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4.4: New Music for Instruments

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    The Baroque period saw an explosion in music written for instruments. Had you lived in the Middle Ages or Renaissance, you would have likely heard instrumental music but much of it would have been either dance music or vocal music played by instruments. Around 1600, composers started writing more music specifically for musical instruments that might be played at a variety of occasions. One of the first composers to write for brass instruments was Giovanni Gabrieli (1554-1612). His compositions were played by ensembles having trumpets and sackbuts (the trombones of their day) as well as violins and an instrument called the cornet (which was something like a recorder with a brass mouth piece). The early brass instruments, such as the trumpet and sackbut, as well as the early French horn, did not have any valves and were extremely difficult to play. Extreme mastery of the air column and embouchure (musculature around the mouth used to buzz the lips) were required to control the pitch of the instruments. Good Baroque trumpeters were highly sought after and in short supply. Often they were considered the aristocrats in the orchestra. Even in the wartime skirmishes of the Baroque era, trumpeters were treated as officers and given officer status when they became prisoners of war. Composers such as Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, and others selectively and carefully chose their desired instrumentation in order to achieve the exact tone colors, blend, and effects for each piece.

    Giovanni Gabrieli was an innovative composer of the late Renaissance Venetian School. His masterful compositional technique carried over and established technique utilized during the Baroque era. Giovanni succeeded Andrea Gabrieli, his uncle, at Venice’s St. Marks Basilica as the organist following his uncle’s death in 1586. Giovanni held the position until his death in 1612. Giovanni’s works rep- resent the peak of musical achievement for Venetian music.

    Gabrieli continued and perfected the masterful traditional compositional technique known as cori spezzati (literally, “split choirs”). This technique was developed in the sixteenth century at St. Mark’s where composers would contrast different instrumentalists and groups of singers utilizing the effects of space in the performance venue, that is, the church. Different sub-ensembles would be placed in different areas of the sanctuary. One sub-ensemble would play the “call” and another would give the “response.” This musical back and forth is called antiphonal performance and creates a stereophonic sound between the two ensembles. In- deed, this placement of performers and the specific writing of the parts created the first type of stereo sound and three-dimensional listening experiences for parishioners in the congregation. Many of Gabrieli’s works were written for double choirs and double brass ensembles to perform

    simultaneously. See the interior image of St. Mark’s Basilica with its chamber on the left and right that are used for op- posing brass ensembles (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)).

    An example of one such piece with an eight-part setting is Gabrieli’s Jubilate. The interior of the Basilica had multiple coves and lofts where musicians could be placed for performing Gabrieli’s stereophonic works. In later years, Giovanni became known as a famous music teacher. His most recognized student was Heinrich Schütz of Germany.

    Screen Shot 2020-05-26 at 9.16.05 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Interior of St. Mark’s Basilica by User "Morn". Source: Wikimedia

    Focus Composition:

    Gabrieli, “sonata pian’e forte” from Sacrae Symphoniae (1597)

    Another famous composition by Gabrieli in eight parts, consisting of two four- part groups, is the Sonata pian’e forte which is included in the Sacrea Symphoniae composed in 1597. This collection includes several instrumental canzoni for six- to eight-part ensembles. These, in addition to several Toccatas and Ricercars, have provided a great deal of interesting repertoire for brass players. Many of the original works by Gabrieli were written for sackbuts (early versions of the modern trombone) and cornetti (cupped shape mouth pieces on a curved wooden instrument) but have since been transcribed for various brass ensembles.

    Let’s listen to and study the Sonata pian’e forte from Gabrieli’s Sacrea Symphoniae. This collection is pioneering in musical scoring in that Gabrieli wrote specific louds and softs (volume) into the individual parts for the performers to ob- serve. Through the use of its two keyboards played simultaneously, the pian’eforte could achieve two relative dynamic (volume) levels, soft and loud. The introduction of writing in dynamics (volume p-soft to f-loud) into music by composers is a major step toward notating expression into the music score. Gabrieli also incorporated imitative polyphony and the use of polychoral techniques.

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to:

    As performed on instruments from the Renaissance/Baroque transition era, directed by Bernard Fabre-Garrus at the Festival des Cathedrales in Picardie (timings below correspond to this version).

    Composer: Giovanni Gabrieli
    Composition: Sonata pian e forte for 8 parts, C. 176 from Sacrea Symphoniae
    Date: 1597
    Genre: Sonata
    Form: through-composed in sections
    Nature of Text: Antiphonal instrumental work in eight parts
    Performing Forces: Two “choirs” (Double instrumental quartet—8 parts) of traditional instruments—sackbuts (early trombones) and wooden cornets

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • Antiphonal call and response;
    • the use of musical dynamics (louds and softs written in the individual parts);
    • and contrapuntal imitation

    Other things to listen for:

    • listen to the noted balance so the melody is heard throughout and how the instruments sound very “vocal” as from earlier time periods (the Renaissance)
    • The piece’s texture is the division of the forces into two alternating groups in polychoral style.
    Timing Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture Text and Form


    Choir 1 introduces the first theme in a piano dynamic in a slow tempo and duple meter. Like many early sonatas and canzonas, the composition starts with a repeated-note motive. The notes and harmonies come from the Dorian mode, a predecessor to the minor scale. The composition starts in the key of G.

    Strophe 1: Ave, generosa, “Hail generous one”


    As the first choir cadences, the second choir begins, playing a new theme still at a piano dynamic and slow tempo. Later in the theme the repeated note motive (first heard in the first theme of the composition) returns.

    Strophe 1 continues: Gloriosa et intacta puella...
    “Noble, glorious, and whole woman...”


    Choirs 1 and 2 play together in a tutti section at a forte dynamic. The new theme features faster notes than the first two themes and the parts are more (The key moves to the Mixolydian mode, a predecessor to the major scale, and the key moves to C.)

    Strophe 2: Nam hec superna infusio in te fuit...
    “The essences of heaven flooded into you...”


    Central antiphonal section. Choir
    1 opens with a short phrase using a piano dynamics and answered by choir 2 with a different short phrase, also with a piano dynamics. This call and response continues. Some times, the phrases last for only two measures; other times they are as long as four measures. After each passage
    of antiphonal exchanges, there is music of three to four measures in length where the whole ensemble joins together, usually with different melodic material (e.g. 40-43). The tonal or key center shifts during this section. There is a new theme that uses dotted rhythms that starts in measure 60 (approximately 2:07 in the recording).

    Strophe 3: O pulsherrima et dulcissima...
    “O lovely and tender one...”


    Repetition of the melody to new words sung by all with monophonic texture (the drone continues)

    Strophe 4: Venter enim tuus gaudium havuit...
    “Your womb held joy...”

    To hear other Giovanni Gabrieli musical compositions, go to: stant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=giovanni+gabrieli+canzon+duodec- imi+toni&stick=H4sIAAAAAAAAAONgFuLQz9U3yC4ySlHiArEMLdPLy7K1B- H1LizOTHYtKMotLQvKD8_PSAbASq34rAAAA

    4.6.1 Rise of the Orchestra and the Concerto

    The Baroque period also saw the birth of the orchestra, which was initially used to accompany court spectacle and opera. In addition to providing accompa- niment to the singers, the orchestra provided instrumental only selections during such events. These selections came to include the overture at the beginning, the interludes between scenes and during scenery changes, and accompaniments for dance sequences. Other predecessors of the orchestra included the string bands employed by absolute monarchs in France and England and the town collegium musicum of some German municipalities. By the end of the Baroque period, com- posers were writing compositions that might be played by orchestras in concerts, such as concertos and orchestral suites.

    The makeup of the Baroque orchestra varied in number and quality much more than the orchestra has varied since the nineteenth century; in general, it was a small- er ensemble than the later orchestra. At its core was the violin family, with woodwind instruments such as the flute, recorder, and oboe, and brass instruments, such as the trumpet or horn, and the timpani for percussion filling out the texture. The Baroque orchestra was almost always accompanied by harpsichord, which together with the one or more of the cellos or a bassonist, provided a basso continuo.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Violin by User “Just Plain Bill.” Source: Wikimedia
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Viola by User “Just Plain Bill.” Source: Wikimedia
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Cello by Georg Feitscher. Source: Wikimedia
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Double Mass by User “AndrewKepert”. Source: Wikimedia

    license | Public Domain

    The new instruments of the violin family provided the backbone for the Baroque orchestra (see Figures 4.4.1, 4.4.2, 4.4.3, and 4.4.4). The violin family—the violin, viola, cello (long form violoncello) and bass violin—were not the first bowed string instruments in Western classical music. The Middle Ages had its fiddle (see Figure 4.10), and the Renaissance had the viola da gamba (see Figure 4.11). Bowed strings attained a new prominence in the seventeenth century with the widespread and increased manufacturing of violins, violas, cellos, and basses. Some of these instruments, such as those made by Antonio Stradavari (1644-1737), are still sought after

    today as some of the finest specimens of instruments ever made. With the popularity of the violin family, instruments of the viola da gamba family fell to the side- lines. Composers started writing compositions specifically for the members of the violin family, often arranged with two groups of violins, one group of violas, and a group of cellos and double basses, who sometimes played the same bass line as played by the harpsichord.

    One of the first important forms of this instrumental music was the concerto. The word concerto comes from the Latin and Italian root concertare, which has connotations of both competition and cooperation. The musical concerto might be thought to reflect both meanings.
    A concerto is a composition for an instrumental soloist or soloists and orchestra; in a sense, it brings together these two forces in concert; in another sense, these two forces compete for the attention of the audience. Concertos are most often in three movements that follow a tempo pattern of fast – slow – fast. Most first movements of concertos are in what has come to be called ritornello form. As its name suggests, a ritornello is a returning or refrain, played by the full orchestral ensemble. In a concerto, the ritornello alternates with the solo sections that are played by the soloist or soloists.

    Screen Shot 2020-05-26 at 9.34.22 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Vielle player by Unknown. Source: Wikimedia

    license | Public Domain

    One of the most important composers of the Baroque concerto was the Italian Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). His father taught him to play at a young age and he probably began lessons in music composition as a young teen.

    Vivaldi began studying for the priesthood at age fifteen and, once ordained at age twenty-five, received the nickname of “The Red Priest” because of his hair color. He worked in a variety of locations around Europe, including at a prominent Venetian orphanage called the Opsedale della Pietà. There he taught music to girls, some of whom were illegitimate daughters of prominent noblemen and church officials from Venice. This orphanage became famous for the quality of music performed by its in- habitants. Northern Europeans, who would travel to Italy during the winter months on what they called “The Italian Tour”—to avoid the cold and rainy weather of cities such as Paris, Berlin, and London—wrote home about the fine performances put on by these orphans in Sunday afternoon concerts.

    Screen Shot 2020-05-26 at 9.34.52 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Regola Rubertina Titelbild by Silvestro Ganassi. Source: Wikimedia Commons

    license | Public Domain

    These girls performed concertos such as Vivaldi’s well known Four Seasons. The Four Seasons refers to a set of four concertos, each of which is named after one of the seasons. As such, it is an example of program music, a type of music that would become more prominent in the Baroque period. Program music is instrumental music that represents something extra musical, such as the words of a poem or narrative or the sense of a painting or idea. A composer might ask orchestral instruments to imitate the sounds of natural phenomenon, such as a babbling brook or the cries of birds. Most program music carries a descriptive title that suggests what an audience member might listen for. In the case of the Four Seasons, Vivaldi connected each concerto to an Italian sonnet, that is, to a poem that was descriptive of the season to which the concerto referred. Thus in the case of Spring, the first concerto of the series, you can listen for the “festive song” of birds, “murmuring streams,” “breezes,” and “lightning and thunder.”

    Each of the concertos in the Four Seasons has three movements, organized in a fast – slow – fast succession. We’ll listen to the first fast movement of Spring. Its “Allegro” subtitle is an Italian tempo marking that indicates music that is fast. As a first movement, it is in ritornello form. The movement opens with the ritornello, in which the orchestra presents the opening theme. This theme consists of motives, small groupings of notes and rhythms that are often repeated in sequence. This ritornello might be thought to reflect the opening line from the son- net. After the ritornello, the soloist plays with the accompaniment of only a few instruments, that is, the basso continuo. The soloist’s music uses some of the same motives found in the ritornello but plays them in a more virtuosic way, showing off one might say.

    Screen Shot 2020-05-26 at 9.35.15 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Portrait of Antonio Vivaldi by Anonimo Bolognese. Source: Wikimedia

    license | Public Domain

    As you listen, try to hear the alternation of the ritornellos and solo sections. Listen also for the motor rhythm, the constant subdivision of the steady beat, and the melodic themes that unfold through melodic sequences. Do you hear birds, a brook, and a thunderstorm? Do you think you would have associated these musical moments with springtime, if, instead of being called the Spring Concerto, the piece was simply called Concerto No. 1?

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to:


    Giuliano Carmignola (solo violin); Giorgio Fava (violin I); Gino Mangiocavallo (violin II); Enrico Parizzi (viola); Walter Vestidello (violoncello); Alberto Rasi (violone); Giancarlo Rado (archlute); Andrea Marcon (harpsichord); I Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca / Giuliano Carmignola (conductor)

    Composer: Antonio Vivaldi

    Composition: The first movement of Spring from The Four Seasons

    Date: 1720s

    Genre: solo concerto and program music

    Form: ritornello form

    Nature of Text: the concerto is accompanied by an Italian sonnet about springtime. The first five line are associated with the first movement:

    Springtime is upon us.
    The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
    and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
    Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven, Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

    Performing Forces: solo violinist and string orchestra

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • It is the first movement of a solo concerto that uses ritornello form
    • This is program music
    • It uses terraced dynamics
    • It uses a fast allegro tempo

    Other things to listen for:

    • The orchestral ritornellos alternate with the sections for solo violin
    • Virtuoso solo violin lines
    • Motor rhythm
    • Melodic themes composed of motives that spin out in sequences
    Timing Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture Text and Form


    Orchestra plays the Ritornello. Repetitive motives played by all the violins; cellos subdivide the beat, provided the motor rhythm; Dy- namics terraced from loud to soft to loud to soft, every three measures; In E major

    “Coming of spring”


    Solo Section featuring the solo violin, joined by two other violins. Solo violin imitates the birds with repeated notes that are ornamented by trills and then repeated in short- er note values

    “Birds celebrate” with “festive song.”


    Ritornello starts with opening phrase. Opening phrase returns and then a softer new phrase with oscillating notes to depict the murmuring brook;
    Forte for the return of the opening phrase; then forte repeated low notes foreshadowing the appearance of lightening.

    “Murmuring streams” “caressed by the breezes”;


    Solo section. Solo violinist playing rapid notes in groups of three to represent lightning; answered by low repeated note in other strings representing thunder


    2:07 Orchestra plays the ritornello. Opening theme (just three measures)


    Solo section: Solo violin + 2 violins; cello sustains a drone pitch. More high-pitched, ornamented and repeated notes to represent

    More chirping birds


    Orchestra. Return of a motivic fragment from the opening phrase now more legato and repeated in a sequence.

    2:45 Solo violin + basso continuo. More fast, repeated and oscillating notes Final reference to birds and streams


    Orchestra: ritornello. Forte for the first melodic phrase of the ritornello; last phrase ends piano


    This page titled 4.4: New Music for Instruments is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Clark, Heflin, Kluball, & Kramer (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.