Right at the edge of the Renaissance, music was changing in long lean strides, evolving, adapting, improving. Artists and performers all over the world were unfurling their talents into a wide conflagration of creative impression which fuelled the eras predominantly from the 1500s to the 1800s. With the birth of chamber music, sounds were given a new direction, musicians a new outlet. One such era spanned the whole of Europe, called the Baroque period.
While you might think that Baroque music is a collection of loud, deep, resonating – and boring – sounds only suited to evening operas, it has a very rich and different style. In fact, although baroque stands for ‘oddly shaped pearl’, owing to the nature of the music, many composers like Bach and Vivaldi were able to capture the sublime beauty underneath. Baroque music consisted of five major sources – the wood instruments, percussion, brasses, strings and keyboards. Many more composers then added lesser known instruments like the Oboe, the harpischord and so on, in order to create variety. It has manifested into several styles such as Concerto Grosso, Fugue, Sonata, Partita, Suites and so on spanning the type of music and dance that would frequently accompany it. A few of them include Overture, Courante, Gavotte, Minuet, and Rigaudon.
It all began when Claudio Monteverdi, an Italian composer, infused in the Renaissance a touch of Baroque in his compositions, and wrote operas, grabbing the attention of the people in this new, unexplored style of music. Soon, chamber music evolved, and so did the beautiful harmonies spun together with dance into a melodious rhythm enjoyed by everyone alike. Arcangello Corelli was one such violinist who sought such a harmony in strings and created memorable symphonies, and he was perhaps the best remembered.
The start of the Baroque period was instrumental in creating a general musical passion for the audiences. It introduced the trend of ‘vocal music’ where the harmonies would be accompanied by a singer or an orator like a drama on the stage. Some of the musical forms of the Baroque style are elaborated below:
Opera: Opera is a dramatic act performed on stage usually in tow with instruments including elaborate dances and chorus forms. The topics of an opera vary widely from mythology, legends and important historical events. The earliest opera conducted would be Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo, which is still being enacted to this day.
Cantata: Originated in the 17th century, the cantata consisted of repetitive pieces of arias, choruses and recitation. Most favourable for small and private gatherings, it involved a variety of works.
Concerto: The Concerto consisted of a large ensemble of instruments incorporating diverse styles of music. A good example of Concertos would be the works of G.F.Handel, which shows the accompaniment of orchestra and several different instruments in contrast with each other.
Oratorio: The Oratorio comprised of musicals with primary influence given on political and religious matters, some soon to be published, and often included an orchestra. They would be performed in a manner similar to the operas, such as in courts, public theaters, and gatherings. One defining feature that set them apart was the absence of any play on the stage.
Sonata: The Sonata included alternating music of several movements, and typically included violins and treble instruments. In chamber sonatas, dances would also follow the music.
With the advent of public theatres and rising community integration, attending operas and such was an exciting affair. While baroque music would be first played in courts and churches, it gained recognition through various composers and musicians who created exquisite, timeless tunes and marked their footprints in the sands of time. Even to this day, the beauty of baroque stands. Operas, partitas and sonatas are still performed and applauded by people, and this only proves what a potent power music carries through the ages.
So if you’re looking to expand your horizons and venture into the world of baroque music, be sure to listen to the works of notable composers like Bach, Vivaldi, Corelli, Handel and so on. A few of those works are listed below:
1) Bach – Air on a G String
2) Arcangello Corelli – Concerto Grosso in G Minor
3) Antonio Vivaldi – The Four Seasons – Winter II Largo
4) Albinio – Adagio
5) Handel – Concerto Grosso N12 B Minor Opus 6 – Llarghetto E Piano
6) Henry Purcell – Rondeau, Abeldazer
7) Daquin – Le Coucou
8) Marcello – Oboe Concerto in D Minor, Adagio
9) Pergolesi – Stabat Mater
10) Telemann – Violin Concerto No. 4
Go forth and explore!