The Baroque Period The sixteenth century Reformation, which began as a simple theological debate in Germany, had worldwide consequences both socially and politically. Many kings and princes saw it as an opportunity to gain independence from the Holy Roman Empire, and the resulting weakening of the Churchs political influence greatly increased the power of European monarchies and aristocrats. By the seventeenth century, the desire of these elites to outdo one another in pomp and circumstance at their royal courts was reflected in the deeply ornamented architecture of the time, and no less in the musical trends of what is called the Baroque Period. The trends of Baroque music began in Italy with the invention of opera, where a theatrical production is set entirely to music, pioneered by composers like Claudio Monteverdi. To tell the story, operas had three main types of music: recitative, where ordinary dialogue was sung instead of spoken; aria, where a single character would expound upon his or her thoughts in a more elaborate, structured musical form; and chorus, where a large group of actors would all sing together. This same structure was sometimes used with religious texts, in which case it is called an oratorio; probably the most famous of these is The Messiah by the German/English composer George Frederick Handel. Using instruments solely to back up a singer led to harmony being considered in a new way called homophony, where the melody is clearly distinct from the accompaniment (unlike polyphony, where every part is a melody on its own.)
Improvements in the construction of instruments and aristocrats demands for constant music gave rise to the sonata, in which a solo instrument performs with keyboard accompaniment, and the concerto, in which a solo instrument performs with orchestral accompaniment. Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi wrote many of these to highlight the skills of virtuoso soloists. Johann Sebastian Bach is generally considered the greatest composer of the Baroque Period, which ended with his death in 1750. His musical output was massive and included every type of genre. He is particularly well known for his chorales (religious choral works), his concertos, and his organ fugues (complex polyphonic compositions based around a single theme.)
The Baroque Period at a Glance
New Genres New Techniques New Media Composers Opera Oratorio Sonata Concerto Fugue
Homophony, where a melody is played over a clear accompaniment part.
The orchestra begins to take shape in this time. More modern wind instruments (like the horn, oboe, bassoon, and flute) begin to appear. The harpsichord was very popular and the organ became prominent in church music.
Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frederick Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach
Important Terms Opera a theatrical production set to music; consists of recitative (sung dialogue), aria (a more elaborate musical exposition of a single characters thoughts), and chorus (where everyone sings together) Oratorio like an opera, but with a religious text Sonata a piece of music for a solo instrument with keyboard accompaniment Concerto like a sonata, but with an orchestra in accompaniment instead of (or along with) keyboard Chorale a religious choral work (sometimes called a hymn) Fugue a polyphonic work based around alterations of a single theme