April 12: Music in the Baroque Period (1600 - 1750)
The Renaissance period ushered in the rebirth and rediscovery of the arts such as music, painting, sculpture, and poetry and also saw the beginning of some scientific discoveries. The Baroque period saw a refinement of science and further advances in that field. These advances helped to pave the way for new inventions and, gradually, the improvement of medicine, mining, navigation, and industry.
Music history in the Baroque period has many fine composers. Four of the best know composers of the Baroque period are George Frideric Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and Claudio Monteverdi. The music written by these composers was written largely on commission, meaning that the composers were asked to write a certain piece for a specific occasion. The courts of the aristocracy, churches, opera houses, and municipalities commissioned music. They employed musicians and required new music for each occasion. Composers of this period tended to use a more homophonic texture in their music (one main melody accompanied by either other voices or instruments) in contrast to the polyphonic style of the Renaissance age. They stressed the contrasts of sound, such as solo singers against a chorus or voices against instruments.
Music in the Baroque period also had several distinct characteristics. Unity of mood meant that a Baroque piece usually expressed one basic emotion. Rhythmic patterns that were heard again and again in the course of a piece was called continuity of melody. Terraced dynamics meant that the volume tended to stay constant for a period of time, and that when the dynamics did shift, it was sudden, as if stepping from dynamic level to another. Gradual changes in dynamics were not typical of Baroque music. The words and meanings of the words were depicted vividly in the music. This was called word painting. For example, the word heaven might be set to a high tone or to notes moving upward and the word hell to a lower tone or a descending scale.
Also in the Baroque period, there were two very important developments in the use of musical groups. One was the beginning of the orchestra. The orchestra evolved into a performing group that was based on instruments from the violin family. Certain woodwind and brass instruments were added as the Baroque period progressed. The other new form was opera. Up to the beginning of the Baroque period, opera hadn’t existed. At the very beginning of the Baroque period, opera developed as an important art form. Perhaps the most important to help develop opera was the great composer Claudio Monteverdi.
April 17: Answer the following questions and be prepared to discuss the answers on April 19th,
- List two composers of the Baroque period.
- When a composer wrote a piece of music for a certain occasion, what was that called?
- Who typically commissioned music during the Baroque?
- Define homophonic texture.
- What contrasts of sound did composers stress?
- When a piece of music expresses one basic emotion, what is it called?
- What is unity of rhythm?
- What is continuity of melody?
- What are terraced dynamics?
- What are the two important developments in the use of musical groups during the Baroque period?