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Sonata in D minor, op. 5, no. 12, “La folia”

April 14, 2019: Anne Akiko Meyers, violin

Historians often take Arcangelo Corelli as their point of departure when discussing sonatas because their influence and success was unprecedented. He published five sets each containing twelve sonatas: four collections of trio sonatas between 1681 and 1694 and one collection of violin sonatas, op. 5, in 1700. He had gained enormous recognition as a teacher, but his more profound influence came from the dissemination of his works, which coincided with the amazing boom in printing around 1700. His Opus 5 violin sonatas went through some forty-two editions by about 1815! Corelli’s models inspired new works based on them by such illustrious composers as J. S. Bach and Vivaldi as well as slavish imitations—with or without crediting him.

The innovations that so impressed Corelli’s contemporaries may now sound predictable, but it is their very originality that so attracted his followers into using them so frequently as to become the norm. These include nimble violin writing (despite rarely exceeding the third position in range), ascending and descending passages based on first inversion chords or other harmonic patterns that gave tonality a “modern” sound, and chains of suspensions involving “leap-frogging” sequences in the trio sonatas. Though Corelli established the four-movement norm for a Baroque sonata—slow-fast-slow-fast—many of his sonatas contain three or five movements, and two of his most famous, the Ciaccona and this afternoon’s “La folia,” consist of one movement only.

The folia (sometimes follia), which originated as a dance or dance song in Portugal, had already become popular by the time it was first referred to in writing in the fifteenth century. Spanish and Italian examples appeared in the early seventeenth century—many for guitar—but it wasn’t until the last quarter of the seventeenth century that the harmonic pattern and melody became relatively standardized through Lully and his French colleagues, as well as in Spain, England, and Italy. Like the earlier folia, this popular type was as the basis for songs, dances, and variation sets. Corelli’s set of “Folia” variations from 1700, which he published in a place of honor as the last sonata in his Opus 5, contributed greatly to that popularity. Vivaldi paid overt homage to Corelli when he closed his twelve trio sonatas, op. 1, with a one-movement set of “Follia” variations, as did Rachmaninoff much later when he composed his Variations on a Theme by Corelli, op. 42.

Following his simple presentation of the theme, Corelli offers twenty-three variations of widely varied figuration and character. Most follow the sixteen-measure pattern exactly, though several are halved to eight measures and the final dazzling variation is extended slightly for closure. The violin and continuo—in this case guitar—share the spotlight equally, trading off within variations or from one variation to the next.

Anne Akiko Meyers commissioned Andy Poxon to make the present arrangement of the Sonata because she wanted a new take on the age-old melody. A brilliant former student of Jason Vieaux and a gifted composer in his own right, Poxon is also a respected solo performer, band member, and teacher who embraces multiple styles from classical to blues and rock.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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