Music History - The Baroque Period

The term, "Baroque" was probably derived from the Portuguese meaning "an irregularly shaped pearl". Baroque art is considered excessively decorative, dramatic, flamboyant and emotional. Architecture, painting, sculpture and music all display these traits as well.

The rise of monarchies played an important part in the creation of national styles, since the monarchs and princes were among the most patrons of a lavish musical life.

There was a great deal of scholarly inquiry at this time: physiology, astronomy, mathemantics and physics all influenced musicians to apply methods of science to problems of music, leading to a systematic development of the techniques of musicl art.

Function of Music: An increasing amount of religious music was also used for nor-liturgical purposes; preludes, postludes, etc. Much music written toward the end of the Baroque period was written for amateur performers in the households of the aristocracy and wealthy class. Most of this music was instrumental, but vocal music was often included. In the households of the aristocracy, small bands of musicians provided compositions and performances of dinner music, dances and ensemble concerts. Instruction in performance and composition was restricted to the aspiring musician and to the household of the aristocracy and wealthy householders. There was no institutional organization for teaching musical arts, so students (mostly male) were taught by their own musical fathers or relatives who were attached to the household of a composer/performer.

Historical Events: King James version of the Bible, Pilgrims land in America, Newton writes about physical laws, Encyclopaedia published, Watts invents the steam engine.

Visual Arts: Bernini, Rubens, El Greco, Rembrandt, Velasquez Van Dyck, Poussin, Watteau, Hogarth, Fragonard, Gainsborough, da Vinci, Michaelangelo.

Literature: Cervantes, Pepys, Milton, Pope, Swift, Defoe, Gray, Goldsmith, Fielding.

Philosophy: F. Bacon, Deascartes, Grotius, Hobbs, Spinoza, Locke, Voltaire, Hume.

Prominent Composers: Caccini, Peri, Sweelinck, Monterverdi, Praetorius, Frescobaldi, Schutz, Schein, Scheidt, Cavalli, Chambonnieres, Carissimi, Froberger, Cesti, Angelbert, Lully, Charpentier, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Corelli, Purcell, Kuhnau, A. Scarlatti, Couperin, Vivaldi, Telemann, Rameau, J.S. Bach, D. Scarlatti, Handel, Pergolesi.

Practice and Performance: The Baroque period was one in which the art of improvisation was a necessity of every performer. Both vocal and instrumental composers often only "outlined" the melodic line with the full expectation of having the performer add not only ornamentation, but passing tones, scalar passages, and even melodic fragments to the notated melody. In the later Baroque, brilliant and rapid ornamentation of a virtuoso type was known as "coloratura". In both vocal and instrumental compositions, performers were expected to extend cadences, especially climactic cadences near the end of a movement or work, with elaborate improvisation. Such improvisation came to be known as "cadenzas", where performers would exhibit their skills of improvisation and technique. Tempered systems of tuning were universally used. Meantone temperament was the most consistently used, but by the end of the period the tendency toward a system of equal temperament was favored because of an increasing modulatory practice of composers.

Prominent Musical Characteristics: "Tremolo" and "pizzicato" for string instruments; terraced dynamics although dynamics such as "p", "f", "cresc." and "dim." were introduced and used sparingly; rhythm was generally simple, but metrically strict; tempo markings such as "allegro", "andante" and "grave" were introduced' emphasis on solo singing' homophony introduced and existing along with polyphony; designation of ornamentation by the use of abbreviations and signs was used a great deal -- composers used these signs to indicate their own personal wishes in ornamentation, but performers were at liberty to improvise their own ornamentation as well; virtuoso and "bel canto" (beautiful singing) with florid technique; change to major/minor system of tonality; systemized harmony; chromaticism and dissonances used for exressiveness; improvisational style, with rapid scalar passages, decorations, free fantasy -- like displays of technique; variation principle; clear-cut phrases; consistent mood throughout sections of music.

Instrumentation: Most modern instruments of today were in use in the Baroque period; the violin family was perfected; idiomatic writing for specific instruments; a popular chamber music grouping was the "Trio-Sonata" (four instruments -- two treble, one bass, and a keyboard for harmony); another chamber groups was the "Solo-Sonata" (three instruments -- one melodic, one bass, and a keyboard for harmony); the Baroque orchestra, which consisted mainly of strings with a number of woodwinds; the Baroque organ; the "clavier", which referred to all types of keyboard instruments -- particularly the harpsichord and the clavichord; voices -- soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

Vocal Compositions: Recitative, aria, arioso, chorus, motet, spiritual concerto, anthem, solo song.

Instrumental Compositions: Prelude, fugue, toccata, ricercar, fantasia, overture, suite, keyboard sonata, chamber sonata, passacaglia, theme and variations, chorale variation, chorale prelude, chaconne, church sonata, concerto.

New Large Forms: Opera, oratorio, passion music, cantata, sonata, concerto grosso, mass.