We now come to the first of several really big periods in music. Baroque….
Baroque literally means “bizarre”. The word was borrowed from architecture, where the suggestion of elaborately twisting, excessively decorated buildings of the time. In a similar way the music of the Baroque period is full of decorations and ornaments. Interestingly the use of the word didn’t happen until around 1746 (towards the end of the period) to disparage the kind of music which was beginning to go out of fashion. Nowadays though the term is not used disapprovingly, indeed the period it’s describing is extremely popular.
It’s A Date
The Baroque period goes from around 1580 to 1750. As discussed in the previous blog about the Renaissance period there was a transition. The Baroque period is divided into three main stages:
Early: 1580 - 1650
Middle: 1630 - 1700
Late: 1680 - 1750
Each period has at least one composer of note and I’ll write about them a little later.
Music To My Ears
A lot of the music of the Baroque period was written to order and composers often worked for a patron. The patron could be the church, whereby a composer would write the music for all the services; or wealthy noblemen (and sometimes royalty) where the composers were paid to entertain him and his guests at important social functions.
There was an effort to make the words more distinct in choral music and to write music that illustrated the meanings more dramatically. The top line of the music became more melodically interesting.
Opera, but not the spectacle we know today, began to be developed fully. They started out as being largely recitative (a type of singing where the style and rhythms of speech are imitated. Used to move the plot forward.) with some arias (a self-contained piece for one voice) and choruses (a song sung by a group of people with more than person singing each part. The chorus usually represents a group of characters (for example, soldiers, priests, nymphs, villagers, etc.)). Much like today audiences were drawn to a particular performer rather than the music or plot itself.
In addition to opera the oratorio (a large musical composition for orchestra, soloists, and chorus similar to opera but just done as a concert piece), and the cantata (vocal composition with instrumental accompaniment, in several movements, often involving a choir). This gave way to simpler melody lines.
Trio-sonatas (two top parts played by high melody instruments (usually violins) with a basso continuo played by a cello) were developed along with the concerto (a composition for a solo instrument often with orchestral accompaniment). There was also a principle of “one movement, one mood”, which made the music expressive and full of feeling, but less changeable than what was to come one-hundred years later.
Other forms and styles of the period include:
Gigue - An upbeat and lively dance in compound meter (a time signature where the main beats can be split into three little ones (for example 6/8, 9/8, 12/8 - whereby the main beats (dotted crotchets) are split into groups of three quavers))
Gavotte - A moderate piece in 4/4 which always starts on the third beat of the bar.
Minuet - A dance in triple time (3/4). Starts on the first beat of the bar.
Passepied - A fast dance in triple time originating from Brittany.
Building On Foundations Laid From Earlier Periods
Between 1690 and 1750 the key system as we know it today was regularised. Gone were the outdated modes. Harmony, as we know it today, began to develop.
Figured Bass became more widespread and this helped develop the importance of harmony. In fact composers started to put greater emphasis on harmony using key centres which in turn led to the idea that certain sequences of chords, rather than just individual notes, could provide a sense of closure to a piece.
Violin - The viol became obsolete and was replaced by the more versatile violin. Stradivarius was a prominent violin maker in this time.
Viola, Cello and Double Bass were also developed around this time.
Chalumeau - An early form of clarinet. A single reed instrument.
Natural Horn - An early predecessor of the French Horn. It had the same shape as the French Horn but no keys.
Serpent - A long, curved (snakelike) wooden instrument with the mouthpiece of a trombone (sackbut). It is played with fingers covering the holes that are along the body. Because of the mouthpiece used it is classed as a brass instrument.
Harpsichord - This instrument had been around since the Middle Ages, but by the 16th century the instruments developed and took a more prominent role in music of the Baroque period.
Timpani - Although these large drums have been around since the 6th century, they became a staple of the orchestra by the late Baroque period.
Composers - Early Baroque
Claudio Monteverdi: 1567(baptised) - 1567. Regarded as the first great composer of opera. Accredited as the first composer to use tremolando (a trembling effect) on the violin for dramatic effect.
Gregorio Allegri: c.1582 - 1652. Roman Catholic priest and Italian composer. Most famous for his Miserere for two choirs. When the piece was composed the Vatican, wanting to preserve the mystery of the work, forbade the copying of the piece. They threatened any publication or attempted copy with excommunication. Fast forward to 1770 and a young 14 year old lad called Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart heard it just twice and transcribed it faithfully from memory, thus creating the first unauthorised copy.
Composers - Middle Baroque
Johann Pachelbel: 1653 - 1706. German composer. Chiefly a composer of organ music with over 200 pieces but probably most remembered for his canon.
Henry Purcell: 1659 - 1695. English composer considered one of the greatest opera composers. HIs key works include the opera Dido and Aeneas, and compositions of Hail! Bright Cecilia, and Funeral Of Queen Mary.
Composers - Late Baroque
Antonio Vivaldi: 1678 - 1741. Italian composer and violinist. Chiefly responsible for the structure of the concerto as we know it now. Famous works include The Four Seasons, and numerous works for lute and mandolin. For more detail about Vivaldi check out the series of blogs on the Stand Sure Orchestra website (there is a little box at the end of the blog that'll take you to the others about him).
George Frideric Handel: 1685 - 1759. German-British composer of operas, oratorios, anthems, concerti Grossi, and organ concertos. Famous works include Music For The Royal Fireworks, Water Music, Zadok The Priest.
Johann Sebastian Bach: 1685 - 1750. German composer of over 1000 pieces. Famous works include The Brandenburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier, and The Mass In B-Minor.