Sonata in B flat Major, Opus 5 No. 2: II Allegro

The Corelli Violin Sonatas Op. 5 review is not a description of the characteristics of the listening example itself, but rather a review of the performance. This course is not particularly focused on having you read reviews, but this review discusses an important element of Baroque music, namely improvisation.

The performers in this recording don’t just play the notes that Corelli wrote down. They improvise (make up on the spot) additional notes to enliven the performance. There is no question that Baroque musicians were expected to be able to improvise music in much the same way jazz musicians do today. J.S. Bach was known to be a particularly skilled improviser who once, when presented a complex melodic theme by Frederick II of Prussia, spontaneously performed a three-voice fugue on the theme at the king’s request. Improvisation is not prioritized today in classical training, but it is thought to have been so commonly expected in the Baroque era that many composers did not feel it necessary to write out everything on the page, on the assumption that a skilled performer would understand what needed to be filled in. The performers in the recording reviewed are known for their improvisatory interpretations of Baroque works, and they have applied that approach to all the sonatas that make up Corelli’s Opus No. 5.

Speaking of this particular opus by Corelli, let’s look at all the numbers in the title of this piece. Opus 5 is a collection of twelve violin sonatas. The first eleven sonatas are four or five movements each while the twelfth is a set of variations set in a single movement. Our listening example comes from the second sonata in the collection, hence the designation Opus 5 No. 2. Furthermore, our listening example is the second movement from that sonata and features a fast tempo. The Italian term for fast is “allegro.” This is why the title ends with the Roman numeral followed by the Italian term (II. Allegro). One last thing: this piece is not a trio sonata. The trio sonata was the most popular form of sonata in the Baroque, and Corelli elevated the genre with his own trio sonata compositions, so it is important you understand that genre. But our listening example is simply a sonata for solo violin with continuo. Furthermore, in the spirit of Baroque flexibility (Baroque musicians thought nothing of substituting one instrument for another or leaving one out if a player wasn’t available) the continuo part on our recording is played by harpsichord alone—no cello.