Recorded on 06/06/2009, uploaded on 10/02/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
The latin verb, concertare, implies group activity. Groups may do a
good many things together—two examples of these things might be struggling or
conversing, and it is these two things that most accurately tell us about what
a concerto was and is today.
The first concertos (or concerti, if you prefer the Italian plural) were sacred
pieces in which voices and instruments were combined. Lodovico Grossi da
Viadana, in 1601, published a collection called "Centi concerti
ecclesiastici," or one hundred sacred concertos. These pieces are very
simple in their construction, being for one or more voices with the
accompaniment of an organ. Nevertheless, they convey a change in thinking about
church music: the idea that voices and instruments could join forces without
betraying an essential purity expected by the Counter Reformation church. In
1610, the matter became more complicated in the form of the Vespro delta
Beata Vergine Maria by Claudio Monteverdi. In this marvellous work,
instruments and voices join to combine many different styles and traditions of
music all in the same collection.
In the early baroque period, instruments also wanted to jump on the
bandwagon, as it were, of "expressing the passions." Conventions that
were germane to singers were now being imitated by instrumentalists to make
music more spontaneous and expressive. Contrast is something that is dear to
the art of baroque painting (consider all of the action taking place, for
example, in Peter Paul Rubens's "The Abduction of the Daughters of
Leucippus), and it is best represented in music by the "concerto grosso."
This word is usually now associated with a type of piece in which there are
more than one soloist. What it really means, though, is "big group."
Beginning with works by Stradella, Legrenzi and Archangelo Corelli, a concerto
would mean a large group (concerto grosso) and a smaller select group
(concertino) in dialogue with each other. The contrast in sound between the two
groups furnishes grist for the musical argument, as it were. From this point
on, it was only a matter of time before a concerto might have only one soloist,
as shown by Giuseppe Torelli and Antonio Vivaldi and a host of others.
George Frideric Handel wrote solo concertos in his earlier years, but his
mature concertos all deal with general contrast more than with the difference
between one player and a largish ensemble. Handel relied heavily on the model
established by Corelli—indeed, Corelli's influence cannot be underestimated in
the first half of the eighteenth century. Not only Handel, but others, such as
Geminiani and Charles Avison found that the Corellian model had not been
surpassed as a viable means for dramatic musical expression. David Schrader
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