The youngest of five children, Corelli is thought to have
received his first musical education from a priest in Faenza; but
his formative period was to come later, at the age of 13, when he
went to Bologna to study the violin. Not only did the city possess
one of the largest churches, San Petronio, but it was also a
leading centre of the Italian school of chamber music. Young
Corelli's appetite for the violin together with Bologna's musical
importance would prove an important combination.
At 17 he was admitted to the city's Accademia Filarmonica, and
over the next few years he became one of Italy's leading
violinists. He performed in churches and theatres all over Rome.
This led him to enter the service of Queen Christina of Sweden,
who had a home m the city and created her own academy of chamber
musicians. Corelli began composing pieces for Christina and
dedicated to her his Opus 1 collection of trio sonatas for two
violins, cello, and harpsichord. He also worked as the leader of
ten violinists in San Luigi in 1682 and went on to make annual
visits there for over a quarter of a century.
In 1684 Corelli became a member of the Congregazione dei
Virtuosi di Santa Cecilia. His increasing renown led him to play for Cardinal Pamphili, to whom he dedicated his Opus 2
chamber works. Corelli became music master to Cardinal Pamphili in
1687, and took up residence m the Cardinal's palace, where he
performed trios with his fellow violinist Matteo Fornari and
Spanish-born cellist Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier.
Eventually the Cardinal moved away from Rome, and in 1690
Corelli was adopted by Cardinal Ottoboni. He now directed regular
Monday concerts as well as operatic performances and in 1694
dedicated a set of chamber trios to the Cardinal. After ten years
he was appointed leader of the instrumental section of the
Congregazione del Virtuosi di Santa Cecilia, and was eventually
elected to the Arcadian Academy, an institution for the promotion
His distinguished work brought Corelli into
contact with the leading musical figures of the day. He played in
trionfo del tempo in 1707 and led performances of that
composer's La resurrezione the following spring. A year
later he withdrew from public life to concentrate on revisions to
his own work. As old age and worsening health intruded, he moved
from the Cardinal's palace into his own home in 1712, where he
died a year later. He was buried in the Pantheon in Rome close to
the artist Raphael.
Corelli declared that the purpose of his music was to display
the violin, and this is shown to best effect in his Concerti grossi, Opus
6. These 12 pieces were written over a period of many years and
collected into a set published the year after Corelli's death.
Mainly in three movements, each contrasts a group of solo
instruments — two violins and harpsichord - against the rest of
the orchestra. Eight of the works are da chiesa, in the
church style, and have a serious character. The remaining four are
da camera, of a lighter nature. Number 8, the "Christmas
concerto", which is intended for performance on Christmas night,
has enjoyed particular popularity. The pieces were a milestone in
the development of the solo concerto as we know it today.