8 February 2021

Giuseppe Torelli – violinist and composer

Brilliant musician could both perform and write beautiful music

Torelli is ranked alongside Arcangelo Corelli
as a developer of the Baroque concerto
Talented musician Giuseppe Torelli, who played the viola and violin and was a composer during the late Baroque era, died on this day in 1709 in Bologna in Emilia-Romagna.

He is remembered for contributing to the development of the instrumental concerto and for being the most prolific Baroque composer for trumpets and he is ranked with Arcangelo Corelli as a developer of the Baroque concerto and concerto grosso.

Torelli was born in Verona in 1658. He learnt to play the violin and studied composition with Giacomo Antonio Perti.

At the age of 26 it is known that he was a member of the Accademia Filarmonica as a violinist. Two years later he was employed as a viola player at the Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna. He stayed there for about ten years until the orchestra was disbanded because of financial constraints.

His first published works were ten sonatas for violin and basso continuo and 12 concerti da camera for two violins and basso continuo.

Around 1690 Torelli began writing his first trumpet works. It is considered unusual for a strings player to compose works for the trumpet but it is thought Torelli may have been inspired by the virtuoso trumpeter Giovanni Pellegrino Brandi, who occasionally performed with the San Petronio orchestra.

In 1687 it went on record that Torelli’s music was being played at the Sanctuary Maria della Steccata in Parma in Emilia Romagna by Giuseppe Corsi da Celano, a composer and teacher.

Francesco Antonio Pistocchi, with whom Torelli collaborated
Francesco Antonio Pistocchi, with
whom Torelli collaborated
By 1698, Torelli had become maestro di concerto at the court of Georg Friedrich II, Margrave of Brandenburg Ansbach. He conducted the orchestra for Le pazzie d’amore e dell’interesse, an idea drammatica composed by the maestro di cappella, his friend Francesco Antonio Pistocchi, the composer and castrato singer 

After 1701, Torelli was known to be back in Bologna, where he is listed as a violinist in the newly reformed cappella musicale at San Petronio, directed by his former composition teacher, Perti.

Torelli and Pistocchi appeared in a number of concerts together in the early years of the 18th century. At around this time Torelli composed 12 concerti grossi con una pastorale, Op 8, which features one of his most popular pieces, the Christmas Eve concerto No 6.

Torelli died, aged 50, on 8 February 1709 in Bologna. His manuscripts were conserved in the San Petronio archives. He had composed many sonatas, concertos and symphonies, including more than 30 concertos for trumpets.

He had many pupils, the most notable being Francesco Manfredini. His brother, Felice Torelli was a painter with a good reputation in Bologna.

The unfinished facade of the Basilica di San Petronio, one of Europe's largest churches
The unfinished facade of the Basilica di San
Petronio, one of Europe's largest churches
Travel tip:

The Basilica di San Petronio, which dominates Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, is a huge structure, 132m (144yds) long, 60m (66yds) wide and 47m (154ft) tall, which makes it the sixth largest church in Europe and is seen as a symbol of the city, even if it is not actually Bologna’s cathedral (that being the nearby Duomo di San Pietro). Indeed, despite construction starting in 1380, it was not consecrated as a church until 1954, having been built as a civic temple and not transferred from the city to the diocese until 1929.  It is notable for its unfinished facade, the red and brick marble of Domenico da Varignana’s design abandoned when it had barely reached one third of the building’s height, following the intervention of Pope Pius IV, who considered the project too expensive and ambitious and ordered that the city’s focus switch instead to the building of the Archiginnasio, the official seat of the University of Bologna.

The balcony of the Casa Giulietta, which remains one of Verona's most visited attractions
The balcony of the Casa Giulietta, which remains
one of Verona's most visited attractions
Travel tip:

Verona, where Torelli was born, is now the third largest city in the northeast of Italy, with a population across its whole urban area of more than 700,000. Famous now for its wealth of tourist attractions, of which the Roman amphitheatre known the world over as L’Arena di Verona is just one, the city was also the setting for three plays by Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew  - although it is unknown whether the English playwright ever actually set foot in the city.  Nonetheless, Casa Giulietta in Via Cappello, about five minutes’ walk from the Arena, is still promoted as the balcony where Shakespeare’s famous scene with Romeo took place.

Also on this day:

1591: The birth of painter Guercino

1751: The death of Trevi Fountain architect Nicolo Salvi

1848: Uprising in Padua

1945: The death of Olympic fencer Italo Santelli


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