Defining “Baroque”


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  • Paul
  • Larocque
  • (Joseph)

Defining “Baroque”

  • Derived from the Italian “barocco,” meaning “bizarre.”
  • The term was coined in the 1860s to describe the architecture of 17th and 18th century Italy, Germany, and Austria.
  • It began to hold its modern meaning sometime in the mid-1900s.

Background & Historical Context

  • Outside of the musical world…
    • Art – Rembrandt
    • Literature – Shakespeare (died early in the period)
    • Science – Galileo (early in the period); also, the Catholic church was attempting to ban the ideas of Copernicus…heliocentric universe.
    • Philosophy – Descartes, Wolff

Background & Historical Context

  • The Protestant Reformation (1517), spearheaded by Martin Luther, greatly influenced the religious “tide.” The Lutheran church made high use of the chorale as a form of worship music.
    • In Germany, the church was one of the driving forces behind the creation of music.
  • The other major force behind new music was patrons – wealthy members of society (typically dukes or other high ranking officials), who kept court musicians/composers, and commissioned musical pieces in exchange for room, funding/pay, etc.

Background & Historical Context

  • In England, the 1600s brought about a great deal of political turmoil.
    • 1649 Kings Charles I is put on trial and executed by Parliament.
    • The Commonwealth is established, and in 1653, Oliver Cromwell becomes Lord Protector…his short reign ended with the restoration of the monarchy; however….
    • The restored monarchs, Charles II, and later James II, were not that popular either, so…

Background & Historical Context

    • Parliament ousted James II and called upon his daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange to reign.
    • They reigned jointly beginning in 1689.
    • Queen Mary’s death in the 1690s left a hole in the heart of the country.
    • The composer, Henry Purcell was called upon to write the Queen’s funeral ode.
    • NOTE: Queen Mary II (referenced above) is not the queen known as “Bloody Mary.” Queen Mary I reigned over a century previous.

Background & Historical Context

  • Composers travelled all over Europe; this was known as the Grand Tour. It was customary to visit, stay with, and study under other composers. As a result, many stylistic differences were passed between people, and thus integrated into different musical traditions from country to country. Also, this helped create a universal baroque vocabulary.

Europe in the Baroque

Characteristics of the Period

  • Contrast used as a dramatic element…
    • Differences between loud/soft, soloists/ensembles, various instruments, etc.
  • Composers become more precise about instrumentation than in previous periods, that is, they often dictated what instrument was to be used for a piece, rather than allowing the musician(s) to decide.

Characteristics of the Period

  • Basso continuo or continuo – a bass part underlying a piece of concerted music, which is to be played on a keyboard instrument, as well as a sustaining string or wind instrument.
  • Favoring of the harpsichord; the strings are plucked and the musician cannot alter the volume through touch.
  • High popularity and use of the violin.

Characteristics of the Period

  • In Germany, counterpoint and fugue are the focus, therefore, the organ and voice are of high importance.
  • In Italy, the sonata and concerto are being formalized and popularized.
  • The organ of the Thomaskirche, Leipzig.

Technical Terms

  • Aria – a solo vocal piece with instrumental accompaniment.
  • Recitative – Vocal style in which a text is declaimed in the rhythm of natural speech, with slight melodic variation and little instrumental accompaniment.
  • Polyphonic - having two or more voices or parts, each with an independent melody, but all harmonizing; contrapuntal (opposed to homophonic).

Technical Terms

  • Fugue - a polyphonic composition based upon one, two, or more themes, which are enunciated by several voices or parts in turn, subjected to contrapuntal treatment, and gradually built up into a complex form having somewhat distinct divisions or stages of development and a marked climax at the end.
      • Counterpoint – melodic material that is added above or below an existing melody to fit together like puzzle pieces.

Vocal Music

  • Opera – “A drama that is primarily sung, accompanied by instruments, and presented on stage. Operas typically alternate between recitative, speech-like song that advances the plot, and arias, songs in which characters express feelings at particular points in the action. Choruses and dances are also frequently included.” (Baroque.org)

Vocal Music

  • Oratorio – “An extended musical drama, with text based on religious subject matter, intended for performance without scenery, costume or action. Oratorio originally meant ‘prayer hall.’ By the mid 17th century, they were performed in palaces and public theaters, and were growing increasingly similar to operas. However, the subject matter, division into two parts (instead of 3 acts), and absence of staged action still set them apart.” (Baroque.org)

Vocal Music

  • Some composers associated with the oratorio are:
    • Italy – Vivaldi
    • Germany – Bach
    • England – Handel
  • “In Germany, music composed for the Lutheran church gradually became fused with elements of the oratorio.” (Baroque.org)

Vocal Music

  • Cantata – “An extended piece consisting of a succession of recitatives and set pieces such as arias, duets, and choruses. Cantatas originated in 17th century Italy, and began as secular works composed for solo voice and basso continuo. They were most likely performed at private social events.” (Baroque.org)
  • J. S. Bach’s 200-plus cantatas were almost all written for weekly church services.

Instrumental Music

  • Sonata – “is used to describe several types of pieces in the baroque era; it most commonly designates a work in several movements, for one or more instruments (most frequently violins), and basso continuo; a sonata for 2 violins, or other treble instruments, and bass was referred to as a trio sonata.” (Baroque.org)

Instrumental Music

  • Concerto – “Derived from the Italian ‘concertare,’ meaning to join to together/unite, the concerto took several forms during the era. Early in the period, a concerto was simply a composition that united a diverse ensemble consisting of voices, instruments, or both. Later, the concerto took on its modern definition, a multi-movement work for an instrumental soloist and orchestra. The concerto grosso alternates a small group of soloists with a larger ensemble. The most dominant type of concerto in the 18th century was the solo concerto, which featured a single instrument in contrast with an ensemble. The most prolific composer of the solo concerto was Vivaldi.” (Baroque.org)

Instrumental Music

          • Suite – “Based on the traditional pairing of dances in the Renaissance, the suite was the first multi-movement work for instruments. It was essentially a series of dances in the same key. Baroque suites were scored for either solo instruments or an orchestra; those written for one/two melody instruments and continuo are sometimes titled sonata de camera.” (Baroque.org)

Some Major Baroque Composers

  • Italy – Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi
  • Germany – Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Germany & England – George Frideric Handel (predominantly England)

Arcangelo Corelli 1653-1713

  • Born in Fusignano, Italy; studied in Bologna, Italy.
  • Established himself in Rome in the 1670s, and worked for some important musical patrons.
    • i.e., Queen Christina of Sweden, 1679

Arcangelo Corelli

  • Formed a very close bond with another patron, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, nephew of Pope Alexander VIII.
    • Note: Such a bond was atypical of the norm.
  • His instrumental music was arguably the most popular in all of Europe.
  • Upon his death, he left his entire estate to Cardinal Ottoboni.
  • History has hailed Corelli as the “Father of Modern Violin Technique,” and “The Father of the Concerto Grosso.”

Antonio Vivaldi 1678-1741

  • Born in Venice, Italy; he was trained in music as a child but…
  • Ordained to the priesthood in 1703.

Antonio Vivaldi

  • After only a year, Vivaldi decided that he no longer wanted to celebrate mass. He cited “tightness of the chest” as his reason. While his complaints may have legitimately indicated a health issue, some have argued that he fabricated his health problems in order to leave the priesthood and pursue a career in music.
  • Began working as a violin teacher for the Ospedale della Pietà in 1703/04.

A Note on Ospedali

  • Ospedali were often called orphanages, but in fact, they were boarding schools for the illegitimate daughters of Venetian noblemen and their mistresses. They were funded by generous donations from their “anonymous” benefactors.
  • Left: The Metropole Hotel, Venice. Right: Ospedale della Pietà Church.

Antonio Vivaldi

  • Worked for the Ospedale until 1709, and then from 1711 on. From 1709-11, Vivaldi was not with the Ospedale. He may have been working for the Teatro Sant’ Angelo at this time. (Where he later staged many of his operas.
  • In 1713 Vivaldi staged his first opera at the Teatro.
  • Vivaldi was commissioned to write works by foreign rulers as well, such as Louis XV of France.

Antonio Vivaldi

  • Cardinal Ottoboni (the same who was a patron of Corelli) also became a patron of Vivaldi.
  • In addition to writing many operas, Vivaldi also wrote a number of concertos…one of the most famous being “The Four Seasons.”
  • Much of Vivaldi’s music, including 73 sonatas and over 100 concertos was written for his students at the Ospedale.

Johann Sebastian Bach 1685-1750

  • Born in Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany.
  • The Bach family was already well established as a musical family; J.S. Bach’s father was the court trumpeter for the Duke of Eisenach.

J.S. Bach

  • At a young age, his father taught him to play both violin and harpsichord.
  • When he was 9 years old, his mother passed away; less than a year later Bach’s father also passed away. Bach and his brother, Johann Jakob, were taken in by their eldest brother, Johann Christoph.
  • In addition to perfecting his skills on harpsichord, J.S. also learned to play organ from his brother, J.C.

J.S. Bach

  • At the age of 18, Bach decided to look for employment as an organist. While waiting for the organ at Arnstadt to be completed, he was offered, and accepted the post of violinist at the court of Duke Johann Ernst, brother of the Duke of Weimar.
  • In July 1703, after testing the new organ, he was offered the post of organist, and accepted.
  • Bach was granted leave in 1705 to see the organist Dietrich Buxtehude…

J.S. Bach

  • Bach extended his leave without permission, and upon returning to his post, instituted new variations to the music, and refused to work with the boys choir, whom he felt were undisciplined. As a result he was reprimanded by the town council.
  • The council later lodged a complaint that Bach had been entertaining a woman to musical performances in the church, after hours. At this point Bach began seeking employment elsewhere.

J.S. Bach

  • Bach held a number of other positions in various towns throughout his life. He remained an organist and was appointed to the post of Kapellmeister. He also served as director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig.
  • During his time in Weimar, Bach had a brand new organ rebuilt, because he felt that it wasn’t large enough.
  • Bach was a master at the organ, and much of his music was written for the church.

George Frideric Handel 1685-1759

  • Born “Georg Friederich Händel” in Halle, Thuringia, Germany.
  • Handel’s father intended for him to study law.
  • At the age of 18, Handel took a job as a violinist in Hamburg. The following year, his first two operas were produced.

Handel

  • Handel studied in Italy, with Arcangelo Corelli.
  • Handel took the Grand Tour, and met many influential people including the brother of the Elector of Hanover (later King George I of England).
  • Handel visited Hanover in 1710 and was appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector. George immediately sent him on a year’s leave to visit England.
  • George Louis was naturalized in 1705 by an Act of Parliament (England), and became King George I in 1714.

Handel

  • In 1717, the king requested a concert on the Thames, and commissioned Handel to write new music for the event. The result was Handel’s “Water Music.”
  • King George died in 1727, and shortly before his death, Handel was naturalized, thus becoming a British subject. It was then that he adopted the Anglicized form of his name.
  • Handel was commissioned to write music for the coronation of George II; “Zadok the Priest,” one of the anthems, has been sung at every coronation since.

Handel

  • In 1737, Handel suffered a stroke; many felt that he would never write or perform again, but after six weeks of therapy, he was seemingly healed, and continued his work.
  • Handel suffered a second stroke in 1743, and again, was only temporarily “out of commission.”
  • Handel lost his sight completely in 1752. He still continued to perform his organ concertos…completely from memory.
  • Handel is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Works Cited

  • “Baroque Composers and Musicians: Antonio Vivaldi.” Sartorius, Michael. Baroque Music.org. Arton Internet Publications, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.
  • “Baroque Composers and Musicians: Arcangelo Corelli.” Sartorius, Michael. Baroque Music.org. Arton Internet Publications, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.
  • bqxcorelli.html>

Works Cited

  • “Baroque Composers and Musicians: George Frideric Handel.” Sartorius, Michael. Baroque Music.org. Arton Internet Publications, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.
  • bqxhandel.html>
  • “Baroque Composers and Musicians: Historical
  • Context, Geography, Biographical Notes.”
  • Sartorius, Michael. Baroque Music.org. Arton
  • Internet Publications, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.

Works Cited

  • “Baroque Composers and Musicians: Johann Sebastian Bach.” Sartorius, Michael. Baroque Music.org. Arton Internet Publications, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.
  • bqxjsbach.html>
  • “Baroque Music.” Music of the Baroque. Music of the Baroque, 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2012.
  • composers.htm>

Works Cited

  • “Baroque Music.” Music of the Baroque. Music of the Baroque, 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. < http://
  • www.baroque.org/baroque/whatis.htm>
  • “Baroque Music Defined.” Sartorius, Michael. Baroque Music.org. Arton Internet Publications, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.
  • www.baroquemusic.org/bardefn.html>



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