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Sinfonia concertante

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Sinfonia concertante

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Sinfonia concertante is a musical form that originated in the classical music era, and is a mixture of the symphony and the concerto genres:

  • It is a concerto, in that it has one or more soloists (in the classical music era usually more than one).
  • It is a symphony in that it does not particularly put the soloist in the spotlight: the impression is rather symphonic as a whole, with some solistic interventions not outspokenly dominating the orchestra (in a concerto, which is the Italian word for battle, the role of the soloist is rather something like defying the orchestra, trying to prove he can do at least as well as a whole orchestra).

Contents

Classical era

Until the baroque era, preceding the classical music era, the differences between concerto and sinfonia (or: symphony), had not been all that clear (sinfonia could also be used as the name for an ouverture to a stage work; for example, Antonio Vivaldi wrote concertos without discernible soloists, which stylistically have few differences compared to his sinfonias). The baroque genre that comes closest to the sinfonia concertante is the concerto grosso.

By the classical era, both the symphony and the concerto had a more definite meaning (and the concerto grosso had disappeared altogether), which led in the last decades of the 18th century to composers, for example the Mannheim school, attempting to produce a cross-over between the two genres. Also Johann Christian Bach, the "London Bach", was publishing symphonies concertantes in Paris from the early 1770s on. Mozart, acquainted with the Mannheim school from 1777 and probably not unaware of J.C. Bach's publications, put considerable effort into attempts to produce convincing sinfonia concertantes.

His most successful concertante symphonies are the following:

  • Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra K. 364 (the only one Mozart is actually considered to have finished that exists in an authentic copy).
  • Sinfonia Concertante for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon and Orchestra K. 297b (known from an arrangement, possibly inauthentic).

Joseph Haydn, despite producing a considerable number of symphonies (over 100) and concertos (for all kinds of instruments), produced only one sinfonia concertante, now sometimes numbered as his Symphony No. 105. Haydn's sinfonia concertante however draws still much more from the "Concerto Grosso" style (i.e. opposing a group of soloists to an orchestra) than Mozart's more symphonic treatment of the genre.

Beethoven seems to have avoided the risky sinfonia concertante genre, although some say his Triple concerto is his answer to that genre[1].

Romantic era

Few composers still called their compositions sinfonia concertante after the classical music era. However, some works such as Hector Berlioz' Harold in Italy, for viola and orchestra approach the genre.

Camille Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3 features an organ that is partially immersed in the orchestral sound, but also has several distinct solo passages. Also semi-solistically, in the second half of the work, this symphony features a part for piano four hands.

By the end of the 19th century, several French composers had started using the sinfonia concertante technique in symphonic poems, for example, Saint-Saëns uses a violin in Danse macabre, and César Franck a piano in Les Djinns.

Édouard Lalo's most known work, the Symphonie Espagnole is in fact a sinfonia concertante for violin and orchestra.

A work in the same vein, but with the piano taking the "concertante" part is Vincent d'Indy's Symphonie Cévenole or Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français (Symphony on a French Mountain Air).

Max Bruch explored the boundaries of the solistic and symphonic genres in the Scottish Fantasy (violin soloist), Kol Nidrei (cello soloist), and Serenade (violin soloist).

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade can be considered a sinfonia concertante for violin and orchestra.

 

20th century

In the 20th century, some composers such as Frank Martin and Malcolm Williamson again used the name sinfonia concertante for their compositions. The Prokofiev work features a cello soloist, whereas Martin's work, more reminiscent of the classical works with multiple soloists, features a piano, a harpsichord, and a cembalo. Another example is Joseph Jongen's 1926 Symphonie Concertante Op. 81, with an organ soloist, and Peter Maxwell Davies's Sinfonia Concertante for wind quintet, timpani and string orchestra 1982.

Also P. D. Q. Bach produced a (spoofical) "Sinfonia Concertante".

See also

  • The concerto for orchestra differs from the sinfonia concertante in that concertos for orchestra have no soloist or group of soloists that remains the same throughout the composition.

Notes

  1.   For example, in the explanatory notes from the booklet to the CD "BEETHOVEN - Triple Concerto/Choral Fantasia" (Capriccio Classic Productions No. 180240, 1988).

Home | Up | Sinfonia concertante | Concerto grosso | Concerto for Orchestra | Piano concerto | Viola concerto | Violin concerto | Violoncello concerto | Concertino | Clarinet concerto | Harpsichord concerto

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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