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The Baroque Era

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The Baroque Era


Social and Cultural Background

Baroque is a term borrowed from the visual arts and one that is used

in many different senses. The Baroque Era applies to the years between

1600 and 1750. The most famous composers of this time were Bach, Handel,

Vivaldi and Teleman.

Politically it was an age of magnificent absolute Monarch's. The most

magnificent of all was Louis XIV of France. Louis ruled from 1634 until 1713.

During this time the need to create a national culture or a regional style

that would match or surpass the elsewhere created cultural models was

pressed for.

When looking at Baroque architecture it is noticeable that the

sculptures and paintings are never still: they are twisted, moving, struggling,

and dramatically lighted. Paintings of the Baroque Era focused more on

dramatic subjects and experimented with dramatic lighting.

The Baroque Era was concerned with feelings, the stronger the

better. This could be seen throughout the churches. In church structure

the proportions are grandiose, they are designed to impress and awe the

observers. Gold and rich textures and surfaces can be seen all through the


All of these themes that I have discussed are also clear in the music

of the Baroque period. It paints pictures of vibrant colours and triggers

strong emotions. The desire to discover these themes is evident in the

invention of the exciting new form music, opera, and in the use of operatic

techniques in dramatic music for the church.

Important Musical Developments

Composer-performers would strive at becoming Kapellmeisers in this

Era. A Kapellmeister is a music director at one of the great courts. They

were responsible for all the music performed in the court. These positions

were very unstable though and composer were always on the lookout for new


The responsibilities of performers during this era was to write music

at a furious pace due to the demand. Bach, for example, was responsible for

one cantata a week while he was music director at Leipzig. Due to the pace

the music was written, the performers of the pieces had to fill in the

details. Baroque music can therefore be classified as a type of jazz because

the soloists would play their own versions of a basic melody with rhythm

section improvises, based on a chord pattern.

Baroque music sounds different from music of other periods due to

its lack of dynamic range. The composers at this time usually did not specify

dynamics on their pieces, they simply wrote 'loud' or 'soft.'

The most prominent element in Baroque music was rhythm and

texture. Baroque's fast movement generally caused the feeling of rhythmic

drive. Tempos were always constant. The least prominent element was

melody. Gradual rise of tonality on the other hand was a great Baroque

innovation. This is the major-minor system that is still used today in the

twentieth century.

Opera was one of the most important developments in the Baroque

Era. It began in Florence in 1600. French operas featured more emphasis

on the orchestra and chorus. During this time Handel invented the oratorio.

An oratorio is a large work for soloists, chorus, and orchestra sung in

concert format, without costumes or staging, in a concert hall rather than as

part of a church service. Some other instrumentals formed during this era


Concerto Grosso: in three movements, fast-slow-fast, and pits a large

group of soloists against the larger string ensemble.

Suite: a ...

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