known far beyond Italy. In the foreword to this work he thanks the "più valorosi professori musici di Roma", which certainly included the violinists Carlo Mannelli , Lelio Colista and Carlo Ambrogio Lonati .

Corelli, who like all musicians in Rome was a member of the musicians' guild Congregazione di Santa Cecilia (later: Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia ), was finally in 1681 in recognition of his musical merits to the Guardiano (English: "Guardian" or "Head") of the instrumental department of the guild, an office offered only to the most eminent musicians in Rome. He was re-elected in 1684 and 1700.

In the service of Pamphilis

After Christina lost the Pope's financial support in 1683, Corelli left her services in 1684 (but remained in close contact with her) and took a job with the wealthy cardinal and art patron Benedetto Pamphili (1652-1730), whose palazzo ( the Palazzo Pamphilj ) was one of the centers of Roman musical life. In gratitude for the cardinal's generous support, Corelli dedicated his op. 2 (12 chamber sonatas , 1685) to him. This sonata collection also received a very positive reception and cemented Corelli's reputation as an instrumental composer. In 1687 Corelli entered the service of Pamphilis and moved with his partner and pupil Matteo Fornari to Pamphilis Palazzo, where he had to conduct concerts with 80 or more participants as Kapellmeister .

In addition to this official position, Corelli also fulfilled numerous other obligations. For example, major concert events in Rome in 1687 in honor of, among others, James II of England , the French King Louis XIV and the Spanish Queen Marie Louise d'Orléans , in which Corelli had to lead orchestras with up to 150 musicians. He also made trips to Viterbo in 1685 and 1686 , where he was also musically active.

In 1689 Corelli published his op. 3 (12 church sonatas), which he dedicated to Francesco II. D'Este , Duke of Modena . He had heard Corelli play in Pamphilis Palazzo in 1686 and was so impressed by the performance that in the following time he tried several times to entice Corelli to Modena. The latter declined the offers because of his obligations to his Roman patrons, but remained on friendly terms with the Este family .

In the service of Ottoboni

Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, Corelli's longtime patron

With Christina's death in April 1689 and the appointment of Pamphilis as papal legate in Bologna in early 1690, Corelli quickly lost his two most important patrons in Rome. At the same time, however, the election of Alexander VIII as Pope resulted in a fundamental change in the cultural policy of the Vatican, as Alexander the anti-art policies of his predecessor Innocent XI. and appointed his great-nephew Pietro Ottoboni, who was enthusiastic about art and music, as his vice-chancellor and cardinal nephew .

He was soon active as a generous patron of the arts and began to gather around the most important artists and musicians of the time, including Corelli, who officially entered Ottoboni's service in April 1690. Both should remain lifelong in close personal friendship and mutual respect, which was also reflected in Ottoboni's support of Corelli's family, which even went so far that Corelli's brothers Don Ippolito (1643-1727), Domenico (1647-1719) and Giacinto (1649–1719) were employed in Ottoboni's household as "ministri" from 1702 and remained so after Arcangelo's death.

He also let Corelli live in his Palazzo (the Cancelleria ) and gave him the direction of the concerts and opera performances that took place there. In addition, he commissioned him to look after the church music in his titular church of San Lorenzo in Damaso, which is located within the palazzo . The concerts in Ottoboni's Palazzo, led and mostly composed by Corelli, which mostly took place in small cast, were initially spontaneous, informal meetings. From 1693, attempts were made to give these meetings a formal character by founding an academy . Corelli dedicated his 12 chamber sonatas op. 4 (1694) to Ottoboni and his academy, which certainly also belonged to the repertoire of the academy.

Arcangelo Corelli, around 1700, portrait by Jan Frans van Douven

In 1700 Corelli's op. 5 (12 sonatas) appeared with a dedication to Sophie Charlotte von Hannover . The Prussian Electress Corelli had never met, but was generally known as a patron of the arts and especially music. In a departure from his previous works, which were written as trio sonatas , Corelli conceived his fifth publication as duo sonatas for violin and continuo . In addition, the work includes 6 church and 6 chamber sonatas, two genres that he had previously separated. In recognition of his services, Corelli was elected Guardiano of the Musicians' Guild for the third time in the same year .

In 1702 Corelli stayed in Naples for a few months to conduct a series of performances. In 1706 he was accepted into the Accademia dell'Arcadia in Rome together with his long-time friends and music colleagues Bernardo Pasquini and Alessandro Scarlatti , for which he took the Arcadian name Arcomelo Erimanteo . The Accademia, actually a literary society founded in honor of Queen Christina, made an exception and in this case also allowed the three musicians.

Around 1708 he came into contact with Georg Friedrich Händel , who went on an extensive study trip through Italy from 1706 to 1710. He participated in several performances of Handel's works and conducted the world premiere of his oratorio La Resurrezione in April 1708 in the Palazzo Bonelli in Rome . A month later he complied with a request from the German Elector Johann Wilhelm von der Pfalz and composed a chamber concert for him. As a thank you, the elector awarded him the title of Marques de Ladenburg .

Withdrawal from the public and death

Corelli's tomb in the Pantheon in Rome (right)

After 1709 Corelli increasingly withdrew from the public for health reasons and devoted himself to the composition and revision of the 12 Concerti grossi op. 6, the publication of which he was preparing for publication from 1711 at the latest. In 1712 the Amsterdam printer Estienne Roger received the exclusive printing privilege for the work. The dedication of the work, which was addressed to Elector Johann Wilhelm, was written by Ottoboni in Corelli's name in December of the same year, which makes clear the poor health of the composer at that time. In fact, the Concerti grossi did not appear until 1714, a year after Corelli's death.

At the end of December 1712, he moved from the Cancelleria to his brother Giacinto's palazzo, where his rich possessions, including valuable paintings and musical instruments, were also kept. A few days later, on January 8, 1713, he died at the age of 59. He bequeathed a large part of his property, including his collection of 142 paintings and 71 shares in Monte di Pietà , to his brothers. Among other things, he left his violins and all of his manuscripts to his student and friend Matteo Fornari. At the instigation of Cardinal Ottoboni, he was embalmed and buried in the Pantheon in Rome.

The Corelli Horn , a mountain on Alexander I Island in Antarctica, has had his name since 1961 . The Corelli Trio has also been named after him since 1984 , three piers off the north coast of King George Island in the archipelago of the South Shetland Islands .


Corelli had considerable influence far beyond Italy, both as a violinist and as a composer. The style of music he introduced, which was retained by his students such as Francesco Gasparini , Francesco Geminiani , Giovanni Battista Somis and others, was of great importance for the development of violin playing.

In contrast to most of his contemporaries, Corelli wrote exclusively instrumental music as a composer. His works, which are characterized by classical balance and cantability, mark an epoch in the history of chamber music . Composers such as Geminiani , Vitali , Albicastro , Vivaldi , Galuppi , Telemann and Valentini arranged works by Corelli or imitated his style.

Corelli's works were the most widely published works in music history until the beginning of the 19th century. No fewer than 39 editions of his op. 1 were published by 1800, and of his op. 5 even 42. Taken together, Corelli's op. 1–6 published a total of 213 editions plus an unknown number of illegal reprints. Corelli's oeuvre was not only very popular, but also widespread. His works have been published in almost all European countries and thus established Corelli's European fame as well as his reputation as the most capable violin virtuoso and composer of his time. The Concerti grossi op. 6 were played in England well into the 19th century and even preferred to those of Handel.

Even if the popularity of Corelli's music nowadays hardly approaches the extraordinary popularity of his works during his lifetime and the following century, parts of his work are still very popular, such as the widely received Folia Variations from Op. 5 or the well-known Christmas concert from the Concerti grossi op. 6. Excerpts from these two pieces have already been included in the soundtracks of various films, for example in Master & Commander (2003).


Frontispiece from Corelli's op. 6, which is based on the plaque on Corelli's tomb in the Pantheon
Concerto grosso Op. 6, No. 4: 1st movement
Concerto grosso op. 6, No. 8: Christmas concert, 1st and 2nd movement
Concerto grosso op. 6, No. 8: Christmas concert, 4th, 5th and 6th movements
  • op.1: 12 trio sonatas da chiesa ( Sonate a tre , Rome 1681)
  • Op. 2: 12 trio sonatas da camera ( Sonate da camera a tre , Rome 1685)
  • op. 3: 12 trio sonatas da chiesa ( Sonate a tre , Rome 1689)
  • Op. 4: 12 trio sonatas da camera ( Sonate a tre , Rome 1694)
  • op.5: 12 sonatas for violin and continuo ( Sonate a violino e violone o cimbalo , Rome 1700; No. 12: Variations on La Folia )
  • op.6: 12 Concerti grossi (Amsterdam 1714; No. 8 the well-known Christmas concert in G minor)
  • WoO 1: Sinfonia to Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier's Oratorio Santa Beatrice d'Este (1689)
  • WoO 2–3: 2 Sonata a quattro (contained in: Six Sonates à 4, 5, & 6 parties ... , Amsterdam around 1699)
  • WoO 4: Sonata a quattro for trumpet, 2 violins and basso continuo
  • WoO 5–10: 6 Sonata a tre op. Post. (Amsterdam around 1714)

Corelli's authentically transmitted work comprises a total of 48 trio sonatas, 12 sonatas for violin and continuo, and 12 concerti grossi. However, it can be assumed that this relatively small but very systematic oeuvre represents only a fraction of his total compositions. So far, a total of ten handwritten works have been identified as possible compositions by Corelli. Of these works without an opus number (WoO), however, only WoO 1 and WoO 2 and 5 could be assigned to Corelli with a very high degree of probability. The authenticity of WoO 3, 4 and 6–10 has been questioned by research.

The small size of the oeuvre as a whole is due, on the one hand, to the fact that Corelli apparently composed slowly, constantly carefully revised his works and, as a composer, set very high quality standards. On the other hand, the printing of musical works was still very laborious and costly due to the immature notation , and it was also unusual, as many composers wrote their works exclusively for their clients. Corelli's tendency to print his works, however, seems to be due to his experience in Bologna, since the local music publishers were leaders in sheet music printing in Italy at that time, especially instrumental works.

It is also noticeable that Corelli has only received instrumental music , although there is reason to believe that he also composed vocal works . There are also no surviving solo sonatas, which is often explained by the fact that Corelli, a famous violin virtuoso, composed them exclusively for his own use and therefore never considered publishing them.

Another formal peculiarity of Corelli's work is the distinction between two specific sonata genres , namely the church sonata ( Sonata da chiesa ) and the chamber sonata ( Sonata da camera ), both of which correspond to a specific formal structure that was largely developed and disseminated by Corelli. In research it is controversial how consistently this distinction should be made, among other things because Corelli himself avoided this categorization. Although his first four works follow this formal separation quite clearly, in the last two works the transitions between the two genres are fluid.

There are numerous variations of the sonatas op. 5 by Corelli himself, by Francesco Geminiani , Giovanni Benedetto Platti , Matthew Dubourg (concertmaster under Handel ) and Giuseppe Tartini . Ettore Pinelli (1843–1915) arranged a suite of dances from Op. 5, which is still popular today, consisting of the 3rd movement (Sarabande) of the 7th sonata, the 2nd movement (gigue) of the 9th sonata and the 4th movement the 11th Sonata (Gavotte: Allegro, called "Badinerie" by Pinelli), which only uses strings and is usually only performed under Corelli's name.

Manuscripts assigned to Corelli

In 1963, the musicologist Mario Fabbri discovered unpublished manuscripts of 12 Sonata da Camera e violino e violoncello solo in the library of the Sacro Convento in Assisi , short sonatas that come from the Bolognese school but show the typical Corelli style. Lately music researchers like Guido Olivieri and Enrico Gatti believe that these are possibly those unpublished sonatas that Corelli mentions in the foreword of his op. 1 from 1681.


Web links

Commons : Arcangelo Corelli  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. unknown: Arcangelo Corelli Sarabande, Gigue & Badinerie ("Suite for Strings") (arranged by Ettore Pinelli). In: AllMusic. Retrieved August 17, 2018 .
  2. Brief description with a link to the PDF of the research description ( memento of October 2, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) (Italian)