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Baroque music is Western classical music from the Baroque era, after the Renaissance music era and before the Classical music era proper. This roughly covers the time period from Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) through Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Baroque music forms a major portion of the classical music canon and is widely performed and enjoyed.
Among the great composers of the early Baroque were Monteverdi, Heinrich Schütz (1585 - 1672) and Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643). In the middle Baroque the most influential composers include Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) and Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695). In the late Baroque, the leading figures include Bach (1685-1750), George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) and Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764).
Music conventionally described as Baroque encompasses a wide range of styles from a wide geographic region, mostly in Europe, composed during a period of approximately 150 years. The term "Baroque" as applied to music is a relatively recent development, first being used by Curt Sachs in 1919, and only acquiring currency in English in the 1940s. Indeed, as late as 1960 there was still considerable dispute in academic circles as to whether it was meaningful to lump together music as diverse as that of Peri, Domenico Scarlatti and J.S. Bach with a single term; yet the term has become widely used and accepted for this broad range of music. 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, harmony is more the result of consonances incidental to the smooth flow of polyphony, while in the early Baroque era the order of these consonances becomes important, for they begin to be felt as chords in a hierarchical, functional tonal scheme. Around 1600 there is considerable blurring of this definition: for example one can see essentially tonal progressions around cadential points in madrigals, while in early monody the feeling of tonality is still rather tenuous. Another distinction between Renaissance and Baroque practice in harmony is the frequency of chord root motion by third in the earlier period, while motion of fourths or fifths predominates later (which partially defines functional tonality). In addition, 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 later 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 seconda 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, although idiomatic instrumental writing was one of the most important innovations of the period. Baroque music employs a great deal of ornamentation, which was often improvised by the performer. Expressive performance methods such as Notes inégales were common, and were expected to be applied by performers, often with considerable latitude. Instruments came to play a greater part in Baroque music, and a cappella 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. Many forms of the Baroque would serve as the point of departure for the creation of the sonata form, by creating a "floor plan" for the placement of important cadences.
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 oratorio 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, usually for a sustaining bass instrument and a keyboard instrument
- Monody - music for one melodic voice with accompaniment, characteristic of the early 17th century, especially in Italy
- 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 instrumental accompaniment not overpowering the voice
- vocal soloists ('bel canto')
- dramatic musical expression
- dramatic musical forms like opera, drama per musica
- combined instrumental-vocal forms, such as the oratorio and cantata
- new instrumental techniques, like tremolo and pizzicato
- clear and linear melody
- Notes inégales, a technique of applying dotted rhythms to evenly written notes
- the aria
- the ritornello aria (repeated short instrumental interruptions of vocal passages)
- the concertato style (contrast in sound between orchestra and solo-instruments or small groups of instruments)
- precise instrumental scoring (in the Renaissance, exact instrumentation for ensemble playing was rarely indicated)
- idiomatic instrumental writing: better use of the unique properties of each type of musical instrument
- virtuosic instrumental and vocal writing, with appreciation for virtuosity as such
- development to modern Western tonality (major and minor scales)
Forms of Baroque music
- Mass (music)
- Concerto grosso
- Chorale prelude
Contemporary composers in the Baroque style
- Hendrik Bouman (1951 -)
- Renaissance & Baroque Chronology
- Library and Recordings of Baroque Composers
- Guide to Baroque period musical instruments
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