The concerto grosso (plural concerti grossi) (Italian for big concert(o)) was a popular form of baroque music using an ensemble and usually having three to six movements in which the musical material is passed between a small group of soloists (the concertino) and full orchestra (the ripieno). The music given and received by the smaller group of soloists is then offered to the larger orchestra. This movement causes the sound produced to grow, swell, and be offered to the audience at large.
Formation of the Concerto Grosso
The form was probably developed around 1680 by Alessandro Stradella, who seems to have written the first music in which a "concertino" and "ripieno" are combined in the characteristic way, though he did not use the term "concerto grosso." The first major composer of named concerti grossi was Stradella's friend Arcangelo Corelli. After Corelli's death, a collection of twelve such pieces he composed was published (presumably, the movements were selected individually from a larger oeuvre) and soon spread across Europe, finding many admirers and imitators. Composers such as Francesco Geminiani and Giuseppe Torelli wrote concerti in the style of Corelli, and he also had a strong influence on Antonio Vivaldi.
Concerto grosso forms
In Corelli's day, two distinct forms of the concerto grosso were distinguished: the concerto da chiesa (church concert) and the concerto da camera (chamber concert). The former was more formal and generally just alternated largo or adagio (slow) movements with allegro (fast) movements, whereas the latter had more the character of a suite, being introduced by a preludio and incorporating many dance forms popular in the day. These distinctions later became blurred.
The most famous concerto by Corelli is arguably No. 8 in G minor, the so-called Christmas Concerto, which ends with a furious allegro and then has an optional pastoral tacked on which should, in theory, only be played on Christmas Eve and must, in practice, often be played twice even when it isn't, due to its great popularity.
Corelli's concertino consisted of two violins and a cello, with a string orchestra serving as ripieno, both accompanied by a basso continuo. The latter was believed to be often realized on the organ in Corelli's day, especially in the case of the concerti da chiesa, but in modern recordings harpsichord realizations are almost exclusive.
Composers of the Concerto Grosso
Major composers of concerti grossi were George Frideric Handel, who expanded the ripieno to include wind instruments. Several of the Brandenburg Concerti of Johann Sebastian Bach also loosely follow the concerto grosso form, notably the 2nd Concerto, which has a concertino of recorder, oboe, trumpet, and solo violin.
The concerto grosso form has also experienced limited use by baroque-influenced composers of the twentieth century, such as Ernest Bloch, Bohuslav Martinů, Alfred Schnittke, and Philip Glass.
- Engel, Hans. The concerto grosso. Koln: A. Volk Verlag; NY: Leeds Music Corp, 1964. OCLC 1222250
- Mitropoulos, Dimitri, Ruggiero Ricci, Leonard Bernstein, and Alberto Ginastera. Concerto grosso. NY: NY Philharmonic, 2000. OCLC 43844704
- Veinus, Abraham. The Concerto. NY: Dover Publications, 1964. OCLC 617760
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