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12 Sonate da Chiesa a tre (part I 1-4)

Why Corelli?

It is only a matter of opinion in the end of the day, but my first answer would be: Why not Corelli? And probably I would leave it at that.

I chose the 12 Trio Sonatas da Chiesa of op. 3 (first published in 1689) The first four of the set are played on this video, the rest can easily be found on Youtube. I tend to like better the church sonatas rather than the chamber ones as I grow older. They seem more emotional to me and with more to say.

You will notice there are not many bowing marks in the score and no string embelishments similar to those we are used to hear in live performances (like this one), but we must always remember for performances as this one that they play in period style with many strokes of the bow and very little vibrato if at all.

The figured bass is explanatory of everything that takes place imo, and here it is realised rather nicely by the lute in some pieces, although originally marked as Violone or Organo. Organo is more appropriate I suppose for church music, but in my ears there is nothing "churchy" about these sonatas (that is very subjective), but I'd rather have the lute for continuo anyway, as it is marked in other old publications of this music.

Writing harmony in three parts and combining these parts in contrapuntal textures is perhaps more intricate and harder than imitating/composing the average hymn or even a Bach chorale in four parts, (this last one reserved for even heavier composition of course). Anyway, to my ears, three part harmony sounds clearer and more fun (when is done by a master) than four parts.

Corelli was a master of the trio sonata, and although as individuals we may have our preferences involving him and a few others such as Handel, Bach, Purcell, Vivaldi, etc, who are all masters of the genre, still a place of honour is/should be reserved for him, as he is the first who taught the genre, giving it most of its characteristics and bringing it to the elevated art form that others after him found worth following.


My thanks to him in a technical sense would be:

He taught me how to

1 avoid parallel (and hidden) 5ths and 8ves (his famous occurrence of parallels found in one of his works-I don’t remember which, notwithstanding).

2 Realize once and for all that not all chordal factors have to be there to make sense of the implied harmony.

3 Write imitative counterpoint in three parts (in this I found him better and more to the point than Fux)

4 How melody can be both the origin and the result of harmony

5 How gradual modulation can be done very easily/naturally within a sequence of a few bars.

6 How rhythm can give vigour and forward movement in seemingly simple time signatures (to the extent that jazz syncopation was nothing new to me afterwards), and of course within it are the origins of more complex harmonic phenomena such as suspension, cabiata etc, etc. All these are present in these sonatas and evident in the figured bass.

8 How diatonicism and chromaticism should serve the same purpose in a piece of music.

9 How brevity in a composition is a virtue rather than a defect (I cannot say the same about classical composers for instance).

10 Re-assure me that dynamics between four well balanced instruments like here is more a performance than a compositional decision (not in all instances though), depending on extra musical circumstances and performer's mood/taking of the written dots within the stylistic usage of the era of course. The same carries weight with bowing and embellishment.

11 last but not least, how to understand bowed (and plucked) instruments tuned in fifths and to start writing for them, before I had lessons in any of them. It is truly amazing how he writes music of this calibre keeping only to the first 3 positions of the violin fingerboard! Purcell, Vivaldi, Handel, Bach and many others learnt from him imo what violin music was all about, as he was the earliest of the virtuosi for this instrument, when the viol family was still the order of the day.


I attach a PDF of this work for any use you may have for it.


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You've said all that needs to be said Socrates. The man was a genius.

I've known and loved these pieces for many years and it's great to now have a score, so thank you for that.

Just a quick digression, I used to play guitar and when I was learning string technique many years ago, I bought a very cheap violin, viola and cello in order to work out what multiple stops where possible. I'd recommend doing this because your guitar technique gives you a distinct advantage and you can pick up tired old violins etc. for maybe a few 10's of pounds.

Thanks for your replies Mike & MM.



the same here. Just before my diploma exams, I bought a cheap fiddle. My aim was to learn how to play traditional Irish & Greek tunes. (still is :-) ). I practise for a few months sometimes and then I forget it for years, don’t even know if it's here or in Greece, last time I show it was a few years ago. Meanwhile, back in the 80ies I had cello lessons for a year and I went up to grade 4, and also taught myself the mandolin and explored its classical repertoire.

Now I play the mandolin professionally as an alternative to bouzouki and usually I figure out chords for the violin on it although I know that it has a bigger chordal facility as a plucked instrument. Back then a friend of mine presented me with a good 19th century French violin (as a clarinettist he did not have any use for it), I don’t know its value, but that's the one I mean, I don’t know where it is, but I'll have a look 'cause I want to get into playing it again, only the bow needs re-hairing, and Alan Warrick's shop (don’t know if you heard of him) was quite local but the shop closed down. Do you know of any other shop in West London?



Yes, Corelli sounds good because he is good and he does as you say, staying in the confines of a musical language that he knows very well, indeed he is one of the major contributors to its vocabulary. In the 17th century (starting early with C. Monteverdi) music  was kicking off the influence of text and becoming purely instrumental, although the composers knew very well the rules of vocal counterpoint as given by the common practice of the 16th century. Very soon the first brilliant works appeared (to the despair of some theorists) but new forms developed to accommodate the new fashions and this activities led to the emergence of all major Baroque figures and new styles, of which Corelli is one of the first.

He was not very prolific in comparison to others, but I believe he hardly ever wrote a wrong note.

When I was doing a full-time foundation course in music combined with A levels (many years ago) we had to study optionally as many composers as we liked, but also four compulsory composes. Corelli was one of the four (Haydn, Bach and Schubert the other three), so you can appreciate the weight that he still holds with the academia of Britain.


Regarding your question on analysis, most of the time when I want to find something I usually google it and usually I do find what I want or something very similar. I looked for videos (although I believe there's nothing better than the written word) and I found some analyses of Corelli.

One is about his solo violin sonata op.5 no.12 (on the famous theme "La Folia"), it is in French but not hard to follow even if your French is poor like mine. La Folia by any composer (and there is a horde of them) is worth studying as it is perhaps the most famous tune of western music. I give a link to its specific site also.

Another video that I found interesting (in English this time) is an analysis of the fourth movement of his trio sonata in D. (second sonata of my previous PDF). I add the 4 page PDF of this analysis.

Finally I found quite an interesting paper on the development of the Italian sonata in general for the 17th century. Quite big (76 pages), I skimmed yesterday through it and it seems worth a read.

I hope I'm keeping you busy since you are interested in old music. :-)



Can’t help you there Socrates re the re-hairing (that sounds odd).

I found my cheap trio invaluable, especially when working out stops higher up the fingerboard because of the more extended reach for the fingers, the higher you go. I can now think in terms of fingering and spacing for the orchestral strings, just like I can still imagine and sometimes play guitar chords, even though I haven’t played for many years. Whatever, I digress from Corelli, apologies.

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