History of music from 1650 to 1800 can be described by three major periods, the middle Baroque, the late Baroque / early Classical, and Classical eras. The middle Baroque can be described as a time of developing and standardizing musical forms, styles, and conventions, and then obeying those conventions in the creation of new music. The second era found the undoing of these conventions in two important areas, prompting the end of the Baroque and beginning of the Classical era. The final era describes a period of newer conventions, built from the changes presented to Baroque music by its creators. This evolution can best be understood by careful investigation of musical conventions through these three periods. For perspective, we begin before 1650, with Monteverdi. His opera Orfeo of 1607 did not redefine any new style in vocal music, but rather served to collect existing techniques and forms of the time combining such forms as recititative, airs, madrigals, ritornello, and recitativo arioso. It also was significant for its mature use of the orchestra, bringing together instruments from all consorts ñ the violins, the cornets, viols, organ, trombones, and others. Orfeo drew from all styles of secular music at the time, achieving a unity overall through the use of ritornello and the orchestra. The 1620 and 1630 saw the reinforcement of the recititative and aria in secular music with the development of the cantata. Rossi’s early cantata Mentre sorge dal mareserves as an excellent example of this development. The opera, being prohibitively expensive to put on all the time, found its forms set in the cantata, a sort of mini opera, consisting of solo voice and figured basso continuo. The cantata contained the forms of opera ñ the recitative and various kinds (strophic, bipartite, ottonario) of arias, but without the stage production and orchestra. These were written for all sorts of special occasions and became quite popular. In sacred music, a similar development further strengthened the recitative and aria’s popularity, the oratorio. These, like Carissimi’s Jephte of the 1640’s, similarly used devotional texts not, however, taken straight from the Bible for special services held in oratories outside of regular church services. These too functioned as a sort of substitute for opera, being put especially during the time of Lent, after end of the opera season, and also used the recitative and aria with basso. Meanwhile, these mostly Italian developments in music found their way to France, where Lully busily set upon adapting them to French tastes. Drawing from Italian opera, Lully’s tragedie en musique Armide, in 1686, displays many changes from the Italian form. First, the popularity of ballet and dance music in France had the effect of adding a divertissement to each act of the opera, a throwback to the court ballet of Louis XIV. Similarly, many new, lighter dance forms, for example, that of the minuet and gavotte, were added to accommodate the dancers. And though Lully takes the recitative and its basso continuo from the Italian style, he puts a uniquely French twist on recitative by changing the meter on a per-measure basis to accommodate the text, ensuring that a downbeat occurs on the strong stresses of the French language. Lully also used for his orchestration more woodwind instruments, also showing French tastes in contrast to Italy’s preference for brasses. These developments in vocal music in the Baroque era had their parallels in the world of instrumental music as well. In Bologna, Corelli took the sonata form, with its roots in the church (notably from Monteverdi’s Sonata sopra Sancta Maria of 1610), and created his first trio sonatas of 1681. The structure of these sonatas apparently drew from the vocal cantatas, the separate movements (new for instrumental music then) resembled the division between recititative and aria in vocal music of the time. Corelli’s sonatas were both sacred and secular,...
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