Western Music History: A Study of Baroque and Classical Period Music

Topics: Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven Pages: 6 (2366 words) Published: April 1, 2014

Music, much like most of what human beings have declared to be a form of art, has gone through thousands of years of evolution that it now no longer resembles much of what its pioneers intended to be. Indeed, the definition of music in itself along with its performance and significance may vary according to different cultures and social contexts. It is this ambiguity that has allowed music to traverse not only physical boundaries but also to build bridges between gaps, whether it be culturally or even through a metaphysical period of time and space. It was, however, not always so black-and-white during the days of early musical revolution; it was even less of the case when it came to classical music. For the remainder of this thesis, I would like to bring attention to four composers who I felt not only helped music evolve in terms of style, but also change the way the world will look at them, forever.

First, let us begin by defining what the various styles of classical music is, as well as their evolutions. Early Western classical music is divided into medieval, renaissance and baroque, the last of which is where this thesis will be delving into first before going along the timeline. Mozart and Beethoven biographer Maynard Solomon has said that while the arguably two most famous composers of all time have helped popularise classical music amongst the general masses through various means of media, it is without a doubt that without the likes of Bach and his peers, there would have been no Gustav Mahler or Richard Strauss. That would take place centuries after most of these composers have passed on. Nevertheless, how exactly did the composers of back then affect not only music, but people in general now? Richard Taruskin from the University of California argued that John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer was romanticising terrorists, and Australian-American composer Melissa Dunphy has been frowned upon for using wordings from controversial speeches against neo-Baroque styled music for politically charged pieces. Did classical music really have a hand in the political or socio-economic scene of their time period? Let us take a look.

Going not only in chronological order but also in terms of musical evolution, the first to come up would be a man known the world over by his last name: Johann Sebastian Bach. Such is the legacy of the man that after over 200 years of his death, his middle and surname would be taken as the stage name of rock/metal band Skid Row’s frontman. While most people would assume a composer is merely someone who sits at a piano, Bach was in reality an organist, harpsichordist, violist and violinist. A pioneer of the Baroque period, Bach began musical tutelage under his father, a famous local violinist from his hometown of Eisenach, Germany. Born in 1685, the young Johann Sebastian had to live with his brother Johann Christoph from the tender young age of 9 after his parents had passed away. Through his brother, who has an organ player in church and had himself studied under

Johann Pachelbel, Bach began learning the clavichord before being given a scholarship to study music at the age of 14. This would later prove invaluable as it exposed him to a wider aspect of European culture, whilst rubbing shoulders with the sons of noblemen. Once free from his studies at St. Michael’s School in Lüneburg, Bach came into the employment of several churches and even one Duke Johann Ernst from Weimar. His dissatisfaction with his employers led him to seek a job at St. Blasius’s, where not only did he have better working conditions, but it is also where he met his future wife Maria Barbara Bach. After convincing the church and city government to renovate the organ at the church, he in turn wrote his first “hit” - Gott ist mein König, BWV 71- for the inauguration of the new council. In 1723, Bach began to get seriously busy and began rewriting his and other composer’s composition, this is a common...

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