Chapter 11

Chapter 11: Instrumental Music in the Seventeenth Century

Composer Biographies

Arcangelo Corelli

Born: February 17, 1653, Fusignano, Italy

Died: January 8, 1713, Rome, Italy

Italian composer and violinist. First composer to gain fame entirely from instrumental music. He had a great influence on the development of the sonata and the concerto, as well as on violin technique of the time.

Nearly everybody has heard of the great violinmaker Antonio Stradivari (and nearly as many people have heard of someone who has found an old violin in the attic and dreamed that it was one of his). Stradivari's instruments are valued as some of the best string instruments ever made. Interestingly enough, however, the instruments of Stradivari and his illustrious contemporaries and predecessors were built at a time in which the violin was only just becoming a valued solo instrument. In fact, Stradivari (c. 1645–1737) was almost an exact contemporary of Arcangelo Corelli. The synergy of these wonderful new instruments and Corelli's new music for them made for an incredibly exciting time for violinists.

Corelli was born to a wealthy family in a small town between Bologna and the coastal town of Ravenna. After early study, it was no surprise that he went to Bologna. The city, with the huge church of San Petronio, was a vital center for music—especially for instrumental music. Corelli played and studied with some of the leading musicians of the day and began to build a solid reputation. His career soon took him to Rome, where he continued to make a name for himself as a violinist and conductor. It was there, in 1681, that he published his first collection of music—his Op. 1 Trio Sonatas. These were dedicated to his patron at the time, Queen Christina of Sweden. Throughout the remainder of his life, Corelli had the patronage of the rich and powerful as well as the respect and genuine admiration of his musical colleagues. At his death, he was buried in Rome's Pantheon, an honor he shares with such luminaries as the painter Raphael and Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, the first kings of the unified Italy of the nineteenth century.

Corelli's music was important to the development of the violin and the orchestra. His solo and trio sonatas, while seemingly simple from a modern perspective, exploited and expanded the potential of the instrument. At the same time, they solidified the basic form of the sonata, creating a model that would be followed by generations of composers. His concertos broke new ground in orchestral music, and his innovations were taken over by composers such as Giuseppe Torelli and Antonio Vivaldi. By the time of Corelli's death, the violin had become the preeminent solo instrument, and the sonata and concerto would become the primary foundations of chamber and orchestral music for the next two hundred years.


  • 4 collections of trio sonatas (for 2 violins and continuo), including 2 books of sonatas da chiesa (1681, 1689) and 2 books of sonatas da camera (1685, 1694)
  • a collection of solo violin sonatas (1700)
  • a collection of concerti grossi (publ. 1714)

Back to top

Musical Examples

Click on the songs to listen:

Back to top

Print This Page
Bookmark and Share

The Norton Gradebook

Instructors and students now have an easy way to track online quiz scores with the Norton Gradebook.

Go to the Norton Gradebook

Special offer for Met Opera On Demand