A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Concerto Grosso

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CONCERTO GROSSO. I. An Orchestral Concerto; i. e. a succession of Movements, played by two or more Solo Instruments; accompanied by a full, or stringed Orchestra.

Handel's so-called 'Concertante' is a composition of this kind, written for two Solo Violins, and Violoncello, accompanied by Stringed Instruments and Hautboys. Eleven out of the twelve well-known Grand Concertos, by the same Composer, are written for a similar assemblage of Solo Instruments, accompanied by Stringed Instruments and Continuo only; but No. VII of this set is of an exceptional character, and contains no solo passages. Few of these compositions contain any bravura passages for the principal instruments, which are used, for the most part, like the Wind Instruments in works of later date, for the purpose of producing variety of instrumentation; but sometimes, and especially in the 'Concertante,' long passages of great constructional importance are assigned to them.

Handel's six 'Hautboy Concertos' are Concerti grossi, written for a Concertino consisting of two Solo Violins, two Violoncellos, two Hautboys, two Flutes, and two Bassoons, with the addition, in No. I, of two Tenors, and, in No. VI, of an obbligato Harpsichord; accompanied, throughout the entire set, by the Stringed Orchestra and Continuo. In some of these, the solo passages are much more brilliant than in the Grand Concertos above mentioned.

An exceptional example, of great interest, by the same Composer, will be found in the Double Concerto, performed at the Handel Festival in 1885. Though unfortunately incomplete, the autograph copy of this work, in the Library at Buckingham Palace, contains nine movements, written for two Concertini, each consisting of two Hautboys, one Bassoon, and two Horns in F, the whole accompanied by Stringed Orchestra, and Continuo.

Corelli's Concerti Grossi are written for the same Instruments as Handel's 'Grand Concertos.' Sebastian Bach uses instrumental combinations of greater variety, and more in accordance with his own peculiar views of orchestral contrast, as in his Concerto for Violin, Flute, and Clavier, with the usual accompaniments.

In form, all these works bore a close analogy to the ordinary Overture, and Suite, peculiar to the middle of the 18th century, the Movements consisting of a series of Largos, Allegros, and Andantes, intermixed, occasionally, with Minuets, Gavottes, and even Gigas. After the invention of the Sonata-form, the Concerto grosso died completely out; for it would be impossible to refer to this class of compositions works like Mozart's Concertone for two Violins, his Concerto for Flute and Harp, or even his Serenades.

II. A term applied to the Orchestral Accompaniments of a Grand Concerto, as distinguished from the Concertino, or assemblage of principal instruments.

[ W. S. R. ]