In fact, the Baroque Pastorale or Christmas Concerto originates from an old Italian folk custom; during the Novena (the nine days of devotions preceding Christmas) country peasants playing musical instruments would make their way to the towns and re-enact the shepherds’ adoration of the Christ-child.
They would have played pifferari and zampognari (the pifferaro was a shawm, the zampogna a kind of bagpipe) and features that would have particularly defined this traditional music would have been the thirds melodies, the burden bass and the gently swaying siciliano rhythm, typically in a minor key.
This rustic tradition was transformed into the musical pastorale (the word pastor coming from the latin for shepherd). Then, for the Christmas season, a pastorale would be incorporated in to a concerto, thus making it a celebration of the nativity.
Corelli’s Christmas Concerto (published posthumously in 1714 as part of Corelli’s Twelve concerti grossi, Op. 6 and commissioned by his patron Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni) is arguably the finest of its kind and saves its pastorale for the final movement. Renowned for its beauty, the movement is seen by many as a jewel in the crown of the piece; bringing with it a deep and lasting feeling of serenity.
If you’re watching the concert this year, listen out for those slow siciliano rhythms and keep in mind the modest and captivating origins of the Christmas Concerto.
Our concert A Baroque Christmas takes place on Wed 16 Dec at Lighthouse, Poole. The concert will also be livestreamed. To learn more about each concert, enjoy our series of pre-concert talks given by Andrew Burns.