The concerto grosso of the later seventeenth century owes a great deal to Corelli, whose compositions in this form served as a model for many imitators. The concerto is essentially an expansion of the trio sonata, a composition either in the form of a dance suite or a weightier church form for two melody instruments and a basso continuo shared by a chordal and a bass instrument. The Concerto grosso contrasts the small trio sonata group, known as the concertino, with the fuller string orchestra, the concerto grosso of ripieno players.
The first eight of Corelli’s concerti grossi are in the form of concerti da chiesa (church concertos), with fast movements generally in fugal form. The remaining four of the collection are concerti da camera (chamber concertos), dance suites. The concertos were published in seven part-bocks. Georg Muttat, who heard something of these compositions of Corelli in Rome in 1682, imitated them and prefaced a 1701 edition of his selected compositions by detailed instructions for the performance of works of this kind.
Concerto No.7, in D major, starts with an introductory passage marked Vivace, followed by a fugal Allegro in which the opening ascending arpeggio figure is announced by the solo first violin. The movement ends with a short Adagio. The whole orchestra joins in the opening of the next Allegro, which goes on to contrast the soloists and the larger group. There is a B minor Andante largo in which musical interest centres on the concertino, and after a characteristic cadence, the solo first violin launches into a fugal Allegro. The concerto ends with a dance-like Vivace, interrupted by the more elaborate figuration of the solo players.
The eighth concerto, the so-called Christmas Concerto, fatto per la notte di natale (made for Christmas Eve), is probably the best known of the whole set of twelve. It starts emphatically in a passage of six bars marked Vivace, followed by the characteristic suspensions of a slow movement. There is a fugal Allegro, against a busy cello bass-line and an E flat major slow movement that is interrupted by a dramatic Allegro passage. An Allegro in simple dance rhythm leads to a fugal Allegro, before the optional Siciliano, the Pastorale ad libitum, that marks the concerto as suitable for the season in which shepherds once learned of the birth of Christ.
The last four concerti grossi of Corelli are in the form of chamber concertos, their movements generally described in their titles. The ninth concerto, in F major, starts with a Preludio, this slow introduction followed by an Allemanda, the traditional German dance that would open a set, coupled, according to custom, with a livelier Corrente. The Gavotta is started by the concertino and a brief Adagio transitional passage leads to a quick Minuetto, played at a much faster speed than contemporary German composers would have permitted.
Concerto No.10, in C major, has an Andante largo Preludio, with brief contrasts between concertino and ripieno. All join in the Allemanda, which is joined by a short chordal Adagio to its companion Corrente, with contrast between the two groups. The following Allegro has no dance title, but is not fugal in texture, and is capped by a final rapid Minuetto.
The eleventh concerto, in B flat major, has a slow introductory Preludio, after which the concertino laund1es into an Allemanda, over a busy solo cello bass-line. A short chordal Adagio serves as a link into a further Andante largo, recalling the opening Preludio. The soloists introduce a slow Sarabanda and the concerto ends in a cheerful Giga, ltaly’s debt to England.
The Opus 6 Concerti grossi end with a twelfth concerto, in the key of F major, its slow Preludio introduced by the concertino. There is a following Allegro that relies heavily on the rapid figuration of the solo first violin part and a chordal Adagio that leads to a Sarabanda, unusually marked Vivace, a reminder that the Sarabande was not always a slow dance. The concerto ends with a Giga.