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CHAPTER 33. Instrumental Music in Italy.

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chapter 33

Instrumental Music in Italy

While during the sixteenth century composers had written much instrumental music, not until the seventeenth century did composers write and published music for instruments in a truly idiomatic fashion. New instruments, new styles of playing, and new genres of pieces, all emerged during the seventeenth century. The place of origin of these innovations was northern Italy.
Cremona: Northern Italian city crucial to the development of the violin. It was here that many great violin-makers were born and lived.
  • Antonio Stradivari: One of the great Cremonese violin-makers of the seventeenth century. His instruments, as well as those of the Amati and Guarnieri families, are sold for millions of dollars to this day.
the violin then and now
The Violin Then and Now

In comparison to its modern counterpart, the Baroque violin is characterized by:

  • a shorter fingerboard (and, consequently, a reduced upper register);
  • a longer bridge;
  • strings made of animal gut;
  • a bow with narrower band of horsehair and under less tension;
  • no chin rest;
  • an overall lighter, cleaner sound
the formation of the baroque orchestra
The Formation of the Baroque Orchestra
  • The early Baroque orchestra was something of a "mixed-bag" of instruments which could include—as was the case for Monteverdi's Orfeo (1607)—violins and viols, recorders, trumpets, cornetts, sackbuts, harpsichord, theorbo, harps, organs with metal and reed pipes. After the mid seventeenth century, several of these instruments gradually lost favor. A single harpsichord replaced the theorbo and other plucked instruments in holding together the basso continuo, while the instrumental ensemble progressively coalesced around the violin family (violin, viola, and cello) with double-bass sometimes added.
A sonata (something to be sounded) is a piece for a single instrument or small instrumental ensemble. In the second half of the seventeenth century, composers gradually began to distinguish between two types of sonatas:
    • sonata da camera (of the chamber), made up of a series of dance-like movements, each of which had the name and character of particular dances such as allemande, courante, and gigue;
    • sonata da chiesa (of the church), made up of fewer dance pieces and of movements titled after tempo markings such as grave, adagio, allegro, or presto (clear references to secular dances were deemed inappropriate for the church).
salomone rossi violinist and composer crucial to the development of the instrumental sonata
Salomone Rossi: Violinist and composer crucial to the development of the instrumental sonata

Leaving behind the four-voice imitative polyphony of the late Renaissance canzona, Rossi adopted the top-bottom texture typical of vocal music. Clearly influenced by the lyrical monody and duets of Monteverdi, with whom he worked for several years the Gonzaga court in Mantua, Rossi's sonatas feature a violin duet on top and basso continuo on the bottom (Anthology, No. 92).

Arcangelo Corelli: The first composer in the history of music to make his reputation exclusively as an instrumental composer. Educated in Bologna, Corelli worked in Rome for Queen Christina of Sweden and Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. With him, the norm took two types:
    • solo sonata: for a single melodic instrument and basso continuo
    • trio sonata: for two treble instruments, usually two violins, and basso continuo
The Corellian sonata, which soon became the model for composers throughout all of Europe, are characterized by
    • multiple stops: two or more notes played simultaneously as chords;
    • a succession of four movements alternating slow/fast/slow/fast, all in the same key (or relative major or minor);
    • binary form: a structure consisting of two complimentary parts, the first moving to a closely related key (usually the dominant) and the second beginning in that new key but soon returning to the tonic.
    • a strong sense of functional tonality, as Corelli's harmonies are often composed of triads, the roots of which are a fifth apart.
walking bass
Walking bass

a bass moving in steady pace, usually in eighth notes, up and down the scale

The seventeenth century trumpet was a natural instrument without keys or valves. The only notes it can produce are those of the harmonic series (Ex. 33-6). Only in the highest register, called the clarino register, could the trumpet play conjunct melodies. Bologna and its gigantic basilica of St. Petronio were the most important center for trumpet music during the seventeenth century.
Giuseppe Torelli: violinist and composer at St. Petronio's in Bologna. He wrote nearly four dozen trumpet pieces for the virtuoso municipal trumpeters. Some he called "sonatas," others "sinfonias," and others yet "concertos," though there is no difference in form or musical process from one genre to the next.
  • Sinfonia: by 1700 a term used to designate a three-movement instrumental overture, one that might preface an opera or a Mass.
  • Spiccato: indicated by a small dash placed above the notes, it requires the performers to play in a detached fashion, but not quite as short as staccato.
In his trumpet pieces Torelli developed two procedures that became hallmarks of the emerging Baroque concerto:
  • differentiating the music of the soloist from that of the orchestra;
  • having the soloist expand upon material derived from a recurring orchestral theme.
Antonio Vivaldi: Virtuoso violinist and composer, he was fundamental to the development of the concerto, of which he wrote nearly five hundred. After entering the Holy Orders in 1703, he served as violinist, music teacher, and composer-in-residence at the all-female orphanage Ospedale della Pietà (Hospice of Mercy). Many of his concertos were written specifically for his female pupils.
  • The Four Seasons: the first four concertos of a set of twelve solo concertos, comprising Opus 8, called Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (1725). In The Four Seasons he writes some of the earliest program music, for the composer inserts a poem about each season into the first violinist's part and then fashions the music to match the poetic images.
    • by the end of the seventeenth century, a purely instrumental piece for ensemble in which one or more soloists both complemented and competed with an orchestra.
  • Solo concerto:
    • a concerto for instrumental ensemble and a solo instrument.
  • Concerto grosso:
    • a concerto in which a larger body of performers, namely the full orchestra (called the ripieno, Italian for "full"), contrasts with a smaller group of soloists (concertino, Italian for "little concerto"). Usually in three movements, fast/slow/fast.
Ritornello: (Italian for "return" or "refrain") a distinct main theme that returns again and again throughout a movement, invariably played by the ripieno. Ritornello form is usually employed in the serious first movement of a concerto. The harmonic and melodic interplay between the more stable ritornello, and the more daring and adventuresome solo or concertino episodes goes to the very heart of the concerto, a spirited give-and-take between opposing musical forces.
  • Cadenza: a technically demanding, rhapsodic, improvisatory passage near the end of a concerto movement.