Intro to Baroque Music

Barbara StrozziCover of Barbara Strozzi
(Text in Large print for classroom projection)

Intro to Baroque Music

Composers: Handel, Purcell, Corelli, Vivaldi, Monteverdi

Three periods of Baroque

Early period

Italian composers created the form of opera. Essentially opera involves a dramatic play entirely sung. It can be sung in a variety of languages. Often operas had lavish sets and costumes.

Review this version of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas:

And review this version of Monteverdi's Orfeo:

Early Baroque Composers wrote more in homophonic style than polyphonic style of the Renaissance. However, the later Baroque found a return to strong polyphony. Early Baroque composers used homophony to help the audience better understand the text spoken.

Early Baroque Characteristics
  • Homophonic
  • More dissonance
  • Contrast
  • Importance of text
Monteverdi enjoyed financial support for his grandiose operatic endeavors like the work Orfeo. Monteverdi's post with the Mantuan court was a time of great music production. Monteverdi worked relentlessly, composing madrigals (vocal works) and two operas and a ballet. However, Monteverdi grew overworked and sought a new post in Venice at St. Mark's after the passing of his wife. Depression had nearly paralyzed the musical genius, and a change in scenery and work was what he needed.

Monteverdi did take a post at St. Mark's and continued to pursue his love of opera and ballet with works likeLa vittoria d'Amore. Monteverdi continued his work with madrigals and many of his sacred and secular works were published. Although in a church setting, Monteverdi did have the freedom to pursue operas and ballets in the secular realm (and later, once his fame had been established) he rejected a request from the Mantua Court to return. Although his earlier time at the court was a time of great creativity, he remained at his new post at St. Mark's until he died (and rejected an offer to return to the Mantuan court).

Clip from Orfeo

Getting a church Gig
The churches in the Baroque Era used grandiose music that suited the styles of composers like Bach very well. You can read more in the Kamien text on page 133 about the use of Baroque music in church. Churches needed music not only for worship services, but also for ceremonies (ex. ordination, weddings, funerals). Because of the great need for large amounts of music (and remember, they couldn't just pop in a CD for worship), the role of the music director was extremely important.

A music director like Bach or Monteverdi not only wrote music for each service, but also trained musicians, directed musical ensembles, did their own copy work (copying of scores for the musicians), and kept visiting dignitaries happy with exciting new works through commissions. Some Baroque church music directors were fortunate enough to have assistants help with the copy work. Sometimes a score was not completed entirely. For example, Bach often created shorthand versions of his scores and improvised off of them on the organ. As a composer, I know from experience, that often what is improvised is much better than what is written down. For this reason, many musicians who perform Baroque music today embellish on the score and do not play what is strictly written on the page.

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme from Bach:

Baroque Women
Composition the Baroque Era was quite difficult if the composer was a woman. Unlike in other parts of the world where women actively participate in the creation of music, Western classical music has traditionally disregarded the music of women (who were essentially raised to breed heirs and not much else). There are notable exceptions throughout classical music. In the Baroque Era, for example, composers Barbara Strozzi and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre succeeded in writing exceptional compositions with notable performances. The nun Hildegard von Bingen in the Middle Ages succeeded as probably the most prolific known composer of her time, largely because nuns were "allowed" to compose music and she had a choir readily available.

One barrier in particular involved the requirement that choir ministers be male (which still exists to this day in many churches). In other words, composers could not apply or work as prominent choral ministers in positions like Bach or Monteverdi during the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras. Women's education also was not important, and women who showed exceptional talent and were considered child prodigies (Maria Mozart and Fanny Mendelssohn, for example) were discouraged from pursuing music once they reached marriageable age.

Jacquet de la Guerra:
Vocal work

Cantata Prelude


Vocal Work written by Strozzi:

Barbara Strozzi experienced scandal after scandal during her lifetime. Unfortunately her occupation and need of patrons left many people whispering about how she acquired performances.

Middle Period

  • Development of the Major and Minor Scales (piano example)
  • Music Instrumental

History of Baroque Orchestra (animation)

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