Arcangelo Corelli Solo Chamber Sonatas, Opus 5

Mike Hall – alto trombone
Rebecca Bell – harpsichord
Larry Rice – double bass

The history and significance of Corelli and his music

Contrary to prevailing views held by 20th century scholars, almost nothing is known of Arcangelo Corelli’s early life.  We know he spent some time in Bologna but there is no conclusive evidence of what he did there.  He seems never to have left Italy.  But by 1675 there is clear evidence that he was thriving at the absolute center of Roman musical life, a preeminent free-lance violinist, teacher, composer and organizer.  Although some of his contemporaries questioned his technical mastery of the violin, probably out of jealousy, it seems unimaginable that he possessed inferior skills; he was regarded as the greatest living exponent of his instrument by his Italian peers as well as other Europeans who visited Rome.  He was constantly employed to compose and perform music for major events in churches, palaces and theaters, most of it orchestral in scope, often involving trombones.  His orchestral, chamber and solo output in this arena is formidable, but sadly, none of it survives for it was never published.  Corelli, the consummate perfectionist, only put forward six opus for publication, and then only after careful attention and extensive revision over many years.

It was opus 5, his only set of solo sonatas that spread quickly all over Europe.  It has remained continually in print since it first appeared, reprinted more than fifty times in the 18th century alone, perhaps the most commercially successful volume of music ever published.  The first edition was printed in Rome by Gasparo Pietra Santa, January 1, 1700.  It is dedicated to Sofie Charlotte, the Electress of Brandenburg, and consists of twelve sonatas divided into two parts.  Part Prima, the first six, are so idiomatic to the violin that they are unwieldy for trombone.  They are labeled in subsequent editions as Sonata da chiesa (church sonatas) even though Corelli himself never used this term in connection with any of his published work.  The last six, Part Seconda, are Sonata da camera (chamber sonatas) comprised mainly of dance movements.

Corelli designated opus 5 Sonate a violino e violone o cimbalo.  Indeed, they are intended as unaccompanied duo sonatas for violin and violone, a combination in vogue at the end of the 17th century.  Harpsichord may replace the violone as an alternate bass instrument but Corelli does not seem particularly concerned that his bass be realized by keyboard.  Our decision to use harpsichord as a continuo instrument and double bass as the violone is a matter of both practicality and orchestration, a desire to have the best of both worlds.  Since Corelli includes figures with his bass, to leave them unrealized causes one to feel that all the music is not being played.  We turn to harpsichord for this role because it seems right for the dance suite nature of Part Seconda; organ is not secular enough, lute or guitar is not powerful enough.  The solo trombone sounds an octave lower than Corelli’s violin, so we turn to double bass as the bass instrument because it sounds an octave lower than Corelli’s bass, but also because the two instruments compliment each other so well in the 21st century ear.  As a matter of practicality, this arrangement allows the trombonist necessary rest as keyboard assumes the solo line from time to time.  As a matter of orchestration, the varied textures available with these three instruments heighten the affect Corelli generates, particularly in Sonata 12.

Adaptation of Corelli’s music to trombone

Corelli’s published output consists entirely of music for strings.  On its face, the application of this music to trombone seems an odd marriage.  From our 21st century perspective, perhaps we are hard-pressed to imagine such nimble music sounding from a trombone.  In recent tradition, music conceived for trombone has tended to be less active than for other brasses.  Music that requires the sort of technique and flexibility that Corelli requires has been a low priority, as the trombone is assumed to have inherent limitations.  But trombonists should play Corelli, first, because it is great music that has historically been shared among diverse instruments, second, because trombones and their operators have developed to a point where its performance is more than possible.  The modern alto trombone is perfectly suited to the task of interpreting old music in a way that is faithful to the composer and his traditions but also visceral and exiting to modern audiences.  It is our instrument of choice for the solo role here.

Although there has been renewed interest in the last few years, the alto trombone was heard infrequently in the 20th century.  Consequently, audiences are not sure what to expect from it and trombonists are not unified about what to deliver with it, particularly in a solo context.  Opinions vary about tone quality and about the kinds of musical situations suited to alto trombone.  History teaches that instrumental concepts of the Renaissance era were evolved more or less from vocal models and that sweetness was one of the most prized qualities of sound in this era.  An innocent, pure, warm sound seems to have been high on everyone’s list of desirable musical qualities.  Since then, we have experienced changes in this aesthetic as it relates to the world of brass playing.  Brass music is a highly specialized and defined art form due to advancements in the design and quality of brass instruments and the remarkable achievements of virtuoso performers.  Although Renaissance ideals are still part of the mix, today’s brass players are expected to deliver strong, clear, controlled, clean sounds with a wider dynamic range than in the past.  Projection of sound is highly prized.

Consider for a moment the piccolo trumpet, an instrument that Bach or Handel would not recognize.  But it is the instrument of choice among trumpet players when they perform music of these revered composers, mainly because its shorter length enables one to stay lower in the harmonic series, thereby enhancing the security of notoriously difficult passages.  It is a modern instrument with many advantages to its 18th century predecessor that has been developed for the purpose of thrilling today’s audiences with dynamic performances of old music.  Likewise, the modern alto trombone pitched in E-flat, fitted with a B-flat valve attachment, can benefit the trombonist in the same manner.  Its shorter length not only provides the security mentioned previously, but its shorter hand slide enhances dexterity.  On the downside, a shorter instrument makes lip trills more difficult.  This is where the B-flat attachment comes in.

The art of melodic embellishment is not typically cultivated in trombone pedagogy.  Essential ornamentation such as trills, mordents, etc. have always presented problems for trombonists, problems that loom large because trombonists are at the mercy of the harmonic series when it comes to making lip trills.  But the B-flat valve attachment can help make many trills and decorations at the correct interval.  Lengthening the instrument by engaging the valve creates the net effect of shortening the intervals of the harmonic series for any given note requiring a trill.  Therefore, more lip trills are available in the middle register of the instrument.  Sometimes the valve itself can be used to make trills to good effect; particularly half-step trills, which are often impossible with lip alone.

Melodic embellishment

It was customary for 17th and 18th century soloists to improvise melodic embellishments, particularly on sectional repeats.  Fortunately for us, some performers wrote out their embellishments, both to aid their performance and to serve as teaching tools.  The melodic embellishments chosen for this recording are based upon manuscript sources from the 18th century and modern violin recordings.  Neal Zaslaw cites some twenty 18th century sources that contain embellishments to parts of opus 5 in his article “Ornaments for Corelli’s Violin Sonatas, Op.5,” Early Music 24, no.1 (Feb. 1996): 98-9.  These encompass 81 versions embellished in whole or in part for sonatas 7-11.  Each movement is embellished by at least one source.  They are mostly free ornamentation, but four movements have sets of variations composed upon them and ten movements have more than one version of embellishment.  To learn more about these sources consult Zaslaw’s article.  In our recording, Rebecca Bell realized the figured bass extemporaneously and improvised melodic embellishments to compliment the solo line.

The music

Peter Allsop, author of a new biography, Arcangelo Corelli: New Orpheus of our Times, believes that Corelli composed music according to the “12 mode” method, as distinct from the major/minor system, which did not yet exist.  He identifies three important structural principals.  First, stylistic affinity is enough to establish structural relationships; second, varied repetition takes precedence over exact restatement; and third, cross-reference of cadential material is Corelli’s main unifying device.  These principals are exemplified again and again in opus 5, as is an uplifting, inspired melodic gift that gratifies the spirits of listener and performer alike.

Sonata 7 –  D minor
Barlines have little meaning in the syncopated Preludio as continuo chases trombone all the way through.  The Corrente, feeling strongly in three, relies heavily on sequential writing and cadential repetition.  Corelli decorates his own tune with a striking set of successive triplets in both halves of this movement.  The Sarabanda is given with little embellishment, but its trills require the trombone’s B-flat attachment be elongated to A.  It’s simplicity contrasts Giga, a merry jaunt that brings the sonata to triumphant close.  Melodic embellishments in Sonata 7 are based entirely on Sonya Monosoff’s wonderful recording Twelve Sonatas, Op. 5 for Violin and Continuo.  LP recording MHS 1690/1/2.  Musical Heritage Society, n.d.

Sonata 8 – E minor
This sonata is a supreme vehicle for embellishment.  The Manchester Anonymous and Walsh Anonymous manuscripts provide the basis of our ornaments, as does Monosoff’s recording.  Preludio is as particularly expressive as Allemanda is demanding.  Wide interval leaps in the first half of Allemanda give way to high pedal point in the second.  The continuously moving bass line of Sarabanda propels this slow dance forward to Giga, which is embellished merely by a change of articulation in its first half.  The second half provides an opportunity for trombone and harpsichord to trade embellishments in a small bout of one-upsmanship.

Sonata 9 – A major
Our performance is based entirely on Francesco Geminiani’s embellishment as published in A General History of the Science and Practise of Music by Sir John Hawkins.  Geminiani’s ornaments are elegant, reserved and gorgeous.  They lend themselves well to trombone and enhance the beauty of Corelli’s music.  Giga is perhaps the most infectious tune of the whole opus.  It’s engaging passagework comes to a graceful, resplendent conclusion.  The B-flat valve is employed in all but the highest trills in this sonata.

Sonata 10­­ – F major
Preludio lacks repeated sections and I have embellished the entire movement based upon the Manchester Anonymous manuscript.  Only 18 measures long, this simple but beautiful movement features notes repeated in succession that seem to beg for adornment.  The brisk Allemanda skips about like a rabbit.  Our embellishments are based mainly on the Walsh Anonymous manuscript and involve ‘against the grain’ slurs (slurs that ascend in pitch while the hand slide is lengthened) and much use of alternate slide positions.  Our orchestration of the lovely Sarabanda is a study in pointillism.  The brief Gavotte that follows is perhaps Corelli’s most famous melody of all.  Several composers and performers have based extended variations upon it, but we chose to preserve its form.  Our embellishments are based on the fine Elizabeth Wallfisch recording Corelli Violin Sonatas Op5.  Compact disc CDA66381/2.  Hyperíon, 1990.  The relaxed Giga features broad arpeggiations and wide interval leaps.  Our embellishments stem from the Walsh Anonymous manuscript and the recordings of Monosoff and Edward Melkus, LP recording 2533132 and 2533133.  Archiv, 1972.

Sonata 11 – E major
Only 16 measures long, Corelli builds high drama into the exhilarating Preludio with an ascending line in trombone and bass, a movement of great beauty.  In Allegro, the harpsichord takes over continuous sixteenth notes intended for the violin while trombone and bass carry on a tit for tat conversation.  Trombone and harpsichord turn to this same sort of exchange in Vivace, where Corelli masterfully obscures its triple meter with hemiola and ties across the bar, one of his most inventive movements.  The brisk Gavotta that concludes this sonata is only 32 measures long with repeats.  We have added two variation sets, one based on the Walsh Anonymous manuscript, the other taken from Matthew Dubourg’s variations, which ends the sonata in upward sweeping, grand style.  To learn more about the 18th century practice of performing variations on short dance movements consult Robert Seletsky, “18th-century variations for Corelli’s Sonatas, op.5,” Early Music, (Feb 1996): 119.

Sonata 12 – D minor
This sonata is performed essentially as Corelli published it, 23 variations on the “Follia” theme.  Perhaps Portuguese in origin, the centuries old “Follia” theme was a popular subject for variation sets of the 17th century.  Some have described Corelli’s variations as nothing more than bowing exercises, but Corelli makes his bass as active and involved as the solo.  This adds considerable interest to a sonata that seems intended as a vehicle for virtuosic display.  We employ orchestration that suits the wind soloist and we rely upon trombone multiphonics to take the place of the many passages that call for double-stopped notes on the violin.  Trombone multiphonics is the practice of singing a note with the voice, while at the same time, playing a lower note with the lips.  While this is certainly not a Baroque technique, it is an accepted part of 21st century trombone technique.  In the same way that Corelli sought to demonstrate the technical capabilities of the violin that flourished in his era, this recording seeks to demonstrate similar capabilities unique to the trombone in the 21st century.  Indeed, this recording and its accompanying performance editions aspire to take a place in the unbroken, 300-year performance lineage established upon Corelli’s solo sonatas. MIKE HALL

MIKE HALL is Assistant Professor of Trombone at the University of Kansas, appointed fall 2000, and serves as Literature Reviews Editor for the International Trombone Association Journal.  From 1995-2000, he was Lecturer of Low Brass and director of the Jazz Ensemble Program at Eastern Michigan University.  He has received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in trombone performance from the University of Minnesota, the Master of Music degree in trombone performance from the University of Arizona, and the Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.  His principal teachers include Thomas Ashworth, Tom Ervin, Vern Kagarice, and Brian Martz.  In 1994 Dr. Hall won a position on the Christian Lindberg Solo Seminar at the University of North Texas where he worked with Mr. Lindberg for seven days of intensive study in the art of solo performance.

Dr. Hall has performed extensively throughout the United States, Mexico, Europe and China covering a large spectrum of styles, including appearances with the symphony orchestras of Kansas City, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Tucson, and the Arizona Opera Orchestra.  As a chamber musician, Dr. Hall currently serves as trombonist for the Kansas Brass Quintet, which maintains a busy performance and teaching schedule around the country.  From 1995-2000, he performed as member of the Galliard Brass Ensemble based in Ann Arbor, MI, concertizing throughout the country in styles ranging from Renaissance to contemporary.  During that time he also gave many performances with the Detroit Chamber Winds and Michigan Chamber Brass.  As a studio musician, Dr. Hall has recorded several motion picture sound tracks, television and radio commercials, and compact discs ranging from symphonic wind music to jazz, rap, ska and R&B.  As a soloist he gives recitals and performance clinics around the country, often in schools and universities.

It was during his graduate studies at the University of Minnesota that Dr. Hall began to apply the Conn 36h alto trombone to Corelli’s music.  This recording is the first in a long-term program of research that will contribute solutions, new techniques, and suggestions of melodic embellishment to trombone repertoire of the Baroque era.

REBECCA BELL studied at the Royal College of Music, London, where she won the prize for clavichord playing while studying with Ruth Dyson and Robert Woolley.  She performs with the Kansas City Symphony and the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra and with the opera studio of Bill Hall.  Other recording projects include a compact disc of Bach flute sonatas with former Kansas City flutist Lamar Hunt Jr., and she is featured on A Heartland Morning, A Heartland Afternoon, a sampler of Kansas City artists.  She is a member of the American Guild of Organists and organist at All Saints Episcopal Church, Kansas City, MO.

LARRY RICE joined the University of Kansas music faculty in 1998 as instructor of double bass.  He was a member of the Utah Symphony Orchestra from 1974-98, and served as Assistant Principal Bass since 1978.  He performed in many international, national and regional concert tours during his tenure with the symphony, and participated in numerous Utah Symphony recordings with music directors Maurice Abravanel, Varujan Kojian and Joseph Silverstein.  While on leave from the orchestra during 1994-96, Rice was appointed Instructor of Double Bass at the University of Kansas and also became a member of the Kansas City Camerata Chamber Orchestra.  Mr. Rice attended the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, CA for three seasons.  He received the Bachelor of Arts degree in music from UCLA and the Master of Music degree in double bass performance from the University of Utah.

PAUL EACHUS leads a diverse musical career as recording engineer, producer, bass trombonist and conductor.  He is currently recording engineer for the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and for Strings in the Mountains Festival of Music.  His recordings have been heard on National Public Radio, Albany, New World Records, MMC, Ave Maria, and Fleur de Son labels.  In addition to having been a trombonist with the Symphony Orchestra of the RAI in Turin, Italy, and the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Eachus has performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale of Florence, Italy.  As a chamber musician, he has performed with the Honolulu Brass, the Galliard Brass Ensemble, The Detroit Chamber Winds, and the Brass Band of Battle Creek.  Mr. Eachus has also served on the music faculty at the University of Toledo.  As conductor, he has led performances of contemporary chamber works with Chamber Music Hawaii and conducted the Chamber Orchestra of Strings in the Mountains Festival of Music in Steamboat Springs, CO.  He served as Music Director of the Dodworth Saxhorn Band, the official band of Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, MI.  He is also a founding member and conductor of the Michigan Chamber Brass.

This project is made possible through the generous support of the Kansas University Center for Research New Faculty General Research Fund, United Musical Instruments, Kagarice Brass Editions, and the Hall Fund for the Improvement of Teaching.

Special thanks to Tom Ashworth, David Baldwin, Michael Bauer, Rebecca Bell, Rick DeJong, Michael Dunn, Paul Eachus, Oliver Finney, Vern Kagarice, Father Vince Krische, KU Bands, Larry Rice, Marilyn Saker, Mikki Sale, Marla Weidenaar.

Recorded September 24-26, 2001 and January 14-16, 2002 at Saint Lawrence Catholic Campus Center, Lawrence, Kansas USA.  Produced and engineered by Paul Eachus, Best Classical Recording.

Harpsichord technician, Oliver Finney

Cover art: Mikki Sale

Conn 36h E-flat alto trombone with B-flat/A valve attachment.  Greg Black standard weight, custom mouthpiece, similar in internal size and shape to Bach 18.
Harpsichord: Martin double manual
Double Bass: Albert Jakstadt
French bass bow: Roger Zabinski
Tuning: 440Hz

Microphones: Bruel & Kjaer 4003, Neumann TLM 193, Km 184
Console: DDA
Analog to Digital Converter: Lexicon 20/20

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Sonate a violino e violone o cimbalo, Opera quinta
Parte Seconda: preludii, allemande, correnti, gighe, sarabande, gavotte e follia

 Sonata No.7 in D minor
1 Preludio                                                      1:53
2 Corrente                                                      3:34
3 Sarabanda                                                   2:17
4 Giga                                                             2:25

Sonata No.8 in E minor
5 Preludio                                                       5:01
6 Allemanda                                                   2:09
7 Sarabanda                                                   2:53
8 Giga                                                              2:15

Sonata No.9 in A major
9 Preludio                                                       5:19
10 Giga                                                           3:09
11 Adagio                                                       0:55
12 Tempo di Gavotta                                     2:48

 Sonata No.10 in F major
13 Preludio                                                     2:55
14 Allemanda                                                 2:21
15 Sarabanda                                                 2:47
16 Gavotta                                                      0:49
17 Giga                                                           2:46

Sonata No.11 in E major
18 Preludio                                                     2:34
19 Allegro                                                       2:44
20 Adagio                                                       0:55
21 Vivace                                                        2:10
22 Gavotta                                                      2:07

23 Sonata No.12 in D minor, “Follia”        12:53

Total time:     69:39

 This project is made possible through the generous support of the Kansas University Center for Research New Faculty General Research Fund, United Musical Instruments, Kagarice Brass Editions, and the Hall Fund for the Improvement of Teaching.