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Baroque Music: Historical and Musical Perspective

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Todd Stalter

on 29 July 2015

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Transcript of Baroque Music: Historical and Musical Perspective

Baroque music, ca. 1600 - 1750
historical and Musical perspective
example: "Bouree" from Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069, J.S. Bach

Music in Baroque Society

Music was written "on demand" for churches and courts: there is no interest in old music in an old style, only the new.
Increased wealth of aristocrats allows them to staff an orchestra, choir, opera singers, dramatists, poets, artists, artisans, etc.
Music directors of the courts were well paid (compared to other servants) and had moderate prestige; all of their music was always performed, but they are still subservient to their patron.
Very few public concerts: bulk of performances take place in courts or in church.
Large towns employed musicians for social and diplomatic functions, leading to the formation of amateur music societies and union-like guilds.
Musical training by apprenticeship, passed down through families, or in "conservatories" (orphanages).
Amazing factoid: This "service" music was so good, much of it is in the standard Concert Repertory for the particular instruments/ensembles for which it was written.
Baroque SHMRG

Sound: wide varieties of instruments and vocal combinations
Continuo Group is always present: a bass line (cello, gamba) and keyboard (harpsichord, organ)
4-part string orchestra is established
Standardized texture of Melody-Accompaniment
Replacement of the old scale modes with modern system of tonality (functional key centers)
Terraced dynamic structures
Great virtuosity and new performance techniques abound
Greatest Achievement: perfect balance between the vertical and horizontal dimensions of music
Example 1: "Allegro Molto" from Sonata in G Major, RV 149, Antonio Vivaldi
Example 2: "Bourree" from French Suite No. 5 in G Major, BWV 816, J.S. Bach

Based on a central tonic or "home" key
Larger harmonic vocabulary than Renaissance music
Fast harmonic rhythm (chords change very quickly, sometimes every 1/2 beat)
Quite tonal, sounds very acceptable to our ears (what one might describe as "classical" music)
Example: Prelude and Fugue No. 12 in F minor, BWV 881, J.S. Bach

Based on short rhythmic "motives" (small segments of notes in a particular rhythm)
Playful approaches such as imitation or "spinning out" a motive, as well as sequencing, give Baroque melodies their characteristic qualities
Based on scalar runs and leaps
Example: "Vivace" from Sonata in F Major, TWV 41:F2, Georg Philipp Telemann

Motion is regular and continuous, a kind of "motor rhythm"
Baroque pieces can seem to just all of a sudden stop out of nowhere.
Rhythm is NOT regular or continuous during opera recitatives (sung speech...we'll get to that later :-)
Example: "Canon in D Major," Johann Pachelbel

The development of distinct and standard multi-movement genres with conventional sequences of movements (such as FAST-SLOW-FAST or SLOW-FAST-SLOW-FAST)
Acceptance of these general formal principles by most composers
Many of these forms are still used in modern music terminology (and are still composed), such as "concerto," "sonata," etc.
Why all the standardized forms and patterned melodies?

Composers needed "templates" to help them create music quickly and efficiently, under the extreme pressure of the deadlines inherent in their jobs; it is far easier to follow a standard model than to "reinvent the wheel" each time a new piece is needed.
The use of counterpoint (strict relationships between highest and lowest voice with rules for motion) allows for quicker writing: composers relied on performers to supply the interior voices themselves during performance.
Using these approaches, small musical ideas could be stretched out to make larger compositions much more practical to compose.
Large Forms: The Concerto Grosso, and Solo Concerto

Three movement works (F-S-F) that feature a small group of instruments (or just one) against a larger group (tutti).
Allows for contrasts of texture, tempo, and character.
Outer movements most often follow a "ritornello" format, meaning the orchestral tutti plays a theme that keeps "returning," but usually only in fragments. The final "return" is complete and signifies the end of the movement.
Solo sections feature individual instruments, virtuosic parts, and fresh melodic ideas.
Example: "Allegro" from La Primavera ("Spring"), from The Four Seasons, Concerto for Violin in E major, RV 269, Antonio Vivaldi.
Follow the listening outline on page 158.
Large Forms: OPERA

Dramma per musica, a drama in music: essentially, "sung drama."
Originates from the invention of MONODY in Florence and Rome around 1600, which was an attempt at recreating how Greek drama might have been performed (somewhere between singing and normal speech). Uses "recited" passages that are sung in a way to imitate speech (recitative).
Emphasis on a single vocal line with simple accompaniment. Thick polyphonic textures are soundly rejected.
Subjects are derived mainly from mythology and ancient history.
Italians construct public opera houses (1637), which draw tourists from all over Europe.
Composers are drawn to opera through symbolism, the grand spectacle, public attention, and to curry favor with aristocrats.
Example: Nel puror ardor," from Euridice, Jacopo Peri
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