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Nicholas Matthews

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The Baroque Concerto

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Write an exegesis of this genre that includes:

consideration of the historical development, performance contexts, economic


antecedents, and cultural significances

explication of compositional devices, stylistic features, form, and performance


conventions

discussion of key composers, compositions schools, and regional differences

Illuminate this discussion with detailed references (using specific musical examples)
from at least three representative works (that do not appear on the listening list).

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The concerto is perhaps the most well-known and well-represented compositional genre of the
Baroque period. Composed for by a plethora of composers, the concertos humble beginnings differ
greatly from how it is now recognised. However, through its championing by some of the Baroque
greats such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi, the concerto
blossomed into a distinctive and popular genre throughout Europe, being a highly-chosen genre of
composition for many composers in order to showcase talented soloists and exceptional writing. The
extensive writing for this genre led to its accepted reputation as a fashionable style of composition
that would, in later years through developments to the genre, be used as a platform for the
broadcasting of virtuosity of talented and unrivalled performing musicians.

Nicholas Matthews
The beginnings of the concerto were very different to our understanding of it today, essentially
being merely a shadow of what would come. Preceding the Baroque era, Music played in concert
consisted of voices and instruments playing together, with instruments doubling the voice parts.
After the period emerging from the Renaissance era (i.e. early Baroque), music would become
concerted: this means that as opposed to voices and instruments playing the same part in concert,
the instrumentalists were given music separate from that of the singers, with prime examples of this
being Heinrich Schtzs Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich as it interpolates vocal lines against
instrumental sections. This was a huge advancement as music of the Renaissance era was
predominantly voice-based, paving the way for instrumental voices to be more widely heard.

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As the Baroque era progressed, the concerto evolved to become an instrumental composition
following two distinctly separate yet similar pathways: solo concerto and concerto grosso. The solo
concerto, as its title suggests, was for a soloistusually a solo violinand orchestra1 and was as
originally conceived a progressive offshoot of the sonata designed for performance by a string orchestra2 with the
soloist treated as an offshoot of the ripieno3. The concerto grosso (literally large concerto) followed
much the same path, however instead of incorporating a single solo voice, the concerto grosso
featured a group of soloists known as the concertino; in both casessolo concerto and grosso
the accompanying orchestra was known as the ripieno. While both styles saw a number of works
written for them, it was Arcangelo Corelli4 (1653 - 1713) who popularised the concerto. Published
posthumously in 1714, a year after the composers death, Corellis 12 concerti grossi, Op.65 helped

The Baroque orchestra is what we would refer to today as essentially a string orchestra: violins I & II, viola,
violoncello and continuo
1

Article by Arthur Hutchings, Michael Talbot, Cliff Eisen, Leon Botstein & Paul Griffiths, Concerto The New
Groves Dictionary of Music & Musicians (3rd ed.)
2

3A.

Hutchings, M. Talbot, C. Eisen, L. Botstein & P. Griffiths, Concerto The New Groves Dictionary of Music &
Musicians (3rd ed.)
4

Corelli is known also as The Father of the Concerto Grosso and the Founder of Modern Violin Technique

The concertino for these concerti comprises of two solo violins and a solo violoncello

Nicholas Matthews
popularise the concerto grosso among audiences as they were the first great works in that genre6. While
he did not invent the concerto grosso, Corellis op.6, aided by its publishing and availability to the
public, helped provide solid definition for the genre and were widely admiredin fact, Handels
admiration for them inspired his own 12 concerti grossi, HWV 319-330, Op.6. Because of Corellis
input into the genre, the concerto grosso was able to stand side by side with the solo concerto as a
definitive concerto style throughout the Baroque era.

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While many concerti were written throughout the ages, there is one such form that defines many
Baroque concerti through its extensive, and that is the ritornello form. This form is
distinguishable through its use of segmented repetition and conversational passages between solo
and tutti; this is not to say that it was limited to concerti soli, as it was used for many concerti grossi
as well. In ritornello form, a section of music is played in its entirety in the tonic key followed by
sections for the solo voice/s7. This initial portion of music is then segmented throughout the
movement, varied in length and transposed into different keys8. A clear example of this is a
composition by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750), his Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV
1047, a concerto grosso for solo trumpet, flute bec9, oboe, violin and orchestra.

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6

Paul Helm, Arcangelo Corelli, 52composers, http://www.52composers.com/corelli.html

While at first glance the ritornello form may seem identical to the rondo form, it is important to identify
that in a rondo form the music of section A is repeated entirely throughout, whereas the ritornello theme is
restated in portions of varying length and not always from the beginning of the theme.
7

The keys to modulate to at any given time during Baroque music are based upon the chords of the first six
diatonic degrees of the home key.
8

Recorder. This is not to be confused with flauto traversiere which is the early/Baroque version of the flute as
we know it today
9

Nicholas Matthews

Example 1. I. Allegro from Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047, mm. 1-410

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Presented here is the opening of the concerto where the ritornello theme is played by the orchestra
in the home key of F major. While all parts are not
playing the same line, however, the entirety of this
texture constitutes the ritornello music. This theme
continues for another four bars before the first solo
passage arrives, played by the violin:

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Example 2. I. Allegro from Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047, mm. 6-811

Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047, in International Music Score Library
Project. (Leipzig: Wilhelm Rust, n.d.), 33
10

11Johann

Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047, in International Music Score Library
Project. (Leipzig: Wilhelm Rust, n.d.), 33

Nicholas Matthews

After playing solo for two bars, tutti enters with the first two bars of the ritornello theme, followed
by a solo passage played on the oboe, accompanied by the solo violin and continuo. Tutti then
enters once more with the ritornello theme, however this time it is placed in the dominant key, C
major. The concerto continues, scattered with alterations between soloists and tutti ritornello in a
number of keys12, being an exemplar of the ritornello form in the Baroque concerto.

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Whilst concerti in the Baroque era followed similar compositional basis in terms of form and
instrumentation, there were big regional differences between compositions from two of the main
compositional schools: Italian and French. The Italian style is embodied in one of the most famous
composers from the Baroque era, Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741). A prolific composer who wrote
upwards of 300 concertos, most for violin, Vivaldis music is that of archetypal Italian Baroque
music: virtuosic writing, individuality and a complete sense of showmanship. These concertos were
widely influential in that their three movement structure13 set helped define and outline the concerto
genre. These concerti were heard and regarded highly due to Vivaldis master writing and his
publication of sets with fantastical titles in order to attracts buyers; one such set is his Il cimento
dell'armonia e dellinventione, Op.814 which includes his most well known work, La Primavera15, RV 26916.

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At one point, Bach modulates to the dominant minor. This is normally not okay but because he is Bach, he
can really do whatever the fuck he likes and it will be juicy.
12

Fast - Slow - Fast/Dance. There were times when Vivaldi and other composers would utilise a four
movement structure: this would involve placing an additional slow movement at the very beginning, but this
was not utilised as much as the general three movement structure.
13

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The Test of Harmony and Invention

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Spring.

The first four concertos from this set of seven comprise a smaller set entitled Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four
Seasons)
16

Nicholas Matthews

Example 3. I. Allegro from La Primavera, RV 269, mm. 51-55 of the solo violin part17

In this first movement, the solo violin is accentuated with rapid figures, difficult passages and quick
shifts at an Allegro tempo. The quick semiquaver triplets pictured in the example above showcase a
virtuosic style of playing, typical of the Italian style and so many of Vivaldis concerti for both string
and wind instruments18.
Whilst the Italian style made the most of musical artistry through obvious instrumental mastery and
dexterity, the French style inhabited the other side of the spectrum: French Baroque music made its
statements through elegance, refined writing and restraint, with a centring around dances. One of
the most iconic and important composers for the flute, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689 - 1755)
was one of the first composers to not have a patron, making all his money through the publishing of
his works. He wrote for amateur ensembles, with some of his music as such requiring not as great a
deal of technical skill as the music of Vivaldi or Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632 - 1687), an Italian-born
French composer of the middle Baroque period. Boismortiers music, despite being note as
technically demanding, still incorporated key elements of the French style, such as the performance

Antonio Vivaldi, La Primavera, RV 269 from Il cimento dell'armonia e dellinventione, Op.8 in Internation Music Score
Library Project. (Amsterdam: first edition n.d.), 3
17

An example of the Italian style in writing a wind concerto is Vivaldis Concerto in C minor for flute & orchestra,
RV 441
18

Nicholas Matthews
practices notes ingales19 and over dotting20. The former can be seen as a precedent to swing, as notes
usually quaverswould be written evenly yet played unequal; the first note of a pair would be
extended with the proceeding note played shorter. The latter is the practice of holding the dotted
rhythm longer than written and playing the succeeding note shorter than written. These intricacies
of the French Baroque style were never written in the score, but accepted as general performance
practices. Boismortiers Concerto No. 6 in E minor from his 6 Concertos for 5 flutes, Op.15 is a prime
example of the French Baroque style and these performance practices.

Example 4. I. Adagio of Concerto No. 6 in E minor from his 6 Concertos for 5 flutes, Op.15, mm. 24-27 of
the flute V/continuo part21.

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Example 5. III. Allegro of Concerto No. 6 in E minor from his 6 Concertos for 5 flutes, Op.15, mm. 1-7 of
the flute V/continuo part22.

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19

Literally uneven notes

20

Known also as double dotting

21Joseph

Bodin de Boismortier, Concerto No. 6 in E minor from his 6 Concertos for 5 flutes, Op.15 in International
Music Score Library Project. (Paris: first edition n.d.), 11
22Joseph

Bodin de Boismortier, Concerto No. 6 in E minor from his 6 Concertos for 5 flutes, Op.15 in International
Music Score Library Project. (Paris: first edition n.d.), 12

Nicholas Matthews
The above examples show places where one would include these performance practises; example 4
is suitable for over dotting whilst example 5 is suitable for both practices of over dotting and notes
ingales.
Boismortiers writing in the concerto is exemplary of his simple yet refined and elegant
compositional approach,as the part is not overly difficultand also of the French Baroque style;
the music retains an air of sophistication and poise, highlighting the difference between this style
and the Italian style, the two main compositional approaches.

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Through Baroque era, the concerto was one of the outstanding instrumental genres, with concerti
being written by many. However it was those concerti of some of the Baroque greatsAntonio
Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier and Johann Sebastian Bachthat
exemplify the Baroque style, forms and difference between the Italian and French styles. These
concerti and the ways in which they were written were of great importance in making the concerto
such an accepted genre and fantastic genre which would then be utilised as a platform for the
broadcasting of exceptional virtuosi, impeccable musicianship and master writing.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, online version, 3rd edition.
Copyright 2007 by Oxford University Press.
2. Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, Concerto No. 6 in E minor from his 6
Concertos for 5 flutes, Op.15 in International Music Score Library Project. (Paris:
first edition n.d.),
3. Antonio Vivaldi, La Primavera, RV 269 from Il cimento dell'armonia e
dellinventione, Op.8 in Internation Music Score Library Project. (Amsterdam:
first edition n.d.)
4. Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047,
in International Music Score Library Project. (Leipzig: Wilhelm Rust, n.d.)
5. Paul Helm, Arcangelo Corelli, 52composers, 2008-2014. http://www.
52composers.com/corelli.html

Nicholas Matthews

6. Carrell, Norman, Bachs Brandenburg Concertos. London: George Allen &


Unwin Ltd., 1963.

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