Arcangelo Corelli was particularly famous for his Trio Sonatas, and composed 48 of them during his life, published in four sets of twelve. His opus 3 Trio Sonatas, the set from which this movement was taken, are considered to be examples of the Sonata da Chiesa (church sonata), as they include an organ rather than a harpsichord, making them suitable to be played during church services and other religious events (a secular sonata would be a Sonata da Camera – a chamber sonata).
This movement is written in binary form, as it has two distinct sections (although both of these sections are repeated). The two sections are not particularly contrasting, as they are based on the same melodic material, although the second section does develop this somewhat. The second section is also slightly longer (section A ends at bar 19, and section B last from bars 20-43), although the final four bars could be classified as a codetta.
This piece uses a contrapuntal texture, which is typical of the Baroque period. The opening uses a fugal texture, with the first violin beginning the piece by stating the subject, which is then echoed in the dominant by the second violin. The violone takes up the theme in bar 6. The fugal texture begins again at the beginning of section B, but this time the entries of the different instruments are much closer, with the first violin entering in bar 20, the second violin in bar 21, and the violone and organ in bar 22 – this technique is known as stretto. Despite the use of this texture, you should avoid describing the piece as a fugue, as it was written early in the Baroque period, before the fugal form had been fully developed.
The texture of the piece can be described as polarised, as the two violins play in a much higher register than the violone for most of the piece (often with a difference of an octave or more). There is not much difference between the violins, however, as they play in a similar register and often cross pitches (for example, in bars 32-34). The middle parts of the texture are filled by the organ, which plays chords using the figured bass indicated on the score. The organ is the only instrument which plays chords of any kind, as none of the three string instruments use any double stopping.
Harmony and Tonality
The tonic key of this piece is D major, although when the second violin enters in bar 3, it does so in the dominant (A major). The first section modulates fully to A major at around bar 11. The second section is more tonally adventurous – it begins in A major, but returns to the tonic in bar 22, and then modulates to B minor (bar 26), E minor (bar 29), A major (bar 32), and G major (bar 34), before returning to D major, where it stays until the end of the piece. Despite the frequent key changes, the piece is entirely diatonic.
The harmony of this piece is functional, as perfect cadences establish the beginning and end of each section, as well as every modulation. The cadences which establish the keys are known as ‘masculine’ cadences, as they finish on strong beats, whereas those finishing on weak beats are ‘feminine’. Other interesting elements of the functional harmonies are the pedal notes in bars 15-18 and 39-40, and the circle of fifths progression in bars 32-35.
There is also some use of dissonance in the piece, particularly suspensions. For example, there is a 4-3 suspension in bar 40, a 7-6 suspension in bar 9, and a double suspension (7-6 and 9-8) in bars 29-30. Almost all of these suspensions are quickly resolved, with the exception of the one in bar 39, which does not resolve at all.
Despite the name, the Trio Sonata is not written for three instruments, but four – two violins, a violone (a large version of the bass viol, essentially a Baroque cello or double bass) and an organ. The piece is named ‘Trio Sonata’ because the violone and the organ share the bass part, meaning that there are only three separate parts.
As Corelli himself was a violinist, he would likely have written the first violin part with the intention of performing it himself. Despite this, the string parts are relatively simple – the violins rarely have to play in anything other than first position (with the only exceptions being in bars 11-13 and 34). Overall, the string parts can be described as idiomatic, as they fit the instruments they are written for very well.
Rhythm and Metre
The piece uses the style of a gigue: it is in 6/8, and the main subject emphasises the two dotted crotchet beats in each bar (the first and fourth quaver beats). However, Corelli does vary his use of the metre somewhat, in order to maintain interest. There is some use of syncopation (for example, in the first violin at bars 26-27), while the violone’s first entry occurs halfway through the bar, and there are hemiolas in bars 27 and 31, which give the feeling of being in 3/4. Overall, the rhythms are relatively simple, as there is no heavy syncopation or complex cross rhythms.
This piece is monothematic: all of the melodic material is based on the opening theme seen in the first bar, which can be further split into two parts – the first three-quaver motif, which is made up of a rising third and a falling third, and the semiquaver pattern that follows it (which could be viewed as the first motif with added passing notes). One or both of these motifs appear in every bar of the piece.
The subject is used in many melodic sequences, for example, an ascending sequence in the first violin in the first two bars, a descending sequence in the second violin and violone in bars 8-10, and a further descending sequence in the violone in bars 15-17. The subject is also manipulated, for example by inversion (the most notable example being the free inversion at the beginning of the second section). An anacrusis is also added when the subject returns in bar 32.