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- It is Concerto, in that it has one or more soloists (in the classical music era usually more than one).
- It is Symphony in that it does not particularly put the soloist in the spotlight: the look and feel is rather symphonic as a whole, with some solistic interventions not outspokenly dominating the orchestra (in a concerto, which is the Italian word for battle, the role of the soloist is rather something like defying the orchestra, trying to prove he can do at least as good as a whole orchestra).
Up till the baroque era, preceding the classical music era, the differences between Concerto and Sinfonia (or: symphony), had not been all that clear (Sinfonia could e.g. also be used as the name for an Ouverture to a stage work; Vivaldi wrote concertos without discernible soloists, which stylistically have few differences compared to his Sinfonias; etc...). The baroque genre that comes closest to Sinfonia concertante is the Concerto grosso, be it more from a concerto than from a symphony approach.
By the classical era both Symphony and concerto had a more definite meaning (and the concerto grosso had disappeared altogether), which lead in the last decades of the 18th century to composers, e.g. from the Mannheim school, attempting to produce a cross-over between the two genres. Also Johann Christian Bach, the "London Bach", 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 (this composer had a lasting influence on Mozart since they had met in the 1760s), put considerable effort in attempts to produce convincing sinfonia concertantes, more than he put in any other genre: while both symphonies and concertos seemed to flow from his pen almost effortlessly, there is a considerable pile of abortive attempts at sinfonia concertantes from his hand. But there were some successes:
- Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra K. 364 (the only one Mozart actually considered as finished himself).
- Sinfonia Concertante for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon and Orchestra K. 279b
Haydn, despite producing a considerable amount of both Symphonies (over 100) and concertos (for all kinds of instruments) produced only one sinfonia concertante that - very modestly - kept stage:
- Sinfonia Concertante (Haydn) - now sometimes numbered as his Symphony No. 105. Haydn's Sinfonia Concertante however draws still much more from the "Concerto Grosso" style (i.e. opposing a group of soloists to an orchestra) than Mozart's more symphonic treatment of the genre.
Beethoven seems to have avoided the risky Sinfonia concertante cross-over genre, although some say his Triple concerto is his answer to that genre (be it closer to the concerto approach - nonetheless it can be said that Beethoven's concertos, from the third piano concerto on, were ever more symphonic than what had been usual in 18th century).
Beethoven further experimented with vocal soloists in the context of symphonic music, e.g. the Choral Fantasia and the last part of the 9th symphony: Although for the Choral Fantasia there even was, additionally, a pianoforte soloist, these works are seldomly seen in the Sinfonia Concertante tradition, but rather seen as deriving from a tradition of (semi-)secular Cantatas (e.g. Bach) and Oratorios (e.g. Haydn's Seasons), which had combined with the symphony as a novelty of the Enlightenment, by Beethoven's genius.
Few composers still called their compositions "Sinfonia concertante" after the classical music era, nonetheless all throughout the era of Romantic music, experimentation with the genre continued, leading to notable successes every now and then:
- Harold en Italie , for viola and orchestra (Berlioz): this work had been comissioned by Paganini (who was an excellent viola player too), but rejected by him, not because he didn't like the music, but because the music would not have allowed him to excell (read: dominate the orchestra) very much as a soloist, as he was used to in his own violin concertos - which was how Berlioz had however successfully tackled the difficult problem of using an instrument with little "domination" capabilities solistically.
- Camille Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3 features an organ that partially immerses in the orchestral sound, but also has several distinct solo passages. Also semi-solistically, in the second half of the work, this symphony features a four hands piano part (see also "one-movement additional soloist(s)" below).
- By the end of the 19th century several French composers had started using the "sinfonia concertante" technique in symphonic poems, e.g. Saint-Saëns a violin in Danse macabre, and César Franck a piano in Les djinns .
- 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 (or: Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français - "Symphony on a French Mountain Air")
- Max Bruch explored the boundaries of the solistic and symphonic genres in e.g. the Scottish Fantasy (violin soloist), Kol Nidrei (cello soloist) and Serenade (violin soloist).
- Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade can be considered, besides being a symphonic suite and a ballet, as a Sinfonia concertante for violin and orchestra.
- Typically, Richard Strauss would feature a high-pitched string instrument as soloist in his symphonic poems: although his symphonic poems are quite far from the Sinfonia Concertante genre as such, nonetheless Strauss appears to have succeeded like nobody before him in inserting discernable soloists in his orchestral works, without releasing any of the density of the symphonic tissue.
- Also by the end of the Romantic period both in concertos as symphonies a "one-movement" soloist could be added (to the regular soloist in the case of a concerto), which often results in a movement more or less in Sinfonia concertante style e.g.:
- César Franck, second movement of his Symphony : a cor anglais functions as soloist - described as a revolutionary feat by Franck, both because of the nature of the solistic instrument, as because of bending pre-conceived ideas about the symphonic genre (quote: "J'ai osé beaucoup, mais la prochaine fois, vous verrez, j'oserai plus encore" - I dared a lot, but the next time, you will see, I will dare even more).
- Tchaikovsky, second movement of his second piano concerto : violin and cello added to the piano as soloists.
- Mahler, second movement of fourth symphony: scordatura violin.
- Gershwin, second movement of the Concerto in F: trumpet solo added to the piano soloist.
Another example is Joseph Jongen 's 1926 Symphonie Concertante Op. 81, with organ as soloist.
Deep Purple's (or: Jon Lord's) Concerto for Group and Orchestra (1969) draws attention while it displays some characteristics of as well the concerto grosso, the sinfonia concertante, and the concerto for orchestra genres:
- First movement (Moderato - Allegro): after an elaborate orchestral introduction the Group and the Orchestra work as separate blocks, trying to get dominance over the main theme - this opposition of a group of soloists against an orchestra is quite "concerto grosso" style.
- Second movement (Andante), with lyrics sung by Ian Gillan: here the group integrates more with the sound of the orchestra while still clearly on top of the orchestral tissue, giving a sinfonia concertante look and feel.
- Third movement (Vivace - Presto): apart from Ian Paice's drum solo, the music is so tighly knit that the distinction between the group and the orchestra is almost lifted: in a way the group becomes part of an extended orchestra, with one elaborate "solo" passage, by an instrument that is no soloist throughout the movement, giving a concerto touch: this is more or less what is understood by the Concerto for Orchestra genre.
- Concertos for orchestra: Concertos for orchestra differ from Concertante symphonies, in that Concertos for orchestra have no (group of) soloists that remain(s) the same throughout the composition.
- P. D. Q. Bach showed a keen interest in all classical music cross-over genres mentioned above, amongst others composing a Sinfonia Concertante.
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