Violin Sonatas

About this work

These dozen sonatas fully constitute one-sixth of Corelli's published output and strongly influenced the form of the violin sonata in the early decades of the eighteenth century. The collection is in many ways a condensation of Corelli's four earlier volumes of trio sonatas; here are solo sonatas (front-and-center violin, accompanied by a continuo section of at least a keyboard and usually cello or gamba, sometimes with the addition of theorbo or some other member of the lute family), with the works divided between six church sonatas (sonate da chiesa, the format of Corelli's Opp. 1 and 3 trio sonatas) and five chamber sonatas (sonate da camera, in the manner of Opp. 2 and 4). The final work follows neither convention; it's a theme with variations in a single movement. Although Corelli knew this music would be purchased and played mainly by amateurs, he requires a great deal of skill; this set is something of a compendium of violin technique ca. 1700.

Each of the six church sonatas consists of five movements carrying tempo indications rather than the names of dances. The first movement is always imposing and slow (marked either Grave or Adagio), the spacious tempo allowing florid melodic lines. This is always followed by a fast movement, either Allegro or Vivace, often a fugue whose counterpoint requires double and triple stops. Next comes a pair of movements, one fast and the other slow, although the order varies; these are lighter than what has come before, and may suggest some dance form without fully committing to one. The finale is fast, sometimes another fugue, sometimes dancelike (Corelli actually calls one "Giga").

The five chamber sonatas accomplish much the same sort of work with a lighter touch. They are in either four or five movements, the first always called Preludio and usually slow (except for Sonata No. 7, which is Vivace). Next come three movements in fast-slow-fast pattern. The first of these may be a Corrente, Allemanda, or Giga; the second is usually called Sarabanda; the third is generally a Giga (when that wasn't the basis of an earlier movement) or Gavotta. The 10th and 11th sonatas end with an extra Allegro, a Giga in the first case, a Gavotta in the second. The final sonata is a set of 24 variations on the old "La Folia" chord progression, offering a variety of tempo, character, and harmony, and ultimately requiring great virtuosity.