The Life and The Famous Christmas Concerto of Italian Violinist, Arcangelo Corelli

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Words: 1310 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Mar 1, 2019

Words: 1310|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Mar 1, 2019

Arcangelo Corelli’s Christmas Concerto

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) was an Italian violinist, a baroque composer and a teacher. He was such a good violinist that he established the importance of the violin to the world and was the first to merge modern tonality, functional harmony and the concerto grosso. Corelli was not known for his vast knowledge of the instrument, but his fingering of the violin is almost flawless in execution and is very important for the development of modern violin playing.

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Corelli was the first person to organize the basic elements of violin technique. His technique has been passed down from pupil to pupil, kind of like a violin family tree. Arcangelo Corelli was the most influential violinist-composer of 18th century Italy and has been referred to as an "iconic point of reference". He was also one of the first composers to be recognized internationally solely based on his instrumental music. His instrumental compositions mark a period in the history of chamber music.

He was born in a small town called Fusignano, Italy. Arcangelo’s family owned a lot of land, which earned them a higher social status. Corelli used this to his advantage. He was named after his father, which was not rare in this era. His father died one month before his birth. This means that his single mother, Santa Corelli, raised him along with his four older siblings. He studied in Faenza, Lugo, under a priest as a child, but then moved to Bologna in 1666, when he was thirteen years old. While there, he studied at Accademia Filharmonica, starting to compose at this point when he was seventeen years old, which was VERY early in age to be accepted.

His continental fame started when he made a trip to Paris, France when he was nineteen years old. He moved to Rome. Although it is unclear when he moved there, he was definitely there by 1675. It was during this time that he became one of the foremost violinists in Rome. Corelli dedicated his first opus to Queen Christina of Sweden in 1681. His first opus was twelve trio sonatas written in Sonata da chiese form. A trio sonata is made of two solo instruments that are accompanied by a continuo. A continuo is when two instruments, usually a harpsichord and a cello, are both playing the same part on the bottom. A sonata da chiese is a four-movement piece normally performed in church. Corelli never used the term Sonata da chiese, because that term was not conceived until the nineteenth century.

His music was key in the development of the baroque sonata and concerto. Trio sonatas were important to the baroque music era. An accademia per musica by Pasquini, performed in Christina's Palazzo Riario, by 150 string players, was led by Corelli and was admired by many. His second dedication was his first set of trio sonatas in the form of sonata da camera, in 1685, for Cardinal Pamphili. Sonata da cameras are sonatas that are made for chamber trios. Chamber trios are three to four movements beginning with a prelude sonata followed by the other singers.

In 1689, Corelli directed a large band of players in two solemn masses. During a solemn mass most of the ceremony is sung. Both ensembles included trumpets, and on the second occasion, Corelli contributed a new sinfonia with trumpets. This mention of a trumpet sinfonia was attributed to Corelli. In that same year, Corelli dedicated his third opus, twelve more sonata da chiesa, to Francesco II who was the Duke of Modena.

Not much later that year, Corelli was received in the highest circles of the aristocracy, which lead to him going to the celebrated Monday concerts in the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni who was Pope Alexander VIII’s nephew. Corelli was living in Ottoboni’s palace as his employee. This is when Corelli wrote his fourth opus, a second set of sonata da camera, in 1694, dedicated to Ottoboni. In 1706, Corelli retired from public eye. He died in Rome (1713) and was so admired that he was buried in the Pantheon. The pantheon is a roman temple that only has four burials inside. He died in possession of a fortune, a valuable collection of works of art and fine violins.

Even though there were no reports of him studying composition, he wrote 95 compositions: 54 instrumental compositions, 19 chamber compositions, 21 orchestral compositions, and 1 dance song. He was mainly distinguished for his use of wind and brass instruments.

The most famous of his compositions was the Christmas Concerto (no. 8, ‘fatto per la notte di Natale’). It would be performed on Christmas Eve in the Ottoboni palace. It actually contains a prelude and three dances a well as the rustic movement. It was a popular style of the period. The Christmas concerto has five parts: I. Vivace-Grave, II. Allegro, III. Largo-Allegro-Adagio, IV. Vivace, V. Allegro-Largo Pastorale ad Libitum. This work, in its entirety, is called, Christmas Concerto “Fatto Per La Notte Di Natale”.

“It is at heart an example of the sonata da chiesa, expanded from the usual four movements to five and incorporating into the last movement a rolling, 12/8 meter Pastorale ad libitum. Like the rest of the Op. 6 concerti, it is scored for a concert group consisting of two violins and a cello and a larger tutti ensemble.” (Johnston). This piece was printed a quarter of a century after it was originally performed in 1714, which was the year after Corelli died.


This piece starts off homophonic, which means that there is more than one part that plays the same rhythms at the same time. The piece also starts off with the tempo of Vivace, which stands for lively/fast. It also starts in ¾ time which would normally give it a dancing feel however, it is in minor and everyone is playing together, so it has more of a scary feeling associated with it. But then it changes to 4/4 and to a much slower tempo, Grave, which means solemn/very slow. It also starts turns into a polyphonic texture, which mixed with the minor, and slow tempo makes it very saddening.

When looking at the tempo markings throughout the piece, fast-slow-fast-slow-fast is the pattern that it makes. Throughout the entire concerto, there is a phrase that is repeated. Each short movement has multiple tempi and a great range of major and minor suspensions. Blair pointed out, “Corelli at several key points makes a concerted effort to turn that textbook organization on its head. Six measures of fiery Vivace preface the opening Grave movement, and the third movement (Adagio) has a central Allegro episode” (Johnston).

The first movement has complex structures that have many tempo changes; tempo changes are very frequent in Opus 6. The second movement has staggered and imitative suspensions. Vivace, the fourth movement is normally the last movement for sontata da chiesa’s, but it is very short. Corelli did this so that he could have his long fifth movement. The most famous of all Corelli music is, “the lovely, serene Pastorale (Largo)” (Johnston).

Corelli was so loved that even Johann Sebastian Bach studied his works and based an organ fugue BWV 579 on Corelli’s Opus 3.

These two pieces are very much alike. When looking at Corelli’s piece, it is obvious that the melody switches from part three to part one. However, with Bach’s (1685-1750) it appears to be continuing on part one for the whole time. It is apparent that Bach got inspiration from Corelli’s Opus three to make his Fugue BWV 579.

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Corelli was known as the “founder of modern violin technique,” the “father of the concerto grosso” and the “world’s first great violinist.” He was a prolific composer of sonatas and concertos. The Christmas concerto is an example of Corelli’s style of music. His music was the start of the chamber music era.

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

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The Life and the Famous Christmas Concerto of Italian Violinist, Arcangelo Corelli. (2019, February 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
“The Life and the Famous Christmas Concerto of Italian Violinist, Arcangelo Corelli.” GradesFixer, 27 Feb. 2019,
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