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Arcangelo Corelli’s rise to prominence as a composer and impresario in late 17th century Rome coincided with the creation of the recognizably modern string orchestra. How did the social conditions in the upper echelons of Roman society at this time help to shape the type of music pioneered by Corelli? Discuss the way that the construction of Corelli’s orchestras was affected by the desires of his patrons.The Birth of the Orchestra
I N S T I T U T I O N , 1650-1815
John Spitzer
Neal Zaslaw
Chapter Four
Corelli’s Orchestra
Rome in the seventeenth century resembled Paris in several respects. Like Paris, it
was a capital city. The Pope ruled as temporal and absolute sovereign over the Papal
States, stretching from Rome and the Campagna across the Apennines to Bologna
and on to the Adriatic. In addition, Rome functioned as the capital and administrative center for the worldwide operations of the Catholic Church. Rome, like Paris,
was a magnet for wealth. Money flowed into the papal coffers from taxes and duties
within the Papal States and also from the sale of ecclesiastical offices and papal
dispensations.1 Besides the income of the Pope, money came to Rome from the religious orders, whose headquarters were located in the city, and from foreign countries
that maintained embassies there. The cardinals, most of them drawn from the Italian
nobility and almost all of them living in Rome, were entrusted with the upper administrative positions in the Papal Curia and played the role of courtiers at the papal
court.2 Local landed gentry and foreign dignitaries also swelled the ranks of the
aristocracy. Rome in the seventeenth century, like Paris, had become the site of an
aristocratic culture, centralized in a capital city under autocratic rule.
Differences between seventeenth-century Rome and Paris were also significant. In
Paris there was essentially a single patron, the King. He or his ministers sponsored and
paid for a great part of the theater, dance, painting, music, and literature in Paris. The
Popes did not maintain this kind of cultural monopoly. They sponsored painting,
architecture, devotional literature, and vocal music, but they avoided arts that were
perceived as excessively secular, like theater, dance, and instrumental music. In
addition, the succession to the papacy by election rather than by inheritance meant
that several Italian families nurtured papal ambitions and maintained papal pretensions
1 Jean Delumeau,
Rome au XVT siede (Paris, 1975), 189 ff.
Laurie Nussdorfer, Civic Politics in the Rome of Urban Vlll (Pnnceton, 1992), 41-43.
Corelli’s Orchestra
during the seventeenth century. Consequently, patronage in Rome was more diffuse
than in Paris. Wealthy, ambitious cardinals competed with one another to sponsor literature, architecture, art, and music. Foreign legates sought to advance the interests of
their governments by cultural as well as political means.3 Churches and charitable
foundations, many with substantial endowments, constituted further centers of
patronage for the arts.4
These differences between the character of patronage in Rome and in Paris led
Roman orchestras toward organizational forms quite different from the Vingt-quatre
Violons du Roy and musical results different from Lully’s ballets and operas. Whereas
in Paris the orchestra came into being as a “court orchestra,” a part of the royal household, the Roman orchestra developed in the context of a city-wide market for
instrumentalists and instrumental music. The Popes’ hostility to secular entertainments meant that resources that in Paris went into opera and ballet, in Rome were
funneled into cantatas, oratorios, and instrumental music.5 Because of the diffuseness
of patronage in Rome, instrumentalists could find work in many venues for many
employers.6 Roman churches often kept a pair of violinists and a bass player on the
payroll to play at Mass and Vespers; for feast days and special occasions they hired
additional string players. Other instrumentalists found positions in the households of
cardinals, foreign dignitaries, or Roman nobility. Thus, a pool of instrumentalists
formed in Rome over the course of the seventeenth century, performing in a variety
of contexts for a variety of patrons.
Instrumental ensembles in Rome did not look much like orchestras until the last three
decades of the seventeenth century. Although violin-family instruments became more
common over the course of the century, they were not organized into large ensembles
with several on a part but into multiple choirs with singers and instrumentalists one on
a part (see Ch. 2). However, beginning around mid-century four new trends began to
manifest themselves: instrumental ensembles got larger; they were dominated increasingly by violin-family instruments; instrumentalists separated themselves from singers;
and multiple choirs were consolidated into unitary groupings.
The growth in size and the increasing importance of bowed strings can be traced
in the ensembles for the annual Feast of St. Louis at the Church of S. Luigi dei
Francesi, the French church in Rome. Lists of musicians for this event are summarized in Table 4.1. In 1660 four violins and two violone players were hired for the
Ibid. 39
4 Delumeau, Rome, 68-69.
Popes Innocent XI (1676-89) and Innocent XII (1691-1700) repeatedly closed Roman theaters; indeed
Innocent XII ordered the Tordinona destroyed in 1697.
6 Peter Allsop, Arcangeh Corelli: New Orpheus of our Times (Oxford, 1999), 29.
Corelli’s Career
The other composers who wrote oratorios for S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini in 1675
had the same string ensemble at their disposal as Stradella had used in San Giovanni
Battista, but the scores of their oratorios have not been preserved, so there is no way
to tell whether they used concerto grosso techniques. Sinfonie by Lelio Colista, a
lutenist and composer active in Rome in the mid-seventeenth century, with their
slow harmonic rhythms and homophonic passages, look as though they might have
been composed for string ensembles with several players on a part, but they do not
call explicitly for part doubling, nor for a concertino and a concerto grosso.19
Violinist-composers, such as Carlo Ambrogio Lonati and Carlo Manelli, led string
ensembles in Rome during the 1670s, but their sinfonie emphasize melody and violin
virtuosity rather than exploiting the power of an ensemble of massed strings.20 By the
1670s, then, the elements for an orchestra and an orchestral style of composition and
performance were in place in Rome, but the orchestra had not yet emerged as an
The birth of the orchestra in Rome was closely linked to the career and the compositions of Arcangelo Corelli.21 From about 1680 until his retirement in 1709
Corelli organized orchestras, directed orchestras, and composed music for orchestras
to play. “He was the first,” wrote Crescimbeni,
to introduce Rome to ensembles [sinfonie] of so large a number of instruments and of such
diversity that it was almost impossible to believe that he could get them to play together without fear of discord, especially since wind instruments were combined with strings, and the
total very often exceeding one hundred . . ,22
Corelli’s achievement in Rome was similar to Lully’s in Paris. Like Lully, Corelli used
the patronage of the wealthy and powerful to dominate the musical life of his generation. Like Lully, he organized and led his own orchestra and composed music for
that orchestra to play. Corelli, in addition, played in his orchestra as violin soloist.
Corelli’s orchestra, like Lully’s, was based on a pre-existing tradition of string ensembles, and his musical style was based on the procedures of his predecessors (including
Lully). He synthesized these procedures into a successful style of composition for
orchestral ensembles that, like the Lully style, served as a model for several generations to come.
19 See Peter Allsop, The Italian Trio Sonata (Oxford, 1992), 310; id., “Problems of Ascription in the Roman
Sinfonia of the Late Seventeenth Century: Colista and Lonati,” Music Review, 50 (1989), 39.
20 For examples of works by Lonati and Manelli, see Allsop, Italian Trio Sonata, 315—19.
21 For Corelli’s biography, see Allsop, Corelli.
22 G. M. Crescimbeni, Notizie istoriche degli Arcadi morti (Rome, 1720), i. 250. Quoted in Mario Rinaldi,
Arcangelo Corelli (Milan, 1953), 132.
Corelli’s Orchestra
Born in the small town of Fusignano near Ravenna, Corelli was trained as a violinist in Bologna, and during the first part of his career in Rome he was known as
“Arcangelo Bolognese” or simply “il Bolognese.” Much has been made of Corelli’s
background, since Bologna in the seventeenth century was a center of instrumental
music, particularly of music for large ensembles. However, the search for Bolognese
antecedents may be misdirected. Roman ensembles were already incipient orchestras, and concerto grosso techniques had appeared in Rome before Corelli arrived
there in the 1670s.23 Unlike almost all other composers of his time, Corelli did not
compose vocal music.24 He concentrated his energies as a performer and composer
entirely on instrumental music—music for solo violin, music for string trio, and
music for orchestra.
The first mention of Corelli’s presence in Rome occurs on the list of performers
for Masini’s San Eustachio in 1675 (see Doc. 4.3): “II Bolognese,” near the bottom of
the “Violini del Concerto Grosso” is almost certainly the 22-year-old Corelli. Most
likely he also played in Stradella’s San Giovanni Battista later that spring in the same
series at S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini. Thus, from the beginning of his career Corelli
was involved in the proto-orchestral activities characteristic of Roman instrumental
music. He was acquainted with Stradella, Colista, Manelli, and other composers
working in this milieu, and he played the music they wrote for string ensembles.
Other places where he played during the 1670s include the church of San Marcello
(again as a member of a string ensemble with several on a part), San Luigi dei Francesi,
Santa Maria Maggiore, and the Capranica theater in a small ensemble for opera.25
Building his reputation as a violinist with freelance jobs like these, Corelli soon
garnered aristocratic patronage. In a letter of 1679 he reports that he has “entered into
the service” of Queen Christina and that he is composing sonatas for academies at her
palace.26 Sometime in the mid-1680s Corelli entered the service of Cardinal
Benedetto Pamphili, nephew of Pope Innocent X and one of the outstanding
musical patrons of his time. By 1688 Corelli was listed among the Cardinal’s “famiglia
della casa” with a monthly salary of 10 scudi. Another member of the Cardinal’s
23 Peter Allsop argues cogently against the significance of Bolognese “influences” on Corelli (Italian Trio
Sonata, 227 S.; Corelli, 143 fF.)
24 Franco Piperno believes that Corelli may have composed a cantata called “La Fama” for the first festival
of the Academy of Design in 1702 (Franco Piperno, ” ‘Anfione in Campidoglio’: presenza corelliana alle feste
per i concorsi dell’Accademia del Disegno di San Luca,” in Nuovissimi studi cordliani: Atti del Terzo Congresso
Internazionak, ed. Sergio Durante and Pierluigi Petrobelli (Florence, 1982), 151—208 at 164). The evidence for
this intriguing hypothesis is circumstantial.
25 Liess, “Materialien,” 155fF; Lionnet, “La Musique a Saint-Louis,”ii. 143 fF; Luca Della Libera, “Lamusica nella basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore a Roma, 1676—1712: nuovi documenti su Corelli e sugli organic!
vocali e stramentali,” Recercare, 1 (1995), 87-157 at 108 fF; Allsop, Corelli, 27 ff., 42 ff. Corelli did not travel to
France during the 1670s, as Rousseau mistakenly reported, nor did he travel to Germany (Allsop, Corelli, 5—6).
26 Letter oF 13 May 1679 to Fabrizio Laderchi, quoted in Adnano Cavicchi, “Corelli e il violinismo bolognese,” Studi cordliani (Fusignano, 1968), 33—47 at 39. The sonatas presumably became Corelli’s Opus 1 trio
sonatas, published in 1681 and dedicated to the Queen.
CoreUi’s Career
household was Matteo Fornari, Corelli’s student and intimate friend, who played second violin to Corelli’s first in nearly every documented performance by Corelli from
the 1680s on. As a member of Pamphili’s household, Corelli not only composed
music and performed on the violin, he organized ensembles for musical events that
the Cardinal sponsored, and he led these ensembles in performance.27
When Pamphili moved to Bologna in 1690, Corelli, along with Matteo Fornari,
entered the service of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, nephew of Pope Alexander VIII.
From 1690 until the end of his life, Corelli remained a member of Ottoboni’s household; during much of that time he lived in an apartment in the Cardinal’s palace, the
Cancelleria. Ottoboni presided over a small but wealthy court, where there was
continual demand for instrumental ensembles. At the Cardinal’s titular church,
S. Lorenzo in Damaso, adjacent to the Cancelleria, large ensembles were required for
the feast of San Lorenzo in August, as well as for the “40 Hours” at the beginning of
Lent and midnight mass on Christmas Eve.28 Ottoboni also put on oratorios in the
Cancelleria, at the Chiesa Nuova, and at the Seminario Romano. In addition, the
regular Monday “academies” that the Cardinal gave at his palace sometimes involved
instrumental ensembles that were orchestral in size and scope.29 Corelli was responsible for recruiting instrumentalists, arranging for their transportation, composing
music for them to play, rehearsing and leading them, and paying them their wages.30
Thus, he was not simply a composer or simply a violin virtuoso. He was composer,
conductor, contractor, soloist, orchestra leader, and musical personality all rolled up
in one—the seventeenth-century equivalent of a modern bandleader.
Corelli’s activities were not restricted to events sponsored by Cardinal Ottoboni.
He provided orchestras and orchestral music for feast days at Roman churches, for
outdoor public celebrations and festivities, and for other patrons, including Queen
Christina, Cardinal Pamphili, and Prince Ruspoli. From the early 1680s through the
first decade of the eighteenth century just about every performance in Rome by an
ensemble of 10 or more instruments documented in surviving records was led by
Corelli. Whether by virtue of his talent, his position, his reputation, or some other
means, he was the only person who could recruit, organize, and lead a Roman
orchestra, and in most cases the orchestra played at least some music that he had composed. In a real sense, all Roman orchestras from 1680 to 1713 were “Corelli’s
27 Hans Joachim Marx, “Die ‘Giustificazioni della Casa Pamphilj’ als musikgeschichtliche Quelle,” Studi
musicali, 12 (1983), 121-87,passim.
28 Id., “Die Musik am Hofe Pietro Kardinal Ottobonis unter Arcangelo Corelli,” Anakcta musicologica, 5
(1968), 104-77 at 107-10.
29 Examples of academies that involved large orchestras: 2 May 1694, 13 June 1694, 27 Mar. 1695 (Marx,
“Kardinal Ottoboni,” 142, 147).
30 Marx, “Kardinal Ottoboni,” passim. Corelli customarily countersigned the paylists for the instrumentalists. Often he signed for receipt of the money, indicating that he functioned as paymaster.
An Essay in the Philosophy
of Music
Revised Edition
After 1800: The Beethoven Paradigm
Franz Liszt thought he had found the perfect way to treat the
temporal art of music as a truly fine art. He declared in 1835:
In the name of all musicians, of art, and of social progress, we require:… the
foundation of an assembly to be held every five years for religious, dramatic,
and symphonic music, by which all the works that are considered best in these
three categories shall be ceremonially performed every day for a whole month
in the Louvre, being afterwards purchased by the government, and published
at their expense.
In other words, he continued, ‘we require the foundation of a musical
Liszt’s proclamation had precedents. In 1802, Forkel wrote that
‘the most efficacious means of preserving in lasting vigour musical
works of art is undoubtedly the public execution of them before a
numerous audience.’ Public performance of Bach’s works (for it was
those he was writing about) would ‘raise a worthy monument to
German art’, as well as ‘furnish the true Artist with a gallery of the
most instructive models’. In 1809 Carl Maria von Weber remarked on
the recent foundation of a Museum in Stuttgart. He described it as a
meeting-place for professional and amateur artists, which ‘seemed to
promise well for the development of artistic taste’. Unfortunately, he
then added, the Museum had already been reduced in Stuttgart to a
‘Reading Society’.2
That was in Stuttgart. In other places, works of music had begun to
be performed, not every day over a limited period of time, but every so
often over a longer period of time. Ideally, it was hoped, these works
would be played every so often—forever. In a musical museum
replicating the conditions of a museum for the plastic arts, works did
not need to be heard every day, as Liszt suggested; it was sufficient
that they be on semi-permanent display. They could be heard in
‘On the Position of Artists and their Place in Society’, in Walker, Franz Litzt, 159-60.
David and Mendel (eds.), The Bach Reader, 296 and 298; Weber, Writings on
Music, tr. M. Cooper, ed. J. Warrack (Cambridge, 1981), 34. The term ‘museum’ was
also used to refer to private musical societies.
The Historical Approach
performances by respectful members of a musical meeting just as
often as paintings and sculptures were viewed by gallery visitors.
Otherwise they would be stored away, but always under the condition
of readiness for exhibition.
Still, Liszt was justified in reiterating a demand for the establishment
of a musical museum, for conditions of practice did not change
overnight. Weber had already pointed that out. Most of the changes
that fostered the emergence of the regulative work-concept spanned
many decades. Things had begun to change in significant ways in the
1770s (if not before), numerous changes occurred around 1800, and
many if not all the changes stabilized during the course of the
nineteenth century. All these changes shared a common aim. They
marked a transition in practice, away from seeing music as a means to
seeing it as an end. More specifically, they marked a move away from
thinking about musical production as comparable to the extra-musical
use of a general language that does not presuppose self-sufficiency,
uniqueness, or ownership of any given expression. In place of that,
musical production was now seen as the use of musical material
resulting in complete and discrete, original and fixed, personally
owned units. The units were musical works.3
A crucially important change concerned the social status of composers.
As the eighteenth century drew to a close, musicians were no longer
thought about predominantly as in service to extra-musical institutions.
Like their musical compositions, they were fast being liberated from
the traditional power and restraint of ecclesiastical and aristocratic
dignitaries. They were also being freed from the demand that they
engage, if they could, in theoretical speculation as philosopherscientists. Instead, musicians—especially the composers amongst
them—were sharing in the revolutionary freedom claimed by a rising
professional middle class, and gradually, through their liberation,
were coming to be seen as independent masters and creators of their
3 Charles Rosen employs a similar metaphor when he contrasts artistic and pragmatic
uses of language. In an, he notes, we are interested in what is exceptional, not what is
normal. Each work sets out on its own to be judged according to its own peculiar merits.
‘Individual statement provides the norm and takes precedence over general usage’ (The
Classical Style, 21-2).
The Beethoven Paradigm
In cosmopolitan cities, composers were finding the most fruitful
means to escape their former ‘social tutelage’. Carl Maria von Weber
identified the cosmopolitan composer’s hopes, when he noticed,
whilst in Prague, that complaints were being heard from resident
artists about their circumstances. Such circumstances, he explained,
make it difficult for them to achieve the mentality and the spirit which mark
the artist who is a real cosmopolitan and therefore free. Every artist in Prague
owes his existence to some noble family and bears the title ‘Composer to His
Excellency So-and-So.’ His opinions are those of his patron, who in his turn
champions his own composer against the rest. The result is an absence of the
spirit that refuses to be content with merely earning a livelihood and longs to
embark on the high seas of art in search of new discoveries.4
In these cities, composers believed that they should be able to live and
function as free individuals, and that their productive activities
should, if they should be subject to anything at all, be subject to the
forces of an urban market for music. If they continued to receive
patronage from church or court, they did so on the understanding that
patrons were not to interfere with or control their creativity. As free
persons, they could exercise choice over the form of their patronage,
whether it be more or less demanding and restricting—or so they
wanted to believe. Whatever social standing accorded most satisfactorily
with their aspirations to sail on ‘the high seas of art’ was the standing
they wanted freedom to adopt.
Though it was not until well into the nineteenth century that
composers began to be fully accepted as independent persons, that
was well after the expectation to act and be treated in this way had
become firmly fixed in their minds.5 Composers of the late eighteenth
century, such as Mozart and Haydn, marked a transitionary phase.
Weber and Beethoven requested much more explicitly than their
immediate predecessors that their social status reflect the romantic
descriptions of their new autonomous art.
It was Beethoven, more than any other composer, who set the
example for future composers. Throughout his century, his actions
had, intentionally and inadvertently, both negative and positive
influence. Negatively, he provided others with eyes to see that the
Weber, Writings on Music, 130.
5 Cf. Alan Walker’s remark that it was not until the 1840s that certain social barriers
were broken down so that composers could act, and be fully accepted, as superior
beings (Franz Liszt, 287).
The Historical Approach
discontent of the liberated composer could match that of the traditional
court musician. Positively, he showed how composers could take
artistic advantage of the autonomous art of music. Ultimately, he
changed and was believed to have changed so many things having to
do with how musicians thought about composition, performance, and
reception, that the subsequent Beethoven mania, or the Beethoven
Myth as it has come to be called, is justified, if such a thing is ever
justified, on much more than aesthetical grounds alone.6
For present purposes, Beethoven showed his contemporaries and
descendants that modern, liberated composers differed from their
predecessors in having a choice as to the source of their livelihood and
in being able (in theory at least) to make use of or exploit this choice in
whatever ways they saw fit. Monteverdi, Bach, and numerous other
composers of their times might have had desires for more independence,
desires perhaps recognizable only by hindsight. But it was not until
composers were conceptually freed from strict social dependence
upon extra-musical bodies with predominantly extra-musical interests
that the desire for independence could be both explicitly articulated
and realized. What form did this realization take?
What seemed to matter most to composers was their freedom from
worldly demands. Their romantic role willingly adopted, composers
enjoyed describing themselves and each other as divinely inspired
creators—even as God-like—whose sole task was to objectify in
music something unique and personal and to express something
transcendent. Bizet described Beethoven not as a human, but as a
God. Samuel Wesley referred to Bach as a ‘Saint’, a ‘Demi-God’, and a
‘Musical High Priest’, and to his masterpieces as the ‘Works of our
Apollo’. Haydn’s spirit was said to penetrate ‘the sanctuary of heavenly
wisdom’. He ‘brought down fire from heaven, to warm and to
illuminate… earthly hearts … to lead them to a sense of the Infinite’.
Baini looked back to Palestrina as an early ‘amanuensis of God’.7 Each
6 For discussion of Beethoven mania, see J. Horowitz, Understanding Toscanini:
How he Became an American Culture-God and Helped Create a New Audience for Old
Music (Minneapolis, 1987), 32 ff., Calkin, History of Orchestral Conducting, 350, and
Dahlhaus, The Idea of Absolute Music, tr. R. Lustig (Chicago, 1989), chs. 1 and 8.
Horowitz argues that the mania was generated among things partly by nationalist
fervour and partly by musicians who owed musical debts to Beethoven.
7 W. Salmen, ‘Social Obligations of the Emancipated Musician in the 19th Century”,

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