Concerto grosso

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In a Concerto grosso (Italian for “big concert”) a small group of instruments treated as soloists ( Concertino , Italian for “small concert”) stands opposite a larger group (Ripieno or Tutti, Italian for all); Passages in which both groups play together are called tutti . The Ripieno voices that play in the tutti passages are mostly cast multiple times.

In the Baroque era , the Concerto grosso arose from an extension of the trio sonata , another forerunner being the Venetian polychoral . Formally, it often follows the four-movement church sonata (slow - fast - slow - fast) or the chamber sonata (introduction and some dance movements). In the second half of the 18th century, the concerto grosso was replaced by the symphony and the concertante symphony .

Origin of the Concerto grosso

The first examples can be found in Francesco Usper (1619) and in Massimiliano Neris op. 2 (1651). For the first time, Alessandro Stradella used the terms Concertino and Concerto grosso (later Ripieno ) in a cantata composition. It was also Stradella who wrote the first complete works of the genre with his “Sinfonie a piú stromenti”.

Further development took place in Italy in the middle of the 17th century. In 1698 Giovanni Lorenzo Gregori was the first to publish a collection under the title "Concerti grossi a piú stromenti". The Concerti op. 6 by Arcangelo Corelli were composed as early as the 1680s, but only printed in Amsterdam in 1714. Other examples were referred to as “Concerti” or “Sinfonie à 4, 5, 6, 7”, but the layout exactly corresponds to the scheme described here, namely the works of Tomaso Albinoni , Alessandro Marcello or Giuseppe Tartini .

Since the voices of the two groups were not performed independently, Georg Muffat , who knew Corelli's performance practice from his own experience, described the flexible options for the cast: “à tre”, ie as a trio sonata , “à quattro”, ie. H. Tutti and solos drawn together, and the juxtaposition of concertino and chorus-cast Ripieno. It was also common for the strings to be supplemented by oboes, flutes and bassoons playing colla parte . Muffat composed his first concertos in Rome in 1682, which were "tried out" in the house of Corellis under his guidance, and said of Corelli: "Because of the many useful observations that were widely communicated regarding this style, I benefit from all of them" - that was around 25 years ago the publication of his op. 6.


Arcangelo Corelli's twelve Concerti grossi op. 6 are considered the first published collection of mature compositions of this genre, although it is known that he used the principle as early as 1680. It was probably created in the 1680s; the first print was published in 1714. Corelli chose Estienne Roger in Amsterdam as editor in April 1712 . Corelli was contractually granted 150 free copies.

The first eight (including the well-known No. 8, “fatto per la notte di Natale”, the so-called Christmas concert ) follow the type of church sonata very freely; the tempo also changes frequently within the sentences. The remaining four are chamber sonatas and contain stylized dance movements ( allemande , courante , minuet , sarabande , gigue ). Characteristic are relatively short motifs, in the execution of which concertino (two violins, cello) and ripieno alternate. In general, the soloists (the concertino) play all tutti parts.

In 1687 Corelli organized a concert for Pope Innocent XI on behalf of Queen Christine of Sweden . , in which he used 150 strings, which was not unusual for the time. The orchestra at San Petronio in Bologna had 120 strings available at the same time. In order to give the concerti grossi more shine during celebrations in the great cathedrals, the concertino voices were reinforced with oboes and trumpets on special occasions.


Georg Friedrich Händel wrote two series of Concerti grossi, Opus 3 with six concerts ( HWV 312-317) and Opus 6 with twelve concerts (HWV 319-330), as well as the single Concerto grosso in C major "Alexanderfest" (HWV 318).

  • The six concerts of the Concerto grosso op. 3 (HWV 312–317) were published in 1734. Handel consistently draws on his own older compositions that served as instrumental introductory or inter-act music for vocal works. Although the pieces are also known under the title “oboe concerts”, in addition to mostly two oboes, two violins, cellos, bassoons and recorders are used as soloists.
  • The Concerto grosso in C major "Alexanderfest" (HWV 318) from 1736 was written as interlude music for his oratorio " Alexanderfest ". The concertino consists of two violins and a cello, the ripieno of two oboes, two violins, viola and continuo.
  • The twelve concerts of the Concerto grosso op. 6 (HWV 319–330) were composed within just one month in autumn 1739 and borrow only a few from earlier works. The concertino consists of two violins and a cello, the ripieno consists of strings and continuo as well as two oboes, which are usually performed colla parte with the violins. Handel's op. 6 already points to the symphonics of the pre-classical period with novel stylistic elements, such as the introduction and processing of a second theme and a differentiated dynamic and harmony .
Hermann Hesse paid homage in the Steppenwolf especially to a "Concerto grosso in F major" as "music of the gods" of "royal structure", whose basses in ritardando "walk like gods" and from which the "divinity" could not be deprived even if the performance was hideously distorted. It remains unclear, however, which of the aforementioned concerts Hesse referred to as "Concerto grosso in F major"; the Concerti Grossi op. 3 contain one and that of op. 6 two concertos in F major.


Johann Sebastian Bach's Brandenburg Concerts are not concerti grossi in the true sense of the word. The second, with an unusual concertino consisting of a high trumpet, recorder, oboe and violin, corresponds most closely to the type. The first, third and sixth are more of the genre of the group concert proposed by Arnold Schering in 1927 ; in the fourth and fifth, the solo violin and harpsichord have a clear predominance over the other solo instruments.

Composers of other Concerti grossi

20th century

It was only in the last hundred years that the principle of concerto grosso was revived in the course of intensive occupation with baroque music, first by Max Reger ( concert in the old style ), Ernst Krenek (concerto grosso No. 1, op. 10; Concerto grosso No. 2 , op. 25) and Paul Hindemith (concert music for strings and brass op. 50/1),


Individual evidence

  1. Score from Stradella's Serenata ( Memento of the original from February 22, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 422 kB)  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. ^ Booklet of the recording by the Avison Ensemble under Pavlo Beznosiuk.
  3. ^ MGG , 2nd edition, part, vol. 5, columns 642 to 446
  4. Text excerpt from Hermann Hesse, Der Steppenwolf, 1927 ( Memento of the original from November 11, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 10 kB)  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /