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4.2: Music in the Baroque Period

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    4.4.1 Music Comparison Overview

    Renaissance Music Baroque Music Baroque Music
    • Much music with rhythms indicated by musical notation
    • Mostly polyphony (much is imitative polyphony)
    • Growing use of thirds and triads
    • Music – text relationships increasingly important with word painting
    • Invention of music publishing
    • Growing merchant class increasingly acquires musical skills
    • Meter more important than before
    • Use of polyphony continues
    • Rise of homophony. Rise of instrumental music, including the violin family
    • New genres such as opera, oratorio, concerto, cantata, and fugue
    • Emergence of program music
    • First notation of dynamics and use of terraced dynamics
    • Continued present of music at church and court
    • Continued increase of music among merchant classes

    4.4.2 General Trends of baroque music

    The characteristics highlighted in the chart above give Baroque music its unique sound and appear in the music of Monteverdi, Pachelbel, Bach, and others. To elaborate:

    1. Definite and regular rhythms in the form of meter and “motor rhythm” (the constant subdivision of the beat) appear in most music. Bar lines become more prominent.
    2. The use of polyphony continues with more elaborate techniques of imitative polyphony used in the music of Handel and Bach.
    3. Homophonic (melody plus accompaniment) textures emerge including the use of basso continuo (a continuous bass line over which chords were built used to accompany a melodic line)
    4. Homophonic textures lead to increased use of major and minor keys and chord progressions (see chapter one)
    5. The accompaniment of melodic lines in homophonic textures are provided by the continuo section: a sort of improvised “rhythm section” that features lutes, viola da gambas, cellos, and harpsichords. Continuo sections provide the basso continuo (continuous bass line) and are used in Baroque opera, concerti, and chamber music
    6. Instrumental music featuring the violin family—such as suites, sonatas, and concertos emerge and grow prominent.
    7. These compositions are longer, often with multiple movements that use defined forms having multiple sections, such as ritornello form and binary form.
    8. Composers start to notate dynamics and often write abrupt changes between loud and softs, what are called terraced dynamics.

    4.4.3 Genres of the baroque Period

    Much great music was composed during the Baroque period, and many of the most famous composers of the day were extremely prolific. To approach this mu- sic, we’ll break the historical era into the early period (the first seventy-five years or so) and the late period (from roughly 1675 to 1750). Both periods contain vocal music and instrumental music.

    The main genres of the early Baroque vocal music are: madrigal, motet, and opera. The main genres of early Baroque instrumental music include the canzona (also known as the sonata) and suite. The main genres of the late Baroque instru- mental music are the concerto, fugue, and suite. The main genres of late Baroque vocal music are: Italian opera seria, oratorio, and the church cantata (which was rooted in the Lutheran chorale, already discussed in chapter three). Many of these genres will be discussed later in the chapter.

    Solo music of the Baroque era was composed for all the different types of in- struments but with a major emphasis on violin and keyboard. The common term for a solo instrumental work is sonata. Please note that the non-keyboard solo instrument is usually accompanied by a keyboard, such as the organ, harpsichord or clavichord.

    Small ensembles are basically named in regard to the number of performers in each (trio = three performers, etc.). The most common and popular small ensemble during the Baroque period was the trio sonata. These trios feature two melody instruments (usually violins) accompanied by basso continuo (considered the third single member of the trio).

    The large ensembles genre can be divided into two subcategories, orchestral and vocal. The concerto was the leading form of large ensemble orchestral mu- sic. Concerto featured two voices, that of the orchestra and that of either a solo instrument or small ensemble. Throughout the piece, the two voices would play together and independently, through conversation, imitation, and in contrast with one another. A concerto that pairs the orchestra with a small ensemble is called a concerto grosso and a concert that pairs the orchestra with a solo instrument is called a solo concerto.

    The two large vocal/choral genres for the Baroque period were sacred works and opera. Two forms of the sacred choral works include the oratorio and the mass. The oratorio is an opera without all the acting. Oratorios tell a story using a cast of characters who speak parts and may include recitative (speak singing) and arias (sung solos). The production is performed to the audience without the per- formers interacting. The Mass served as the core of the Catholic religious service and commemorates the Last Supper. Opera synthesizes theatrical performance and music. Opera cast members act and interact with each other. Types of vocal se- lections utilized in an opera include recitative and aria. Smaller ensembles (duets, trios etc.) and choruses are used in opera productions.

    Oratorio Opera Seria Cantata
    • Similar to opera except: No costumes or staging
    • A lot of choral numbers
    • Typically on biblical topics
    • Some examples of Handels biblical oratorios: Saul, Solomon, and Judas Maccabeus
    • Some examples of Handel’s non-biblical oratorios: Hercules, Acis and Galatea, and The Triumph of Time and Truth
    • Vocal soloist perform in front instruments utilized for accompaniment
    • Serious opera
    • Historical or Mythological plots
    • Lavish costumes
    • Spectacular sets
    • Showcased famous solo singers
    • All sung; no narration
    • Acted and performed on stage
    • Examples of Baroque opera: L’Orfeo, L’Arianna, The Fairy Queen (based on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream), and Ottone in Villa
    • A work for voices and instruments
    • Either sacred and resembling a short oratorio or secular as a lyrical drama set to music.
    • Sacred cantata often involves church choirs and are not acted out
    • Can utilize narration
    • Example is Bach’s famous Reformation Cantata BWV 80: Ein feste Burg ist unser Got (A Mighty Fortress is Our God)

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