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The Concerto: Developing the Soloist

Today the word concerto is typically used to describe a piece of music that features a particular instrument or instruments as a soloist, accompanied by an orchestra. Soloists are the most glamorous, highly paid classical musicians and their concerto performances demonstrate the pinnacle of their skill. However, the concerto was originally a composition where people played together in concert/consort, making a ‘concerted effort’.

The Baroque Concerto

The Concerto first became a key part of the repertoire in the Baroque era. It was used at the end of the 17th Century by violinists such as Corelli. Corelli is known for his Concerto Grossi which feature a small group of soloists accompanied by a larger orchestra, referred to in the score as ‘ripieno,’ a word that literally means stuffing or padding.

Archangel Corelli leading an orchestra on the Spanish Steps in Rome, 1687

Archangel Corelli leading an orchestra on the Spanish Steps in Rome, 1687

Other composers associated with the Concerto who were writing in Italy in this period include Vivaldi and Albinoni. Albinoni was one of the first composers to write concerti for the oboe, an instrument that was then fairly new to Italian ensemble music. Vivaldi is perhaps one of the best known composers of concerti, his most famous works being his Op. 4 “Le Quattro Stagioni” or “The Four Seasons” for solo violin. Unusually for the period, when Vivaldi published the concerti he included accompanying poems (possibly written by Vivaldi himself) that introduced the ideas illustrated in the music.

The Concerto was also a popular form in Germany with composers such as Telemann and J. S. Bach. Perhaps the most famous of J. S. Bach’s Concerti are the six Brandeburg Concerti, BWV 1046–1051. The Concerti have different soloists:

  • Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046 – two corni da caccia (natural horns), three oboes, bassoon, violino piccolo, two violins, viola, cello, basso continuo
  • No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047 – 1 Tromba (trumpet), 1 Flauto (recorder), 1 Hautbois (oboe), 1 Violino, concertati, è 2 Violini, 1 Viola è Violone in Ripieno col Violoncello è Basso per il Cembalo
  • No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048 – tre Violini, tre Viole, è tre Violoncelli col Basso per il Cembalo
  • No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049 – à Violino Principale, due Fiauti d’Echo (recorders), due Violini, una Viola è Violone in Ripieno, Violoncello è Continuo
  • No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 – une Traversiere (flute), une Violino principale, une Violino è una Viola in ripieno, Violoncello, Violone è Cembalo concertato

The Concerto in England was developed by musicians from the continent, particularly the Italian composer Lully and George Fridrich Handel, from Germany.

Photograph of the original manuscript of Handel's concerto grosso Op.6 No.4, 1739 (from Page 345 of P.H.Lang's Handel)

Photograph of the original manuscript of Handel’s concerto grosso Op.6 No.4, 1739 (from Page 345 of P.H.Lang’s Handel)

Key terms from this period include:

  • Concerto da Chiesa – Church Sonata which usually had abstract movements
  • Concerto da Camera – Chamber sonatas with dance style movements
  • Concertino – was used for the group of soloists
  • Ripieno – which means “full”. This term was used to refer to the accompanying orchestra

The Classical Concerto

Many of the most famous concerti from the Classical period were composed by W.A. Mozart. Mozart’s contribution to the Concerto form was extensive and included 21 works for solo piano, one for 2 pianos, one for 3 pianos, five for violin, concertos for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn as well as a Sinfonia Concertante for solo violin and viola and a Concerto for flute and harp. In Mozart’s concerti the soloist often alternates with the main ensemble, almost setting the soloist against the accompanying musicians.

Beethoven developed the Concerto form from Mozart’s compositions utilising the interplay of soloist and orchestra in a different way, some suggest in a more collaborative way. Beethoven wrote 5 piano concerti, a violin concerto and a triple concerto for piano, violin and cello.

The Romantic Concerto

During the Romantic Period, several virtuosi utilised solo works including the form of the concerto to demonstrate their abilities. Paganini, an accomplished violinist wrote 6 violin concerti which allowed him to show off his skills. Liszt, an outstanding pianist, wrote 2 piano concerti.

Other key composers of concerti in the Romantic period include Schumann who wrote concerti for piano, cello and violin which are all still popular works today. Dvorak wrote 4 concerti, 1 for piano, 2 for violin and 2 for cello, the more famous of which is the Concerto in B minor, Op 104. Brahms wrote 4 concerti, 2 for piano, one for violin and one for violin and cello. A concerto was often written with a particular player in mind. The Brahms Violin Concerto was written for the violinist Joseph Joachim.

Here are some useful links with more information about the history, form and relevance of the concerto…

Concerto form:


The Baroque Concerto:


Modern Ideas:


All Change at AQA

Since the Rhinegold Expo back in March, Maria at the Music Workshop Company has been working to create a guest blog spot, to keep you up to date with what’s happening in the world of music education.

This month the MWC team are excited to welcome Sarah Perryman, Music Qualifications Developer at AQA, as she explains what’s new for GCSEs, AS levels and A-levels, and how the exam board created their new music qualifications… 

A-and-AS-music-imageYou’ve probably heard that due to new criteria set out by Ofqual and the Department of Education, GCSE, AS and A-level Music is changing.

Change can be healthy, progressive and in the best interests of your students. It can also be worrying and stressful for teachers who are under pressure to get results.

I’m honoured to have been asked by The Music Workshop Company to talk to you about the forthcoming exam changes and tell you about our new GCSE, AS and A-level Music.

So, what’s new at AQA?

Firstly, I’m new! I’m thrilled to be a Music Qualifications Developer for AQA. Previously, I’ve completed a Music degree, trained as a musical theatre actress at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, worked in theatre, radio and TV, and run my own production company.

How did we create our new music qualifications?

Many people don’t realise that we’re an independent education charity and the largest provider of academic qualifications taught in schools and colleges. This means that we use the money we make to advance education and help teachers and students realise their potential.

The exam alterations gave us the opportunity to create positive change across all three of our music qualifications. Our Qualifications Developer Jeremy Ward, brought huge energy to their development, hardly surprising considering he’s an experienced musician and previously Executive Director at Rockschool. Students will now study The Beatles, Labrinth, Daft Punk and music technology is fully integrated.GCSE-music-image

We’re incredibly proud of the evolution of our qualifications. They’re engaging, inspiring and sufficiently rigorous to be highly valued by employers and universities.

The response to our draft proposals has been overwhelming – particularly our GCSE, which sparked huge interest. We enjoyed coverage in the Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, NME Magazine and on BBC radio.

See our press coverage >

Music companion guide P20009 cover high resExplore our draft music qualifications

Draft AQA GCSE Music specification >

Draft AQA AS Music specification >

Draft AQA A-level Music specification >

Highlights of our draft GCSE, AS and A-level music specifications

  • They’re relevant and contemporary – more styles and genres, more artists and composers and more opportunities to compose and perform.
  • Designed to be taught the way students learn – we’ve scored excerpts of the GCSE study pieces for modern and classical instruments so that your students can get to know them even better.
  • All music styles are valued – our specification appreciates all styles and genres, skills and instruments, catering for different learning styles and musical tastes.
  • Music technology is fully integrated – many areas of study have artists or composers who have written works in this format and students can perform and compose using technology.

If you’re feeling unsure about any of the changes, don’t worry. The new music specifications don’t launch until September 2016 so you have plenty of time to prepare. The timetable below shows when the switchover takes place.

Date Current specification New specification
May 2015 Download our draft specifications here
July to September 2015 Available: GCSE, AS and A-level Book your place at our free launch events (also available online for GCSE only)
Autumn 2015 Download our accredited specifications and practice papers here
Spring 2016 Free prepare to teach meetings for GCSE, AS and    A-level
Summer 2016 Available: GCSE, AS and A-level
September 2016 First teaching GCSE, AS and    A-level
Summer 2017 Last chance to sit for first time: GCSE, AS and A-level AS first exams
Summer 2018 Resit only: AS and      A-levels First exams GCSE and A-level;AS available
Summer 2019 Available: GCSE, AS and A-level


We can support you in all sorts of ways

  • Our music subject advisors are just a phone call away
  • Our Music team and Teacher Network Group offer advice and support.
  • Free teaching resources from our music community which includes the BBC, The Royal Albert Hall, Music for Youth and the Museum of Liverpool.
  • Email updates keep you informed of our new resources and events. If you’d like to receive them, email music@aqa.org.uk
  • Free introductory launch meetings for GCSE, AS and A-level tell you all about our new specifications, resources and exams (book early if you’re interested, these are always popular!)

155308470-edit-MEDAll that’s left to say is thank you to The Music Workshop Company for inviting me to contribute to their blog. I hope you’ve found this helpful and that your students’ examinations go well.

Best wishes,

Sarah Perryman – AQA Qualifications Developer – Music




If you would like to talk to the Music Workshop Company about a workshop for GCSE or A-Level students, please contact us and we’d be delighted to help.




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