In every way Baroque music is like a teen-ager. Ok, maybe not in the pimply-faced-criticize-everything-even-though-you-don't-pay-for-it kind of way we have come to expect from our modern teen-agers. But what is a teen-ager anyway? Simply put; a teen-ager is no longer a child and not yet an adult. It is that awkward in-between stage when all the rules get broken, nothing ever seems to fit, and emotions fluctuate wildly. This is exactly how it was with the Baroque Era of Music.
To put this into perspective, try and remember that the Renaissance was a "re-birth" of good art and music and the Classical era was that birth coming into its maturity. The Baroque Erawhich happened to come directly after the Renaissance and before the Classical Eracoincided nicely with those awkward and highly emotional teenage years that everyone goes through on the pathway called growing up.
When Was the Baroque Era?
The official company line on when the Baroque Era started, which you will find in every book, encyclopedia, or bubble-gum wrapper on the subject, was the year 1600. The event which earned 1600 this enviable distinction, as far as I can tell, was the simple fact that it has two zeros stuck on the end of it, thus making it fairly easy to remember. In contrast, the end of the Baroque Era was definitively set by Johann Sebastian Bach, the Grand-Poobah of Baroque music, who had the good foresight to die in a year also ending with a zero, thus giving historians another easy to remember date; 1750. For some Baroque zealots Bach's death was truly the day that music died
at least it gave good closure.
The Origins of Baroque Music
In the spirit of rebellious teenagers everywhere, I'm going to throw caution (and facts) to the wind and talk about eunuchs. As you may know, eunuchs are guys who--for lack of a better term--are missing an organ. (Bach was a master organ player, but that has absolutely nothing to do with this) Medieval doctors had learned that if the--men, brace yourself--"family jewels" were cut off of boys at an early age, none of the traditional biological changes of puberty would occur. There would be no facial or body hair, their voices would not change, and all their acne problems would be virtually solved. Now, in my mind, that in NO WAY could compensate for the loss of everything that makes life worth living, but apparently back at the turn of the century (the 15th Century, I mean) being a eunuch was not as uncommon as one might think.
So these incomplete and unfulfilled men were eking out a meager living primarily playing the women's roles in theatre (back then, not only was that funny, it was the law!) when somebody realized that these guys not only acted like women, they could sing like women
in fact, they could sing BETTER than women. It turned out that these castrati (castrated singers) had the high beautiful voices of women, and the strong powerful lungs and chest muscles of men (and the anatomy of a Ken doll). Well, as you might guess, once you build a better mousetrap you'll soon need a better mouse. Composers had to write music that could demonstrate these singer's remarkable abilities. To Baroque composers, better music simply meant more difficult, with very elaborate, ornamental melody lines.
In addition to the Eunuch singers, there are three other factors that also may have contributed to the rise of Baroque music:
The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation: The entire 17th Century was a great big publicity war put on between the Catholic and protestant churches, each side vying to attract more customers--sort of like Coke and Pepsi do today--by spending tons of money on rock stars and pop-concertsI mean on musicians and church-concertseach side was trying to convince the consumers that they were the best and only church to buy salvation from.
The Insanely Wealthy Families of Europe: Due to the bustling trade [read: slaughter] of newly discovered foreign countries, money was...
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