On the Ninth Day of Christmas

One of my favourite pieces to play with a small ensemble is Arcangelo Corelli’s Christmas Concerto (Op. 6 no. 8). Composed around 1690, for performance on Christmas Eve, it’s a concerto grosso, a form in which a group of soloists known as the ‘concertino’ play in contrast with the full ensemble, the ‘ripieno’, in alternating sections. The last movement is a ‘pastorale’, a lilting melody with a simple bass line, which was composed as a sort of musical Nativity scene with shepherds. It references a Christmas tradition of the time, in Italy, where shepherds came into towns playing their various pipes (piffero and zambogna), instruments with drones. For me, this final movement exudes a peaceful calm and the fast movements seem full of joyous optimism. I am happy to listen to this at any time of year, not just at Christmas.

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