Food For Thought: Corelli’s La Folia

La Folia: One of the most revered musical motifs in music history. Originating as a simple Portuguese folk tune/dance with a designated chord progression, the theme became highly popular during the Renaissance and Baroque periods of music history. The theme gradually evolved from an “older” form to a “newer” form more familiar to today’s early music listeners, and countless composers across Europe — ranging from Corelli to Vivaldi and Marais — used the theme in musical works in which they composed variations on it. According to my voice teacher, a musicologist specializing in Baroque music, all good composers were expected to write variations upon La Folia. Although the tune and its theme-and-variations trend continued on into the classical era, its popularity waned over the course of the 19th century, despite that Liszt and Rachmaninov followed in the trend’s footsteps. However, with the dawn of the HIPP movement in the 20th century, the tune and its theme-and-variation composition trend re-emerged, though not as heavily and glamorously as in the past. For a more comprehensive history of the tune and it usage, please visit this outstanding website:

http://members.chello.nl/folia/

Recently, in returning to violin with the desire to pursue it in the historically-informed light (eventually transitioning to Baroque violin), I began investigating repertoire selections, but did not know where to start. Hence, I proceeded to ask my voice teacher for ideas; he suggested the Corelli violin sonatas to me because of both their prime importance in the Baroque violin repertoire and significance in Baroque music as well. In the past I had heard from another musicologist that Corelli would be highly appealing to me as a diehard Vivaldi fan, so I proceeded to start some research on the Corelli sonatas. In the process, I learned that the hallowed “La Folia” is part of the Opus 5 sonatas that my voice teacher so heartily recommended, and this immediately appealed to me. I had learned the all-too-familiar Suzuki adaptation as a Suzuki violin student, and I had always wanted to learn the original. Now, with me free of Romanticized teachers and asked to learn the Corelli sonatas, here was my chance. I would get an urtext edition of the Corelli sonatas and learn the original La Folia.

I was in no way prepared for the immense surprises and challenges that lay ahead of me. Upon an Internet search for an urtext edition for the Corelli sonatas, I could only find 1 such edition; all the rest were edited by other people, including renowned modern musicians. Although I was fully aware that the majority of editions of Baroque music contain modern editing and must thus be avoided, I was totally unprepared to discover that only one urtext edition of the complete Corelli sonatas — published by Schott — existed. Moreover, I was in for more surprise when I discovered that all separately-published editions of Corelli’s La Folia were modernized adaptations, such as the famed Kreisler adaptation.

Even more surprising yet, when I proceeded to conduct a YouTube search on “Corelli La Folia”, only one, two-part video of Corelli’s untouched original — a period instrument rendition — came up. The rest were videos of either the Kreisler or Suzuki adaptations. Every major modern violin virtuoso or serious modern violinist played the Kreisler version, or some other modernized version, while students played the Suzuki adaptation, which, after much listening, I deduced to be an offshoot of the Kreisler adaptation. Pondering upon my own extensive experience in the modern violin world, I recalled that I had never seen a modern violinist play the original; all modern violinists I had encountered play the Kreisler adaptation — which I had never liked and still do not like today because of its overt modernization/romanticization of Corelli’s original.

Quite a difference compared to the original … In the end, based upon all that I have mentioned above as well as my personal experience in the modern violin world, I arrived at a conclusion: The original is relatively unknown in the mainstream classical music world, and totally unknown in the modern violin community. So, what’s going on here? Based upon both my observations mentioned above and my perusing of the score while bearing in mind the modern violin mentality, it appears to me that the original is not “flashy” enough for suitable usage in the modern violin world. In my experience in the modern violin world, I have noticed that Baroque music is considered “easy” repertoire suitable for beginners and intermediate players. As to advanced players and professionals, exploring it rarely exceeds Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and the Bach unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas. Outside of that, the modern violin world heavily revolves around Romantic and modern compositions which truly push the instrument’s limits. But …. that is another topic for another post ….

Musings aside, I am most proud to be playing the original Corelli La Folia complete with historically-informed technique and a Baroque bow. And who knows: Perhaps I shall be one of the first modern violinists — most definitely locally — to play the original, and perhaps that, in doing so, I may indirectly start a new trend ….

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