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.-la follia-

or "the most famous tune in the history of music"



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From it’s origins as an Iberian fertility dance to it’s present day use, the theme of La  Follia remains one of the most popular tunes in the history of music


La Follia (it’s name meaning a "wild, empty-headed" dance) was born somewhere in Portugal or Spain in the 15th century. Back then the name folia was used as a general name for fast, chaotic fertility dances, dances that had only their speed and rhythm in common. It wasn’t until about 1650 that the folia would get the form that would become so popular. The rhythm was left over from earlier times, and the melody got standardised. This is what the standardised theme looks like:


 ©2001 Timothy De Paepe


Music historians aren’t very sure about who ‘invented’ this ‘late’ or ‘new’ (standardised) folia: either it was one Caspar Sanz or Andrea Falconieri, or perhaps Francesco Corbetta. In any case the folia became really popular when Jean-Baptiste Lully used it in 1672 as a theme in his “Folies d’Espagne” (and inspired by Lully, Marin Marais used it for a set of 32 variations on the theme, which, though published after Arcangelo Corelli’s Opus 5, was written before it)


But the real breakthrough came when the Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli used it in 1700 as the theme as a starting point for the 12th sonata from his world-famous Opus 5. Corelli created a sonata consisting of a theme and 23 variations (alternating fast and slow tempos). Throughout the 18th century, a  huge number of adaptions would appear (for vioal da gamba, transverse flute, cello, recorder, etc. Francesco Geminiani extended Corelli's La Follia sonata into a complete Concerto Grosso).


Soon many composers would follow: Vivaldi, Cherubini, Alessandro Scarlatti, Geminiani, Salieri, Johann Sebastian Bach and C. P. Bach, Beethoven, up to Liszt, Rachmaninoff and even Vangelis (in the score to 1492) and so many others.

To hear some samples or for a geographic approach, go to the “map & sounds” section.



But lets have a closer look at two famous versions of La Follia (as it was called by the Italians):


1. Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)Arcangelo Corelli

        Il Giardino Armonico : Italian Recorder Sonatas (Nuova Era)

        Sonata No. XII in D minor Opus V –  « La Follia » (transcription for recorder)  


When Corelli published his 'Sonate a Violino e Violine o Cimbalo Opus V' in 1700 in Rome, he had no idea that this set of works would become so immensely popular. There is however no denying that this music is the production of a true genius. While combining both the best of the old and the new styles and still retaining his own identity, Corelli created a timeless masterpiece which would serve as an example for many years to come.


The final sonata of this Op. V consists of a single theme and several variations. This theme, of course, is the theme of La Follia. Corelli opens with the complete theme and then creates contrasting variations (slow - fast), each variation being more virtuosic than than the previous one. All this is done in a very well-balanced way.


Due to it's popularity, the Op. V appeared in many editions. While Corelli clearly wrote his music for a violin, a number of alternate editions appeared, in which the main instrument had changed (Franscesco Geminiani even reworked Corelli's version into a full Concerto Grosso). Bothe the publishers Roger in Amsterdam as Walsh in London offered an edition re-written for recorder. It is this version that Il Giardino Armonico have recorded.




2. Antonio L. Vivaldi (1678-1741)

        Il Giardino Armonico : Concerti Da Camera Vol. 2 (Teldec 9031-73268-2)

        RV 63: Sonata a tre No. XII in D minor from Opus I: "La Follia" - Tema con XIX Variazioni (for 2 violins and basso continuo)


Vivaldi -like Corelli- begins with the full theme, followed by a set of variations. These variations are less well-balanced than Corelli's variations but result in a true display of fireworks. Again like Corelli, Vivaldi alternates between (very) fast and slow(er) movements, never forgetting the origins of La Follia.


There is however one major difference between Corelli's and Vivaldi's view on La Follia and that is the instrumentation. Corelli uses a violin and a basso continuo (cello, harpsichord, thoerbo,...), Vivaldi on the contrary uses two violins and a basso continuo. Both the first and second violin share in the action, and near the end even the basso continuo gets some extra (well-deserved) attention.


As can be seen in the full title above, Vivaldi's La Follia was part of a set of twelve sonatas, his Opus I (Suonate da Camera a tre) published in 1705 in Venice.










©2001 housemedia & timothy de paepe