Francesco Geminiani: Notes and Commentary

“Francesco Geminiani took the torch of instrumental music from the hands of Corelli and kept the fires burning. He wrote concerti grossi and sonatas in which the structure, as previously used by Corelli, were enlarged and made more flexible; where the thematic material is more greatly varied; and where the orchestral colorations are enriched.”—David Ewen, The Complete Book of Classical Music

Francesco Saverio Geminiani was an Italian violinist, composer, music theorist, and student of Arcangelo Corelli. His most well-known compositions are three sets of concerti grossi: his Opus 2 (1732), Opus 3 (1733), and Opus 7 (1746). There are 42 concerti in all. His concerti introduce the viola as a member of the concertino group of soloists, making them essentially concerti for string quartet.

Geminiani’s significance today is largely due to his 1751 treatise Art of Playing on the Violin, published in London, which is the best known summation of the 18th century Italian method of violin playing and is an invaluable source for the study of late Baroque performance practice. The book is in the form of 24 exercises accompanied by a relatively short but extremely informative section of text, giving detailed instructions on articulation, trills, and other ornaments, shifting between positions, and other aspects of left- and right-hand violin technique. The instructions in this treatise are famously opposed to those expressed by Leopold Mozart in his Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing (1756) on several issues, including on bow hold, use of vibrato, and the so-called “rule of the down-bow,” which states that the first beat of every bar must be played with a down-stroke.

His Guida harmonica (c. 1752, with an addendum in 1756) is one of the most unusual harmony treatises of the late Baroque, serving as a sort of encyclopedia of basso continuo patterns and realizations. There are 2,236 patterns in all, and at the end of each pattern is a page number reference for a potential next pattern; thus a student composer studying the book would have an idea of all the subsequent possibilities available after any given short bass line.

Geminiani also published a number of solos for the violin, three sets of violin concerti, twelve violin trios, The Art of Accompaniment on the Harpsichord, Organ, etc. (1754), Lessons for the Harpsichord, Art of Playing the Guitar (1760) and some other works. He lived from December 5, 1687, to September 17, 1762.—Excerpted from Wikipedia

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