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Sinfonia concertante is a musical form that emerged during the Classical period of Western music. It is essentially a mixture of the symphony and the concerto genres: a concerto in that one or more soloists (in the classical period, usually more than one) are on prominent display, and a symphony in that the soloists are nonetheless discernibly a part of the total ensemble and not preeminent.

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Classical era

In the Baroque period, the differences between a concerto and a sinfonia (also "symphony") were initially not all that clear. The word sinfonia would, for example, be used as the name for an overture to a stage work. Antonio Vivaldi wrote "concertos" which did not highlight individual soloists and which were stylistically more or less indistinguishable from his "sinfonias." The Baroque genre that comes closest to the Classical sinfonia concertante is the concerto grosso; the most famous of these are by Arcangelo Corelli.

By the Classical period (roughly 1750-1800), both the symphony and the concerto had acquired more definite meanings, and the concerto grosso had disappeared altogether. This led in the last decades of the 18th century to attempts to combine the two genres, such as those by composers of the Mannheim school. Johann Christian Bach (the so-called "London Bach" and youngest son of Johann Sebastian) 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 are the following:

Franz Joseph Haydn, who wrote over 100 symphonies as well as a number of concertos for all kinds of instruments, produced three sinfonia concertante. However, these works draw much more upon the concerto grosso tradition than the more symphonic treatment of the genre by Mozart.

Beethoven did not write anything designated as a sinfonia concertante, although some feel his Triple Concerto qualifies for inclusion in the 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. The second half of this work also features a semi-soloistic 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.

Richard Strauss' Don Quixote (1897) uses several soloists to depict the main characters, namely cello, viola, bass clarinet and tenor tuba.

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 (Symphony on a French Mountain Air). Likewise, Henry Charles Litolff wrote five Concerto Symphoniques, also with a piano obbligato,.

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).

20th century

In the 20th century, some composers such as George Enescu, Frank Martin, William Walton and Malcolm Williamson again used the name sinfonia concertante for their compositions. Prokofiev called his work for cello and orchestra Symphony-Concerto, stressing its serious symphonic character, in contrast to the light character of the Classical period sinfonia concertante. Martin's work, more reminiscent of the classical works with multiple soloists, features a piano, a harpsichord, and a harp. Karol Szymanowski also composed a sinfonia concertante (for solo piano and orchestra), also known as Szymanowski's Symphony No. 4 "Symphonie-Concertante." 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. The symphonies of the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů feature a piano, as do most of Martinů's orchestral works, however they are still labeled as symphonies.

Also P. D. Q. Bach produced a (spoofical) "Sinfonia Concertante" utilizing lute, balalaika, double reed slide music stand, ocarina, left-handed sewer flute, and bagpipes.

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.
  • Concerto for Group and Orchestra, reviving some of the "Sinfonia concertante" characteristics.

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).
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