Childhood & Early Life
Arcangelo Corelli was born on 17 February 1653 in the small Romagna town of Fusignano, in the Papal States (Italy), to a family of land-owners. His father, also named Arcangelo, died five weeks just before the boy’s birth. His mother Santa raised him along with four older siblings.
His family is believed to have been quite prosperous. Not much is known about his childhood, though it is assumed that he studied music under a priest in a town nearby to his native one.
Between 1666 and 1667, he is believed to have studied with Giovanni Benvenuti, who was the violinist at the chapel of San Peternio in Bologna. He learnt the principles of the violin from Benvenuti. His education was furthered under the tutelage of Leonardo Brugnoli.
In 1670, he managed to get into the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna. It is said that Corelli spent some time in Germany as well, under the service of Maximilian II Emanuel before finally moving to Rome.
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According to several sources, Arcangelo Corelli played the violin at the Tordinona Theatre during the initial years of his career, after which he sent his first composition ‘Sonata for Violin and Lute’ to Count Fabrizio Laderchi of Laenza.
By 1675, he had become the third violinist to the orchestra of the chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. He became the second violinist by the next year. One of his important works ’12 Trio Sonatas for Two Violins and Cello, with Organ Basso Continuo’ which was dedicated to Queen Christina of Sweden, were published in 1681.
He took the post of the first violinist in the San Luigi dei Francesi orchestra in 1682, and held the position till 1685. The same year, another one of his important works, ’12 Chamber Two Sonatas for Two Violins, Violene and Violoncello or Harpsichord’ were published.
In September 1687, he became the musical director at the Palazzo Pamphili. Thereafter, he not only performed, but also conducted important musical events. He was also sometimes called upon to help organizing as well as to conduct special musical performances. One of them, which was sponsored by Queen Christina for the British ambassador sent by King James II of England, was regarded as the most brilliant and outstanding. The event was the coronation of Pope Innocent XII.
In 1689, another one of his major works, ’12 Church Trio Sonatas for Two Violins and Archlute with Organ Basso Continuo’ was published, and dedicated to Francesco II, who was the duke of Modena.
He was also a successful teacher, apart from being a successful musician. Francesco Geminiani, Antonio Vivaldi, and many such famous musicians took music lessons from Corelli. He is also believed to have taught at the German Institute in Rome.
In 1700, he occupied the post of the first violinist and conductor for the concerts of the Palazzo della Cancelleria. The same year, ’12 Sonatas for Violin and Violene or Harpisschord’ was published and dedicated to Sophia Charlotte, wife of King Frederick I, of Brandenburg.
In 1702 he went to Naples, where he played in the presence of the king and performed a composition by the Italian composer Alessandro Scarlatti. Though there is no exact documentation of the events, he is said to have met George Frideric Handel during this time. Both of them, along with two other composers, Bernardo Pasquini and Scarlatti, were received into the Arcadia Academy to conduct a concert.
Arcangelo Corelli’s music may sound very calm to people today, but he was noted for his passionate playing and it was said that he got so deeply involved with his violin that he tried to make it “speak.”
Arcangelo Corelli composed 48 trio sonatas, 12 violin and continuo sonatas and 12 concerti grossi in his lifetime. His ‘Church Sonatas’, which were published in 1681, and dedicated to Queen Christina, was regarded by Corelli himself to be one of the finest fruits of his hard work.
Corelli popularized the concept of Concerto Grosso, which is a unique form of baroque music, where the musical material is passed between a small group of soloists and the full orchestra. Though the first one to use it is believed to be Alessandro Stradella, it was Corelli who established and popularized this form. After his death, composers such as Francesco Geminiani and Giuseppe Torelli wrote concertos in his style. There used to be several different forms of concerto grosso, though the distinctions faded over time.
Famous for the calmness and nobility of his music, Arcangelo Corelli is also known for a new technique ‘Corelli clash.’ However, this technique is considered less advanced than the ones of his German contemporaries, since the German violin school of that time was far more advanced than the Italian one.
Personal Life & Legacy
Arcangelo Corelli never married during his lifetime and is believed to have been homosexual.
He passed away in Rome on 8 January 1713. He was 59. He was buried in the Pantheon at Rome.
He left behind a fortune of 120,000 marks along with a valuable collection of works of art and fine violins. They were left to his benefactor and friend who in turn passed over the money to Corelli’s relatives.