Music: Baroque Period Essay

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Music History of Early and Late Baroque

Reginald Lewis
Music History
Mr. Harlan Zachary
April 10, 2013

The Baroque period began in 1600 and ended in the year 1750 historically. The term Baroque was originated from a Portuguese word meaning "a pearl of irregular shape." The word Baroque was initially used to show or express strangeness, abnormality and extravagance, applying more to art than music. It was not until the 20th century that the term Baroque has been employed to refer to a period in music history. Two geographical regions played a major part in developing the Baroque music style. The music in North Germany and Holland mainly concentrated on the rich counterpoint and ornamental melodies which is the essence of the fugue. These emphasized mainly on the organ and the vocals. While in Rome, which constituted the other end of Europe, instrumental music was more prevalent.
It was here that the sonata and concerto were officially played. The Italian music travelled northward from Rome while the more austere form of music from north Germany moved southwards thus merging the two forms of music to create the baroque music and its expressions. The music of the baroque era contrasted with the harsh music of the Medieval and Renaissance period thus bringing in variations in dimensions, quality and tempo of music.
When compared with other musical periods that have came before the Baroque period, Baroque music can be seen as being highly ornate, textured, and intense. The music of this time period was characterized by rich counterpoint and a highly decorated melodic line. The music of this period has a number of defining characteristics including the use of the basso continuo and the belief in the doctrine of the affections. The doctrine of affections allowed composers to express emotions and feelings in their compositions.
“Another distinguishing characteristic of the Baroque era was the emphasis on contrast of volume, texture, and pace in the music, as compared to music of the late Renaissance which did not concentrate on these elements. In addition, Baroque music broke away from the harshness of the Medieval and early Renaissance style with new emphasis on the use of vocal and instrumental color. Secular types of music were now used as widely as those of the liturgical musical styles such as in the Catholic Church.”
Imitative polyphony, which is more than one line of music, still was an extremely important factor in writing and playing music, while the homophonic method, which is a musical technique that displays a vast separation amongst the melody line and the accompaniment, was gaining acceptance and use quite rapidly in this period. This homophonic style eventually became dominant in instrumental forms of music as well. Musical works containing a continuo part in which a keyboard, usually an organ or harpsichord and a bass instrument, usually a bassoon or a cello helped to convey the harmonic support of chords under the melodic lines in the other voices. Although homophonic music was becoming increasingly popular during this time in music history, new forms of polyphonic music were also developing simultaneously. Similar to composers during the Renaissance, composers during this period felt that the art of counterpoint was essential to their art form. Two extremely strict forms of imitative polyphony, cannons and fugues , were very popular at the time of the Baroque era. To prove their very expertise, composers were sometimes expected to improvise complex fugues. It is also important to note that opera and the orchestra were both created during the Baroque era as well. Around 1600, opera came about because Italian intellectuals wanted to recapture the spirit of ancient Greek drama in which music played a key role. Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607), was the first great opera. The homophonic musical style played a significant role in opera and solo vocal music because it focused the