When I think of the Baroque period and what I can compare it to, I think of a teenager. A teenager is that that awkward between stage of a child and adult. Not yet fully developed and prone to drastic changes spontaneously. This is, what I believe, exactly how it was with the Baroque Era of Music. When Was the Baroque Era? The official company line on when the Baroque Era started, which you will find in every book, encyclopedia, or bubble-gum wrapper on the subject, was the year 1600.
The event which earned 1600 this enviable distinction, as far as I can tell, was the impel fact that it has two zeros stuck on the end of it, thus making it fairly easy to remember. In contrast, the end of the Baroque Era was definitively set by Johann Sebastian Bach, the Grand-Baobab of Baroque music, who had the good foresight to die in a year also ending with a zero, thus giving historians another easy to remember date; 1750. For some Baroque zealots Bach’s death was truly the day that music died… At least it gave good closure. The Origins of Baroque Music Following the theme of teenagers.
Eunuchs are guys who are missing an organ. Medieval doctors had learned that if a man’s “pearls’ were cut off of boys at an early GE, none of the biological changes of puberty would occur. There would be no facial or body hair, their voices would not change, and all their acne problems would be virtually solved. At the turn of the century, being a eunuch was not as uncommon as one might think. The men were eking out a meager living primarily playing the women’s roles in theatre when somebody realized that these guys not only acted like women, they could sing like women… N fact, they could sing BETTER than women. It turned out that these castrate had the high beautiful voices of women, and the strong powerful nuns and chest muscles of men. Well, as you might guess, once you build a better mousetrap you’ll soon need a better mouse. Composers had to write music that could demonstrate these singer’s remarkable abilities. To Baroque composers, better music simply meant more difficult, with very elaborate, ornamental melody lines.
In addition to the Eunuch singers, there are three other factors that also may have contributed to the rise of Baroque music: The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation: The entire 17th Century was a great big publicity war put on between the Catholic and protestant churches, each side ins to attract more customers sort of like Coke and Pepsi do tabby spending tons to money on rock stars and pop-cone arts I mean on musicians and church-concerts each side was trying to convince the consumers that they were the best and only church to buy salvation from.
The Insanely Wealthy Families of Europe: Due to the bustling trade of newly discovered foreign countries, money was streaming into Europe at a tremendous rate. Everybody who was anybody wanted to drive in their expensive carriages and show off their expensive clothes and their expensive servants. The Opera House was the hangout of the 17th Century. It was a fad of sorts, the hip place to see and be seen, and sometimes since they were there, some people would even listen to the music.
The royal courts of Rupee’s desires to appear cultured and refined: As they oppressed the lower classes and taxed them for every last cent to pay for their grotesquely extravagant lifestyles, the kings, queens and other assorted monarchs decided that they didn’t want to appear entirely barbaric to the peasants. Music became a symbol of sophistication and taste. The thing to do if you were a king was to have your own music group. The general rule of thumb was this; the better the Caucasians performed, the better king you were.
In summary, if you were a composer during the Baroque era and you didn’t work for a Church, the Opera, or some Royal Court, you were basically unemployed and starving. Although these three things led to the deluge of money and attention that was poured onto the musicians and artists of the time, it is important to remember that the style of Baroque music spread from the simple idea of ornamenting the vocal lines of the eunuch singers to show off their dynamic range and abilities. Baroque Does Not Mean “Broke”! You may be thinking right now, “Whatever. Who cares what the origin was.
I Just want to know what the heck the word ‘Baroque’ means? ” Well, you’ll be happy to know that historians can’t even agree on this one. There are two separate yet equally convincing arguments on the subject. One side says that it comes from the Italian bronco, meaning bizarre or strange. Others have proposed the idea that it is really from the Portuguese barroom, which means a distorted or irregularly shaped pearl. In either case, the 18th Century French were the first to use the term to describe the art and music of the previous generation, and what they meant by it was, “It sucked!
Granted that may seem a bit overly critical, but honestly now, what do you think about the music your parents listen to? Regardless of the original intent, the name stuck… And so too did the concept: remember the Portuguese definition of the irregular shaped pearl? The barroom was considered more beautiful because of it’s irregularity, or uniqueness. A great example of this is Cindy Crawford. She is more beautiful specifically because of that disgusting black mole on her face.
Without it she’d be Just another plain, ordinary, supermodel. It’s her mole… Her flaw… Her dutiful disfigurement that moves her up that last rung from mediocre greatness into the realm to superficial greatness . Sir Francis Bacon tornadoes the entire Baroque phenomenon with the phrase, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion. [Essays; of Beauty, 1 597]” So what exactly was this “strangeness in the proportion” that defined the entire Baroque Era and offended the French so much?
Going back to our teenager analogy, one distinctly adolescent characteristic is that impressive ability to turn everything into a full blown, end-of-the-world, emotional roller-coaster style melodrama. Well, Baroque musicians thought that this extreme excess of emotion was a great thing. Any artificial method they could contrive to manipulate audiences into having a genuine emotional reaction was what they deliberately strove for, and they found many innovative ways to do it. Advertising executives take note: Sharp Contrasts – can anyone say “Manic Depressive”?
Conflict is one of the easier ways to create a high emotional response. Try this: Imagine the most beautiful person you know. Now the ugliest. Now imagine them kissing. Feeling any emotions? Baroque music is full of these same conflicts, contrasts, and overblown distinctions. It contrasts everything with everything. A Baroque concerto is typically in three movements or sections that traditionally go fast, then slow, and then fast again. It contrasts solo instruments or small groups with large orchestras–think of Dueling Banjos, with a single kazoo player against an entire philharmonic orchestra.
It even contrasts volume. First it is loud, then it goes soft, then it goes loud again. Of course, we do a lot of these things with music today, but back then this was kind of a novelty, an emotional tempest of Biblical proportions. You’re probably thinking, “Emotional maelstrom? This hardly sounds like an emotional summer breeze! ” (or words to that effect). I would like to agree with you except that somehow these guys pulled it off. With some basic ideas on what creates strong feelings they have managed to write some of the most emotionally compelling music ever written.
Ornamental Toppings – The Banana-split Analogy One of the great things to come out of the Baroque Era is the concept of the Basso Continuous, or the continuing base. Stated simply, this is a steady and not-too-lavish base line that contrasts sharply with the overly ornamental and wildly fluctuating elodea line (In case you missed it: another contrast! ). I like to compare this musical style to a banana split. It doesn’t matter how much or how many different toppings you put on it as long as you’ve got the banana and three scoops of ice cream underneath. Renaissance music (Remember, it came before Baroque. Was more like a bowlful of toppings without banana or ice cream, Just a bowlful of assorted nuts, syrups, sprinkles, cherries and cream all congealing together into a puddle of oversee ooze. It was in the Baroque era that they learned this first and fundamental rule to music and banana splits. A masterpiece will always hold together nicely, even wit foundation is sound. N all the ornament I t on piled on top, as long as your Improvisational – Spontaneous Combustion Like teenagers who always want to do things “their way,” another important characteristic of Baroque music was the improvisational technique.