Baroque Music Described


A Baroque Building (Prague, Czech Republic)


The Italian word  “barocco” means “bizarre”. It is used to describe highly ornate style of public and religious buildings and art of the 17th and 18th century Western Europe. The English word “baroque” is used with this meaning (ornate, highly decorated) in reference to the style of this period. When applied to music, it describes a clearly defined style, genres and forms of music starting from 1600 and reaching its peak in middle of the 18th century. After the death of J.S. Bach in 1750, music took a very different direction.

Music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (before 15th century), although not simple at all, was pretty primitive when it comes to melody and harmony. The use of different forms was strictly regulated by music’s biggest consumer, the Church. Not always was music welcome or even allowed in churches. Folk music was considered sinful and vulgar. Single voice vocal music was most common. Military tunes and simple dance for the solemn court celebrations complete the picture.

By the end of 16th –beginning of 17th century a revolutionary change in arts, architecture, literature took them out of the church buildings to wealthy houses and bustling streets of rich Italian, German, Dutch and English cities. This movement spread all over Europe. Music received new attention and became a desired object of luxury and entertainment. It also continued to serve the Church gloriously.

New musical ideas, techniques and forms developed and crystallized during this time. New melodic lines, new harmonic progressions were explored. Chords no longer just followed the tune, but provided new structure and color to the melody. New chords and musical intervals started sounding more harmoniously with a new concept of tonality. The art of counterpoint made obvious the beauty of contrast in music. True polyphony – multiple voicing of melodies flourished. And most of all, majority of musical forms took shape. Beginning in Italy, the forms of sonata and concerto were formalized. Early dance music developed in formal elements of the baroque suite (all those minuets, sarabands, bagatelles, allemandes, chaconnes). The art of fugue was perfected. Solemn mass, requiem, cantata and many other forms connecting religious music with poetry came into big demand.

The great distinction of this age was belief in reason. It was the age of Galileo and Descartes, age of advances in sciences, mathematics and philosophy.

The music of baroque fully reflects this belief in the reason and fundamental order of the world. Mathematically perfect structures of music, elegance and beauty of its melody and harmony, shaping music in logical and charming forms are the features of the baroque music which still attract us and still and reward us tremendously.

In the next chapter you will read about some of the composers of the Baroque Era.

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