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A brief note on the term concerto

October 30, 2007

The concerto has its origins in the concertato style of the early baroque period.

The concertato style developed in the early 17th century and provided baroque composers with a new technique to add to the mainstays polyphony and monody.

The concertato style emphasises contrast-
one voice or instrument against another
one group of instruments against another

The concertato style was initially developed in choral music, with groups of voices contrasted with each other. In polyphonic madrigals of the early 17th century, voices are highlighted against the background of the ensemble.

Good examples can be found in the madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi.

1619 – Monteverdi publishes his 7th book of madrigals, called Concerto.

Most of these were duets, so the concertato style could be used with only a small number of voices or instruments.

The Concerto

The term concerto was originally used in rather a vague way and could be used in connection with vocal music. But like the terms sonata and sinfonia, concerto came to have a more precise meaning.

1660s – orchestral performances take place in Bologna, i.e. more than one player to a part. Cazzati publishes his first trumpet sonatas. These homophonic pieces influence concerto style.

1670s- A Stradella uses small and large groups in aria accompaniments. Contrast between instrumental groups is used more.

1680s- Arcangelo Corelli’s concerti grossi. The principle is contrasts between groups of instruments.

The next important developments in the concerto are made by Torelli (1658-1709).

• the 3 mvt. form is established – fast – slow – fast
• Torelli writes solo concertos where the soloist stands out from the orchestra
• there is idiomatic writing for the violin i.e. not only writing that is suitable for the violin, but writing that could only be for the violin
• ritornello form is introduced into the concerto – contrast the binary forms of Arcangelo Corelli

All these developments are taken up by A. Vivaldi (1678-1741).

With Vivaldi, a virtuoso violinist, the writing tends to become even more idiomatic.

Features of the baroque concerto.

The Baroque concerto uses (at least) five characteristic features of baroque music –
the concertato style
bass and treble texture
major and minor key system
long works built out of a number of contrasting movements
idiomatic writing

Idiomatic writing contains an element of display and is intended to show off the potential of the instrument or the ability of the performer. The star instrument of the period is the violin.

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