Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts
Concerto grosso, Op. 6, No. 8 in g minor, "Christmas Concerto"
December 14, 2001
Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra

Corelli: Concerto grosso, Op.6, No. 8 in g minor, "Christmas Concerto"
Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068 | Bach: Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)

Concerto grosso, Op. 6, No. 8 in g minor, "Christmas Concerto"

Early in his career, Arcangelo Corelli moved to Rome and soon became one of the leading violinists of that city. His reputation also grew as a conductor committed to high performance standards, his fine teaching, and composition. Although not an innovator, Corelli's influence as a composer both in Italy and abroad, was unparalleled, even though his output was small (primarily six collections of instrumental works). His contemporaries had much praise for him. The Venetian composer, Giovanni Reali, stated in the preface to a volume of his own works, "that the concerti of Corelli would serve as models for the musicians of the future." One Agnelo Berardi wrote that "Concertos for violins and other instruments ... of Signor Arcangelo Corelli, the celebrated violinist ... the new Orpheus of our time, are especially esteemed today." In 1711 Admi da Bolsena announced that "The greatest glory of the century ... is at present occupied in bringing to perfection his sixth work of concertos, which will shortly be published and render his name for ever more immortal." With each set, the composer had become more deliberate, publishing only after years of polishing and refinement taking twelve years between the publication of Opus 5 and Opus 6. By December, 1712 near the close of his life, the Concerti Grossi, Opus 6 were finally ready for publication, but he died, January 8, 1713 before they came into print. Corelli was buried in the Santa Maria della Rotonda (the Pantheon) and on the anniversary of his death for many years concerts of his music were given in the Pantheon.

Christmas Eve festivities of the great Roman houses of the time (including the palaces of the Cardinals and the Pope) often included after dinner concerts of vocal and instrumental music prior to Midnight Mass. It is possible that Corelli's Concerto grosso, Op. 6, No. 8 in G minor (Fatto per la Notte di Natale) was heard at these entertainments, or perhaps even during the mass itself at the Vatican or other churches. The piece is a concerto grosso, a work for a small group of soloists (concertino of two violins and bass) and the full orchestra (ripieno or tutti). Eternally the most famous of Corelli's works, the piece is the least "churchly" of his Concerti Grossi, sporting alternating fast/slow tempos and including several joyous dance movements. The concluding Pastorale in 12/8 time evokes images of the shepherds in the fields and angels hovering over Bethlehem.

Back to top

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068

When compared with the list of extant choral works of Johann Sebastian Bach, the list of his works for orchestra is relatively small. In view of the compositional requirements of his positions as court composer at Cöthen and his directorship of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum (the music society founded by Telemann), we may presume that many orchestral pieces have been lost. While it has not been settled whether the four Orchestral Suites or Overtures (so called due to the significance of the opening movement) come from the Cöthen or Leipzig period, the orchestration (including the use of trumpets and drums) points to Leipzig for the third and fourth suites (c.1725-1731), as those forces were not available in the princely band at Cöthen. The original score of the third suite has been lost, but the orchestral parts used in Leipzig have been preserved.

Mendelssohn, the 19th century musical sleuth that led in the revival of Bach's works, conducted a performance at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, February 15, 1838. While preparing for the concert, he played the opening of the overture movement for the great German poet Goethe who responded, "The beginning is so pompus and aristocratic that one can readily see a procession of elegantly dressed people descending a great staircase." The suite, scored for 2 oboes, 3 trumpets, timpani, strings and continuo, begins with full forces in the stately dotted rhythms of the French Overture, contrasted with an allegro fugal section, followed by a return to the stately theme. The Air, made famous by a 19th century transcription Air on the G String, walks peacefully along with strings and basso continuo alone. The winds and timpani return for a free sequence of spritely dances with French titles: Gavotte, Bourrée, and Gigue.

Back to top

Johann Sebastian Bach

Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243

The Magnificat, Mary's song of praise (Luke 1:46-55) upon having recieved the word from the angel that she was to bear the Savior, has long been part of the Vesper liturgy. Following the reformation, it was retained in the Lutheran liturgy, and in Leipzig was normally sung in German at Sunday Vesper services, and a more elaborate Latin setting on Christmas. As Thomaskantor, Bach's primary compositional responsibility was to provide new music for the Leipzig churches. For his first Christmas (1723) as the new cantor, he composed the Magnificat in E-flat interpolating four Christmas hymns into the liturgical text. About ten years later he revised the work, transposing it to D Major (a key more suitable for the trumpets), removing the Christmas hymns, changing the recorders to flutes, and making other minor alterations. The final result, suitable for liturgical and concert use at any season, is one of Bach's most joyous works, compact in structure, and exuding a similar vitality found in the Brandenburg Concertos.

The text is presented in brief movements (2-3 minutes each) featuring a five-part chorus, five soloists, and festival baroque orchestra (2 flutes, 2 oboes, 3 trumpets, timpani, strings, and basso continuo). Full orchestra and chorus frame the work with the jubilant Magnificat and Gloria Patri. Bach offers a wonderful pun when the reprise of the first Magnificat theme appears with the text "Sicut erat in principio" (As it was in the beginning). The intervening movements of solos, a duet, a trio, and other choruses exhibit some of Bach's finest displays of text painting.

Back to top

Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2001.
Send me e-mail.

Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts