• 1653 — 1713
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One of the seminal figures of Baroque music, Arcangelo Corelli was the first master of the modern violin, and the predominance of that instrument in the music of the following three centuries is his technical and pedagogical legacy. He managed to extract from it a beauty of tone and singing lyricism that were previously unknown; these qualities brought him international fame, both for his own performances and for those of his many students who began to disseminate his techniques. It would not be an overstatement to say that the fundamentals of modern string playing -- including issues of both bowing and fingering -- descend directly from Corelli.
Though he did not create the concerto grosso form, Corelli wrote the first significant compositions in the genre, laying the foundations for the achievements of Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach a generation later. The same can be said of his trio sonatas and solo violin sonatas, all of which show a greater stability of form and developed sense of harmonic progression than those of his predecessors. These compositions were influential not only because of their innovative use of form, terraced dynamics, and major/minor tonality, but also because they coincided with the flourishing music publishing industry in Italy; Corelli's fame and wealth led to the printing of nearly all of his works during his lifetime, and their wide circulation internationally. Indeed, composers and musicians studied his scores for many years following his death.
Corelli was born in the town of Fusignano in 1653 to a wealthy family. The details of his early life are unknown, but he most likely began his musical studies with a local priest before moving to Bologna where he studied at the Accademia Filarmonica. No later than 1675 (but perhaps earlier), Corelli moved to Rome, where he began appearing as a violinist in ensembles formed for various religious and civic occasions.
He soon emerged as one of the city's preeminent musicians and entered the service of Queen Christina of Sweden (the first of several influential patrons), who had established herself in Rome after abdicating her throne. Some of the young composers earliest works are dedicated to her, and were performed at her "academies." Following her death, Corelli entered the service of Cardinal Pamphili, who gave him a generous salary and a place to live; he would remain in the Cardinal's service until 1690, when the Cardinal left the city. Corelli's patronage was then assumed by the young (extremely young!) Cardinal Ottoboni, who had received his office through the intervention of Pope Alexander VIII, his uncle. This would prove extremely beneficial for Corelli, since his young employer quickly befriended him, paid him well, and was a great admirer of his music. Few musicians have ever enjoyed a more secure or lucrative relationship with a patron. In this position, Corelli achieved wide fame and extreme wealth, and upon his death in 1713 he was interred in the Pantheon.