Social and Cultural Background
Baroque is a term borrowed from the visual arts and one that is used in many different senses. The Baroque Era applies to the years between 1600 and 1750. The most famous composers of this time were Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Teleman.
Politically it was an age of magnificent absolute Monarch's. The most magnificent of all was Louis XIV of France. Louis ruled from 1634 until 1713. During this time the need to create a national culture or a regional style that would match or surpass the elsewhere created cultural models was pressed for.
When looking at Baroque architecture it is noticeable that the sculptures and paintings are never still: they are twisted, moving, struggling, and dramatically lighted. Paintings of the Baroque Era focused more on dramatic subjects and experimented with dramatic lighting.
The Baroque Era was concerned with feelings, the stronger the better. This could be seen throughout the churches. In church structure the proportions are grandiose, they are designed to impress and awe the observers. Gold and rich textures and surfaces can be seen all through the churches.
All of these themes that I have discussed are also clear in the music of the Baroque period. It paints pictures of vibrant colours and triggers strong emotions. The desire to discover these themes is evident in the invention of the exciting new form music, opera, and in the use of operatic techniques in dramatic music for the church.
Important Musical Developments
Composer-performers would strive at becoming Kapellmeisers in this Era. A Kapellmeister is a music director at one of the great courts. They were responsible for all the music performed in the court. These positions were very unstable though and composer were always on the lookout for new opportunities.
The responsibilities of performers during this era was to write music at a furious pace due to the demand. Bach, for example, was responsible for one cantata a week while he was music director at Leipzig. Due to the pace the music was written, the performers of the pieces had to fill in the details. Baroque music can therefore be classified as a type of jazz because the soloists would play their own versions of a basic melody with rhythm section improvises, based on a chord pattern.
Baroque music sounds different from music of other periods due to its lack of dynamic range. The composers at this time usually did not specify dynamics on their pieces, they simply wrote "loud" or "soft." The most prominent element in Baroque music was rhythm and texture. Baroque's fast movement generally caused the feeling of rhythmic drive. Tempos were always constant. The least prominent element was melody. Gradual rise of tonality on the other hand was a great Baroque innovation. This is the major-minor system that is still used today in the twentieth century.
Opera was one of the most important developments in the Baroque Era. It began in Florence in 1600. French operas featured more emphasis on the orchestra and chorus. During this time Handel invented the oratorio. An oratorio is a large work for soloists, chorus, and orchestra sung in concert format, without costumes or staging, in a concert hall rather than as part of a church service. Some other instrumentals formed during this era were:
Concerto Grosso: in three movements, fast-slow-fast, and pits a large group of soloists against the larger string ensemble.
Suite: a less formal structure consisting of several binary dance movements
Fugue: Latin for "flight" or "chase," denotes a standard Baroque compositional process.
Johann Sebastian Bach,
Cantata No. 140
Bach is the giant of Western Art. Bach was born in Eisenach, North Germany, and was raised by an older brother after he was orphaned. Bach's most important position came in 1723 and...