Baroque – 1600 to 1750

Baroque Era

The Baroque period produced works consisting of drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance, and music. The Baroque started around 1600 in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe.

The lavish gilded interior of Melk’s Abbey Church in Austria

The Baroque style communicates religious themes in direct and emotional involvement. The aristocracy also saw the dramatic style of Baroque architecture, art and music as a means of impressing visitors and expressing triumphant power and control. Baroque palaces are built around an entrance of courts, grand staircases and reception rooms of sequentially increasing opulence.

Early Baroque composers included: – Monteverdi, Lully, Corelli, Purcell, A Scarlett Couperin.

The Baroque Period came to an end when Bach and Handel died.

Important musical features of the Baroque era include:

  • The role of the Harpsichord. This was a very important instrument of the Baroque period. It was a solo instrument but also featured in instrumental music, playing the Continuo part (Basso Continuo = harpsichord and ‘cello).
  • The development of orchestral instruments. The string family as we know it was adopted. That is the use of the violin, viola, cello and double bass replaced the Viol Family as used in the Renaissance. Other instruments used include oboe, bassoon, French Horn, trumpet, Recorder (increasing use of the Flute) and timpani.
  • The age of Counterpoint and Harmony.
  • Concerto Grosso
  • Oratorio
  • The use of the Continuo part
  • Monteverdi wrote the world’s first opera, called “Orfeo”.
  • The first English Opera was written by Henry Purcell: it was called “Dido and Aneas”.
  • The main Baroque composers include J. S. Bach, D. Scarlatti, G. Handel and Vivaldi.

George F. Handel (1685 – 1759) German. Handel wrote several operas which were very well-known; he wrote orchestral works, instrumental pieces for harpsichord and organ also (Operas: – Scipio, Beranice). He wrote opera until Ballad Opera came into being in 1730.

Oratorio – (features recitative, aria, chorus as in opera but with Biblical text and no acting) “Messiah” – life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Orchestral works include:- “The Fireworks Suite”, “The Watermusic Suite”, Concerto Grosso

D Scarlatti (1685 – 1757) Italian. Wrote many sonatas for clavier. (Clavier is the general term for all early stringed keyboard instruments but usually implied the Harpsichord)

J.S. Bach (1685 – 1750) German. Along with Handel, Bach is considered to be the greatest contrapuntalist who ever lived. He wrote all types of music except opera. Bach never travelled more than 300 miles from his birthplace, unlike Handel who settled in England. With the exception of a very short period of his life he was always in the service of the Church.

J.S. Bach (1685 – 1750)

1708 – 1717:- First period at Weimar. During this time he wrote much of his organ music and he became a famous organist.

1717 – 1723:- Second period at Gothen. He wrote much of his orchestral music during this time including:

“Brandenburg Concertos” – six concerto grossos

Concerto Grosso

Orchestral Suites

Solo Concertos

1723 – 1750:- Third period at Leipzig. Cantor and teacher at St. Thomas Church Works include:- Cantatas, B Minor Mass, St Mathew Passion, Christmas Oratorio.

Do some research on the composers mentioned and find out more about the period. Look for the styles and types of music composed as well as the forms and compositional devices the composers used.

Check out this youtube video for a sample of music and composers from the Baroque period.

The music of the Baroque period along with the historical developments of the time are absolutely fascinating. Share your findings with your classmates!

Air, Aria, Baroque, Basso Continuo, Cantata, Chaconne, Chorale, Chorale prelude, Coloratura, Concertino, Concerto grosso, Continuo, Contrapuntal, countermelody, Countersubject, Fugue, Passion, Real answer, Recitative, Ripieno, Ritornello, Stretto, Tonal answer.

Air – English for Aria. Song or simple melody, sometimes the title of a movement of a suite.
Aria – A song in an opera, oratorio or cantata with orchestral accompaniment.
Baroque – Music written between 1600–1750 approximately. Bach and Handel were two of the composers from this period. (For an extended definition, see Basso continuo, Concerto grosso, Ritornello, Polyphony.)
Basso continuo – Sometimes referred to as Continuo. In the Baroque period, the continuo part consisted of a bass line (basso continuo) played by cello, bass, viola da gamba or bassoon. In addition, the harpsichord, organ or lute player was expected to fill in harmonies built on that bass line. Sometimes figures were written under the bass line indicating the chords the composer would like played. This was called figured bass.
Cantata – A small-scale oratorio for soloist, chorus and orchestra.
Chaconne – Variations over a repeated progression of chords. See Passacaglia.
Chorale – A German hymn tune. Written in four parts for soprano, contralto (alto), tenor and bass, some of these chorales were used by Bach in his oratorios and cantatas. Usually homophonic in texture. See Homophony.
Chorale prelude – An extended composition for organ based on a chorale melody. The melody can be treated in a wide variety of ways, e.g. fugal style and variation form. See Chorale, Fugue, and Variation.
Coloratura – Term for high, florid, vocal singing involving scales, runs and ornaments. Sometimes these passages were written down, but often were extemporised by the performer.
Concertino – In a Concerto grosso this is the name given to the small/solo group of instrumentalists as opposed to the main group, which is called Ripieno.
Concerto – Work for solo instrument and orchestra, e.g. a flute concerto is written for solo flute and orchestra. It is normally in three movements.
Concerto grosso – A type of concerto in which a group of soloists (concertino) is combined and contrasted with a larger group (ripieno). See Ripieno and Concertino.
Continuo – See Basso continuo.
Contrapuntal – Texture in which each of two or more parts has independent melodic interest; similar in meaning to Polyphonic.
Countermelody – A melody played against the main melody.
Countersubject – In a Fugue, after the subject or answer is played, the continuation on that same instrument or voice is called the countersubject.
Da capo aria – An aria in Ternary form (A B A), found in opera and oratorio in the 17th and 18th centuries. The third section is not written out but the instruction Da capo (from the beginning) is given instead. The repeat of the A section was performed with the solo ornamented.
Episode – A section of music linking two appearances of the same material. In Fugue, an episode can be used as a modulating link between entries of the subject and is frequently based on fragments from the subject or Countersubject.
Exposition – The first section of a movement in Sonata form (Exposition – Development – Recapitulation) or the first section of a Fugue where each voice has played or sung at least one entry of subject or answer.
Fugue – A contrapuntal piece based on a theme (subject) announced in one voice part alone, then imitated by other voices in close succession. See Episode, Tonal answer, Real answer, Subject, Exposition and Stretto.
Ground bass – A theme in the bass that is repeated many times while the upper parts are varied.
Minuet and trio – The minuet is a graceful dance with three beats in a bar. The trio is a contrasting minuet after which the first minuet is repeated. The first minuet and the trio have repeats whilst the minuet when repeated has no repeats.
Opera – A drama set to music with soloists, chorus, acting and orchestral accompaniment.
Oratorio – Usually a story from the Bible set to music for soloists, chorus and orchestra. It may include recitatives, arias, duets and chorus. It is performed without acting or stage design.
Overture – A piece of orchestral music, which introduces a large-scale work such as an opera, an oratorio, or a musical.
Passacaglia – Variations over a ground bass. See Chaconne, Ground bass.
Passion – A type of oratorio dealing with the story of the Crucifixion as told by the four apostles (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Text is in German and features chorales as well as recitatives, arias and choruses. See Oratorio, Chorale, Recitative, Aria and Chorus.
Real answer – In a Fugue, after the subject is played, the same tune appears in another voice or part in the dominant (a 5th higher or a 4th lower). This is called the answer. If the intervals of the answer are the same as the subject, the answer is said to be real. See Tonal answer and Tonal sequence.
Recitative – A type of vocal writing where the music follows the rhythm of speech. It is used in operas and oratorios to move the story or plot on.
Ripieno – In Baroque music, especially Concerto grosso, the term means the main group of instrumentalists as opposed to the small/solo group that was known as the Concertino.
Ritornello – Little return. A 17th-century term for a brief introduction or interlude in a vocal composition. Alternatively, for a brief instrumental passage between scenes in a 17th-century opera. In a Concerto grosso, the ritornello is the main theme played by the Ripieno group (the orchestra) and sometimes by Concertino (the soloists). The ritornello may return frequently throughout the movement, similar to a Rondo.
Rondo – A B A C A. A form where the first section (A) comes back between contrasting sections.
Stretto – Where voices or instruments enter very quickly one after the other, as in Fugue. Each entry or part enters closely after the previous part, thus adding tension and excitement.
Subject – The main theme in a composition, the main themes in sonata form, or the main theme on which a Fugue is based.
Tonal answer – In a Fugue, after the subject is played, the same tune appears in another voice or part in the dominant (a 5th higher or a 4th lower). This is called the answer. If the intervals of the answer are not exactly the same as the subject, the answer is said to be tonal. See Real answer and Tonal sequence.

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