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2 SHOM – Baroque

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Dates 1600-1750 (early Baroque up to around 1650)

Sample tracks

Monteverdi (1567-1643), Orfeo (Act 2: Ahi, Caso Acerbo – opening)  
Corelli (1653-1713), Sonata da Chiesa Op. 3 no. 9 (Vivace)  
Couperin (1668-1733) L’art de toucher le clavecin, Book IV ‘Reine des cœurs’ (opening)  
Bach (1685-1750), ‘Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan’ BWV 99 (V. Arie, Duett- Wenn des Kreuzes Bitterkeiten)  
Bach (1685-1750) Goldberg Variations (Variation IV)  
Vivaldi (1678-1741), ‘The Four Seasons (Summer)’ Vl. Concerto Op. 8/2 (opening)  

Historical hooks

  • 1605 – Gunpowder plot thwarted
  • 1607 – first English colony established in America
  • 1616 – Death of Shakespeare
  • 1618 – beginning of Thirty-years war ended in 1648 with Peace of Westphalia, which gave each ruler the right to impose their faith
  • 1649 – Charles the I beheaded
  • 1653 – Cromwell becomes Lord Protector of England
  • 1683 – Ottoman Empire defeated in the battle of Vienna ending the Turkish expansion into Europe
  • 1688 – King James II overthrown and constitutional monarchy established limiting the powers of the crown
  • 1701 – Spanish war of succession in which the Austrians, Prussians, Dutch, Portugese and British fought to stop the crowns of France and Spain being united under one ruler. Did not finally end until 1714.
  • 1709 – Peter I wins decisive victory over Sweden changing the balance of power in Northern Europe in favour of Russia
  • 1740 – Frederick the Great comes to power in PrussiaPrussia

Borromini’s Church of Saint Yves at the Sapienza in Rome (1642-1660)

Music in the Baroque

  • As absolute monarchs gained increasing control in Europe they established permanent courts at which large numbers of musicians were employed. The new genre of opera required a level of resources that only seriously wealthy patrons of music were able to provide
  • As with other trades, composing was a skill that was often passed down within a family – the Bachs are the most famous example
  • The term Baroque comes from the Portuguese word ‘barroco’ (an irregularly shaped pearl). An eighteenth century dictionary states that in Baroque music ‘the harmony is confused, charged with modulations and dissonances’


Caravaggio’s Sacrifice of Isaac (1590-1610)

  • From the late seventeenth century, the modern system of tonality with its powerfully propulsive harmony (sequences, cadential progressions and circles of fifths) became increasingly important
  • Like many other artists, composers were interested in Ancient Greek tragedy, in which it was understood that the words were sung and had a strong emotional impact.
  • By filling in the harmony, the continuo accompaniment allowed upper parts much more freedom.
  • There were distinct styles for church, chamber and theatre music (distinctions Bach was accused of transgressing) as well as a definite ancient and modern style. These distinctions dissolved in the eighteenth century
  • Most solo keyboard music was for private study. Musicians often copied such music from teachers and colleagues (sometimes for a fee!) without it ever being published

Stylistic features

Common forms
  • Strophic (e.g. arias)
  • Through composed (e.g. recitative)
  • Binary, ternary and ritornello
Melody and rhythm
  • With the exception of dance movements, phrases tend to be irregular and relatively long
  • Particularly in earlier Baroque music the use of dramatic leaps and other effects are used to express strong emotion
  • Ornaments are increasingly standardised
  • Embellishment of the melody is often written out
  • Regular pulse with clear accents (this is less true of recitative and quasi-improvised keyboard music, particularly in the early Baroque)

And particularly in later Baroque music …

  • Triadic and scalic melodic figures are common
  • Frequent use of syncopation
  • Rhythmically active (busy melodic lines and texture)
  • Frequent use of sequence
  • The melody is ‘spun out’ into a continuous thread from motivic ideas introduced at the opening of a movement (called fortspinnung in German)
Harmony and tonality
  • Gradual shift from modal to tonal harmony, but both still used in early Baroque
  • Freer use of dissonance than in Renaissance (particularly in ‘second practice’ at beginning of C17)
  • Expressive use of chromaticism (particularly common in ‘second practice’ music)
  • Suspensions are very characteristic, particularly in later Baroque music

And in later Baroque music …

  • Clear modulations for large sections of the music, preparing the way for the tonal structures of the Classical era
  • frequent circles of fifths
Texture and resources
  • In early Baroque, emergence of monody (reaction against polyphonic complexity of late Renaissance)
  • Basso continuo (melody instrument plus keyboard instrument or sometimes lute) which supports the melodic writing, allowing it to be more free
  • Music is written for specific forces, with characteristic styles for different instruments
  • Increased use of violin family
  • Dynamic contrast is specified by composers – usually in ‘terraced’ blocks
  • Contrast is also an important feature of texture, as in the concerto grosso in which a small and large group of instruments alternate.
  • Use of ground bass
J. S Bach and the Baroque

Although perhaps the most famous and admired Baroque figure, the late-Baroque J. S. Bach was considered by many to be old-fashioned, due to the complexity of his textures and harmonies in a time when composers were tending to simplify their music (a trend that continued in the later eighteenth century – what we now call the Classical era). Bach’s sons Johann Christian and Carl Philippe Emmanuel  wrote in a newer and more fashionable style and were much more renowned than their father.

Typical pieces (all tracks available on Moodle)

Canzona G.Gabrieli (1553-1612), Canzon III A 6
Suite Couperin (1685-1750) Premiere Suite
Bach (1668-1733) Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor
Sonata Telemann (1681-1767), Sonata in A minor for Oboe
Concerto Grosso (later) Bach (1685-1750) Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 BWV 1050 in D Major
Solo concerto (later) Vivaldi (1678-1741), “The Four Seasons (Summer)” Vl. Concerto Op. 8/2
Trio sonata (later) Corelli (1653-1713), Sonata da Chiesa Op. 3 no. 9
Madrigal (earlier) Monteverdi (1567-1643), Ohime, se tanto amate (NAM)
Caccini (1551-1618), Sfogava con le stele
Motet (earlier) Schutz (1585-1672), Sinfonia Sacra III, Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich?
Opera Monteverdi (1567-1643), Orfeo
Lully (1632-1687) Armide
Cesti (1623-1669) Orontea – Act II scene 16 (Recitative)
– Act II scene 17 (Aria)
Purcell (1659-1695) Dido and Aeneas (NAM)
Scarlatti (1660-1725) La Giuditta – Del’inimco Assiro (Recitative)
– Vincero (Duet)
Handel (1685-1759) Orlando – Fammi Combattere (Aria)
Oratorio Handel (1685-1759) Messiah
Cantata (later) Bach (1685-1750), “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” BWV 99
Toccata Frescobaldi (1583-1643) Tocatta IX from Book I
Suite Froberger (1616-67) Suite No. 20
Couperin (1668-1733) L’art de toucher le clavecin, Book IV ‘Reine des cœurs’
Canzona Buxtehude (1637-1707) Canzona in G
Partitas / Variations Frescobaldi  (1583-1643) Partite 6 sopra l’aria di follia
Bach (1685-1750) Goldberg Variations
Chorale prelude (organ) Buxtehude (1637-1707) Chorale ‘In dulci jubilo’
Prelude and Fugue Bach (1685-1750), Prelude and Fugue in G minor for organ BWV535
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