Baroque period

Baroque Period, a time during the 17th century that portrayed exemplified drama and grandeur. During this era architectural structures consisted of irregular shapes and elaborate design. The musical genre of this time falls between the Renaissance and the Classical era. The music forms a major portion of the classical music canon. Baroque period is recognized as the time when more ornamental and elaborate music appeared and was associated with composers such as J.S. Bach, Antonio Vilvaldi and Claudio Monteverdi.


When we speak of music associated to the Baroque era we are generally speaking of music from a wide range of styles and geographical region. This music was composed during a period of 150 years. The term Baroque as applied to music is a more recent development, only acquiring currency in English in the 1940's. In the 1960's it was commonly disputed as to the result of lumping together such diverse music.

Baroque vs. Renaissance

To distinguish between these two eras we begin by taking a close look at what stylistic differences the music had. While both shared a heavy use of polyphony and counterpoint they differed in the use of these techniques. Renaissance achieved harmony through the consonances incidental to the smooth flow of polyphony where the Baroque used these consonances as chords in a hierarchical, functional tonal scheme. The chord root motion is also distinctly different in terms of how these two eras achieved harmony. Baroque music uses longer lines and stronger rhythms than does Renaissance. These differences show a definite transition from the fantasias of the Renaissance to the more defining Baroque form.

Baroque vs. Classical

The classical era followed Baroque diminishing the role of counterpoint all together. It was replaced with a homophonic texture. Classical works begin to reduce the need for ornamentation and became more articulated. Classical era used the use of modulation to portray a dramatic journey through a sequence of musical keys. In comparison the Baroque modulation has less structural importance than that of the classical era. Baroque is known to portray a single emotion where classical gave birth to the widely varying emotions in music ending in a more dramatic climax.

Brief history

Baroque music began to surface in Italy between 1567-1643. The first composer to begin this new era was Claudio Monteverdi. He created a recitative style and the rise of musical drama called opera. The adoption of this change demonstrated a change in musical thinking all together placing a higher emphasis on harmony rather than polyphony. While harmonic thinking occurred among particular composers it was not until after the Renaissance that it became part of the common vocabulary.

In Italy, the Roman Catholic Church sought a method to increase faith in their religion. They decided that the arts should communicate religious themes in direct and emotional involvement. The demands of religion were also to make the test of sacred works clearer. This increased the pressure to move away from the Renaissance era which offered more densely layered polyphony. It demanded lines that put the words front and center or had a more limited range of imitation.

Middle Baroque music

The middle Baroque is separated by the coming of systematic thinking to a new style. This time brought a gradual institutionalization of the forms and norms particularly in opera. The printing press and trade created an expanded international audience of works for music much in the same fashion they had done for literature.

This time period is often identified by increasingly harmonic focus and the creation of formal systems of teaching. The teaching of music demanded to be taught in an orderly fashion to uphold the demands of this art.

There are many influential composers that stand out from the middle Baroque period including Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) who explored contrast between stately and fully orchestrated sections and simple recitatives and airs, Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) who is remembered for his achievements on the other side of musical technique as a violinist who organized violin technique and pedagouy, Henry Purcell (1659-1695) who is referred to as a commentary genius because he produced a profusion of music widely recognized in his lifetime, and Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) who, in contrast to the previous composers, was an organist and entrepreneurial presenter of music.

Late Baroque music

Between 1680 and 1720 the dividing between middle and late Baroque occurred. The exact date is widely debated due a lack in synchronized transition. The important dividing line seems to lay in the full absorption of tonality as a structuring principle of music. The theoretical work of Rameau made this particularly evident. The sense of two styles of composition was created from the combination of modal counterpoint with tonal logic of cadences. These two styles were referred to as the homophonic dominated by vertical considerations and the polyphonic dominated by imitation and contrapuntal considerations.

Some of the famous composers closely associated with this time period include Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) and probably the most famous composer George Frederic Handel (1685-1759). Other leading figures include J.S. Bach (1685-1750), George Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) and Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764).

The Baroque influence on later music

Baroque music was the basis for pedagogy and as a result retained a stylistic influence. It became an influence in the 19th century as a paragon of academic and formal purity. Many composers set a standard to aspire to from Bach's fugue style in music. In contemporary music there are many pieces being published as “rediscovered” Baroque such as a viola concerto written by Henri Casadesus but attributed to Handel. In addition many pieces have been termed as neo-Baroque for a focus on imitative polyphony.

There are many similarities between the Baroque style and that of jazz as well. Baroque is similar to a jazz quartet in that pieces used a variety of improvisation on the performers part with the most similar aspect being improvisation of the lead instrument.

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