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J.S. Bach, Corelli, Handel & Telemann: Corellimania

J.S. Bach, Corelli, Handel & Telemann: Corellimania

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As the progenitor of a style whose influence more or less came to define the instrumental music of the High Baroque, Arcangelo Corelli (1653 - 1713) occupies a position in music history as unenviable as it is to his great credit. Just what made Corelli’s style seem strikingly novel to his contemporaries is a tricky question. To be sure, his standardization and popularization of certain formal tropes – most notably the succession of movement types in Sonate da Camera and Sonate da Chiesa – was a significant part of what his followers considered the ‘Corellian’ manner.

But Corelli’s actual compositional style, his way of organizing musical thoughts into phrases and motives, is fundamentally derived from the expressive capabilities of his chosen instrument, the violin. Certain melodic patterns used to modulate and to effect sequences (e.g., chains of sevenths and fifths) basically derive from specificities of violin technique that amplify an instrument with origins primarily in dance music into one that in Corelli’s hands, could imitate the rise and fall of the sung and spoken human voice. This tension between idiomatically instrumental techniques and the evocation of the voice is the defining characteristic of Corelli’s style throughout all his surviving works and would establish the “Roman School” as the supreme measure of musical taste for generations.

For this exploration of the 18th century’s Corelli Craze, the dynamic star trio of Mahan Esfahani, Hille Perl and Michala Petri unite to trace the Roman’s influence, (sometimes in name only...) on the musical legacies of Bach, Händel and Telemann, and of course two works from the pen of the celebrated Italian Master, himself. Gramophone about the Petri/Perl/Esfahani Trio’s Bach recording: “While the tonal and expressive range of the recorder, viol and harpsichord may appear constrained in comparison to, say, flute, cello and piano, in the hands of foremost players such as these, even a relatively lightweight work such as the C major Sonata, BWV1033, comes over as the ideal demonstration of a particular facet of the composer’s style and the performers’ abilities.”

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