Corelli, Arcangelo

, a famous musician of Italy, was born at Fusignano, a town of Bologna, in 1653. His first instructor in music was Simonelli, a singer in the pope’s chapel; but his genius leading him to prefer secular to ecclesiastical music, he afterwards became a disciple of Bassani, who excelled in that species of composition, in which Corelli always delighted, and made it the business of his life, to cultivate. It is presumed that he was taught the organ: but his chief propensity was for the violin, on which he made so great proficiency, that some did not scruple to pronounce him the first performer on that instrument in the world. About 1672 his curiosity led him to visit Parisand it is said that the jealous temper of Lully not brooking so formidable a rival, he soon returned to Rome; but this Dr. Burney thinks is without foundation. In 1680 he visited Germany, was received by the princes there suitably to his merit; and, after about five years stay abroad, returned and settled at Rome.

While thus intent upon musical pursuits at Kome, he fell under the patronage of cardinal Ottoboni; and is said to have regulated the musical academy held at the cardinal’s palace every Monday afternoon. Here it was that Handel became acquainted with him; and in this academy a serenata of Handel, entitled “II trionfo del tempo,” was performed: the overture to which was in a style so new and singular, that Corelli was much perplexed in his first attempt to play it. This serenata, translated into IJnglish, and called “The Triumph of Time and Truth,” Was performed at London in 1751. The merits of Corelli as a performer were sufficient to attract the patronage of the great, and to silence, as they did, all competition; but the remembrance of these was soon absorbed in the contemplation of his excellencies as a general musician, as the author of new and original harmonies, and the father of a style not less noble and grand than elegant and pathetic. He died at Rome Jan. 18, 1713, aged almost 60; and was buried in the church of the Rotunda, otherwise called the Pantheon; where, for many years after his decease, he was commemorated by a solemn musical performance on the anniversary of that event. He died possessed of about 6000l. which, with a large and valuable collection of pictures, of which he was passionately fond, he bequeathed to his friend and patron cardinal Ottoboni; who, however, | while he reserved die pictures to himself, distributed the money among the relations of the testator, an act of justice, in which it may, without breach of charity, be thought that Corelli ought to have anticipated him.

Corelli is said to have been remarkable for the mildness of his temper, and the modesty of his deportment; yet to have had a quick sense of the respect due to his skill and exquisite performance. Gibber relates, that, once when Corelli was playing a solo at cardinal Ottoboni’s, he discovered the cardinal and another person engaged in discourse, upon which he laid down his instrument; and, being asked the reason, gave for answer, that he feared the music might interrupt conversation.

The performance and compositions of this admirable musician, says Dr. Burney, form an sera in instrumental music, particularly for the violin, and its kindred instruments, the tenor and violoncello, which he made respectable, and fixed their use and reputation, in all probability, as long as the present system of music shall continue to delight the ears of mankind. Indeed, this most excellent master had the happiness of enjoying part of his fame during mortality; for scarce a contemporary musical writer, historian, or poet, neglected to celebrate his genius and talents; and his productions have contributed longer to charm the lovers of music by the mere powers of the bow, without the assistance of the human voice, than tho.se of any composer that has yet existed. Haydn, indeed, with more varied abilities, and a much more creative genius, when instruments of all kinds are better understood, has captivated the musical world in perhaps a still higher degree; but whether the duration of his favour will be equal to that of Corelli, who reigned supreme in all concerts, and excited undiminished rapture full half a century, must be left to the determination of time, and the encreased rage of depraved appetites for novelty.

The concluding remarks of the same learned critic are too ingenious to be omitted. There was, he observes, little or no melody in instrumental music before Corelli' s time. And though he has much more grace and elegance in his cantilena than his predecessors, and slow and solemn movements abound in his works; yet true pathetic and impassioned melody and modulation seem wanting in them all. He appears to have been gifted with no uncommon | powers of execution; yet, with all his purity and simplicity, he condescended to aim at difficulty, and manifestly did all he could in rapidity of finger and bow, in the long unmeaning allegros of his first, third, and sixth solos; where, for two whole pages together, common chords are broken into common divisions, all of one kind and colour, which nothing but the playing with great velocity and neatness could ever render tolerable. But like some characters and indecorous scenes in our best old plays, these have been long omitted in performance. Indeed his knowledge of the power of the bow, in varying the expression of the same notes, was very much limited. Veracini and Tartini greatly extended these powers; and we well remember our pleasure and astonishment in hearing Giardini, in a solo that he performed at the oratorio, 1769, play an air at the end of it with variations, in which, by repeating each strain with different bowing, without changing a single note in the melody, he gave it all the effect and novelty of a new variation of the passages.

However, if we recollect that some of Corelli’s works are now more than a hundred years old, we shall wonder at their grace and elegance; which can only be accounted for on the principle of ease and simplicity. Purcell, who composed for ignorant and clumsy performers, was obliged to write down all the fashionable graces and embellishments of the times, on which account his music soon became obsolete and old-fashioned; whereas the plainness and simplicity of Corelli have given longevity to his works, which can always be modernised by a judicious performer, with very few changes or embellishments. And, indeed, Corelli’s productions continued longer in unfading favour in England than in his own country, or in any other part of Europe; and have since only given way to the more fanciful compositions of the two Martini’s, Zanesti, Campioni, Giardini, Bach, Abel, Schwindl, Boccherini, Stamitz, Haydn, Mozart, and Pleyel. 1

1

Hawkins and Burney’s Histories of Music i and the latter in Rees’s Cyclopaedia, art. Corelli.