Baroque music, from the Baroque period of Western Classical Music, was composed roughly from the time of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) to that of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Among the great composers of the early Baroque were Monteverdi, Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), and Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695). In the later Baroque, the leading figures included Bach, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) and Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). Baroque music forms a major portion of the classical music canon and is widely performed and enjoyed.

Table of contents
1 Baroque style
2 Genres of Baroque music
3 Other important features of Baroque music
4 External links

Baroque style

It is not easy to characterize the style of Baroque music as a whole, but it may be helpful to distinguish it from both the preceding (Renaissance) and following (Classical) periods of musical history.

Baroque versus Renaissance style

Baroque music shares with Renaissance music a heavy use of polyphony and counterpoint. However, its use of these techniques differs from Renaissance music. In the Renaissance, the separate voices of polyphony echoed the theme phrase in close succession. This high degree of overlap sufficed to defined the harmonic structure. Baroque music uses longer lines and stronger rhythms: the initial line is extended, either alone or accompanied only by the basso continuo, until the theme reappears in another voice. In this less-overlapped approach to counterpoint, the harmony was more often defined either by the basso continuo, or tacitly by the notes of the theme itself.

These stylistic differences mark the transition from the ricercars, fantasias, and canzonas of the Renaissance to the fugue, a defining Baroque form. Monteverdi called this newer, looser style the secunda prattica, contrasting it with the prima prattica that characterized the motets and other sacred choral pieces of high Renaissance masters like Palestrina. Monteverdi himself used both styles; he wrote his Mass In illo tempore in the older, Palestrinan style, and his 1610 Vespers in the new style.

There are other, more general differences between Baroque and Renaissance style. Baroque music often strives for a greater level of emotional intensity than Renaissance music, and a Baroque piece often uniformly depicts a single particular emotion (exultation, grief, piety, etc.) (see doctrine of the affections). Baroque music was more often written for virtuoso singers and instrumentalists, and is characteristically harder to perform than Renaissance music. Baroque music employs a great deal of ornamentation, which was often improvised by the performer. Instruments came to play a greater part in Baroque music, and a capella vocal music receded in importance.

Baroque versus Classical style

In Classical music, which followed the Baroque, the role of counterpoint was diminished (albeit repeatedly rediscovered and reintroduced; see fugue), and replaced by a homophonic texture. The role of ornamentation lessened. Works tended towards a more articulated internal structure, especially those written in sonata form. Modulation (changing of keys) became a structural and dramatic element, so that a work could be heard as a kind of dramatic journey through a sequence of musical keys, outward and back from the tonic. Baroque music also modulates frequently, but the modulation has less structural importance. Works in the classical style often depict widely varying emotions within a single movement, whereas Baroque works tend toward a single, vividly portrayed feeling. Lastly, Classical works usually reach a kind of dramatic climax and then resolve it; Baroque works retain a fairly constant level of dramatic energy to the very last note.

Genres of Baroque music

Baroque composers wrote in many different musical genres. Opera, invented in the late Renaissance, became an important musical form during the Baroque, with the operas of Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), Handel, and others. The oratorio achieved its peak in the work of Bach and Handel; opera and oratoria often used very similar music forms, such as a widespread use of the da capo aria.

In other religious music, the mass and motet receded slightly in importance, but the cantata flourished in the work of Bach and other Protestant composers. Virtuoso organ music also flourished, with toccatas, fugues, and other works.

Instrumental sonatas and dance suites were written for individual instruments, for chamber groups, and for (small) orchestra). The concerto emerged, both in its form for a single soloist plus orchestra and as the concerto grosso, in which a small group of soloists is contrasted with the full ensemble. The French overture, with its contrasting slow and fast sections, added grandeur to the many courts at which it was performed.

Keyboard works were sometimes written largely for the pleasure and instruction of the performer. These included a series of works by the mature Bach that are widely considered to be the intellectual culmination of the Baroque era: the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Goldberg Variations, and The Art of Fugue.

Other important features of Baroque music

  • basso continuo - a kind of continuous accompaniment notated with a new music notation system, figured bass
  • Monody - music for one melodic voice with accompaniment
  • Homophony - music with one melodic voice and rhythmically similar accompaniment (this and monody are contrasted with the typical Renaissance texture, polyphony)
  • text over music - intelligible text with humble (not overpowering) instrumental accompaniment
  • vocal soloists ('bel canto')
  • dramatic musical expression
  • new instrumental techniques, like tremolo and pizzicato
  • new musical forms like opera, drama per musica
  • clear and linear melody
  • the aria
  • the ritornello aria (repeted short instrumental interruptions of vocal passages)
  • virtuosity
  • the 'stile concertato' (contrast in sound between orchestra and solo-instruments or small groups of instruments
  • better use of properties of each type of musical instrument
  • ornamentation
  • development to modern Western tonality (major and minor scales)

Forms of Baroque music

Baroque composers

(chronological order)

External links