THE BAROQUE AGESocial and Cultural BackgroundBaroque is a term borrowed from the visual arts and one that is usedin many different senses. The Baroque Era applies to the years between1600 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 mostmagnificent 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 stylethat would match or surpass the elsewhere created cultural models waspressed for. When looking at Baroque architecture it is noticeable that thesculptures and paintings are never still: they are twisted, moving, struggling,and dramatically lighted. Paintings of the Baroque Era focused more ondramatic subjects and experimented with dramatic lighting. The Baroque Era was concerned with feelings, the stronger thebetter.Order now
This could be seen throughout the churches. In church structurethe proportions are grandiose, they are designed to impress and awe theobservers. Gold and rich textures and surfaces can be seen all through thechurches. All of these themes that I have discussed are also clear in the musicof the Baroque period. It paints pictures of vibrant colours and triggersstrong emotions.
The desire to discover these themes is evident in theinvention of the exciting new form music, opera, and in the use of operatictechniques in dramatic music for the church. Important Musical DevelopmentsComposer-performers would strive at becoming Kapellmeisers in thisEra. A Kapellmeister is a music director at one of the great courts. Theywere responsible for all the music performed in the court. These positionswere very unstable though and composer were always on the lookout for newopportunities. The responsibilities of performers during this era was to write musicat a furious pace due to the demand.
Bach, for example, was responsible forone cantata a week while he was music director at Leipzig. Due to the pacethe music was written, the performers of the pieces had to fill in thedetails. Baroque music can therefore be classified as a type of jazz becausethe soloists would play their own versions of a basic melody with rhythmsection improvises, based on a chord pattern. Baroque music sounds different from music of other periods due toits lack of dynamic range. The composers at this time usually did not specifydynamics on their pieces, they simply wrote “loud” or “soft. “The most prominent element in Baroque music was rhythm andtexture.
Baroque’s fast movement generally caused the feeling of rhythmicdrive. Tempos were always constant. The least prominent element wasmelody. Gradual rise of tonality on the other hand was a great Baroqueinnovation.
This is the major-minor system that is still used today in thetwentieth century. Opera was one of the most important developments in the BaroqueEra. It began in Florence in 1600. French operas featured more emphasison the orchestra and chorus. During this time Handel invented the oratorio.
An oratorio is a large work for soloists, chorus, and orchestra sung inconcert format, without costumes or staging, in a concert hall rather than aspart of a church service. Some other instrumentals formed during this erawere:Concerto Grosso: in three movements, fast-slow-fast, and pits a largegroup of soloists against the larger string ensemble. Suite: a less formal structure consisting of several binary dancemovementsFugue: Latin for “flight” or “chase,” denotes a standard Baroquecompositional process. Johann Sebastian Bach, Cantata No.
140Bach is the giant of Western Art. Bach was born in Eisenach, NorthGermany, and was raised by an older brother after he was orphaned. Bach’smost important position came in 1723 and lasted until his death which wasJanuary 28, 1750. He was the “Cantor” at the church of St.
Thomas inLeipzig. He was best known as a keyboard performer. His greatest piecesthough, were his organ pieces. Bach was also known for his Cantata’s. Thecantata was written in fairly free form. They were part of a long churchservice.
In most cantatas the highest point is during the opening chorus,which is also usually the longest movement. Cantata no. 140 “Wachet Auf” isan excellent example of the chorale cantata form. Bach wrote it for one ofthe final Sunday’s after Trinity.
The song is broken into a five-partstructure: 1) Chorus2) Recitative and Duets-Soloists3) Chorus4) Recitative and Duet-Soloists5) Choral- Chorus and CongregationAnother famous piece by Johann Sebastian Bach was “BrandenburgConcerto No. 5. ” The Brandenberg concertos are examples of a Baroqueform known as the concerto gross that is based on the principle of contrastbetween two groups, or sounds of different sounds and at the same timedynamics. The first movement of this piece is in ritornello form. It is madeup of three basic patterns that work well with instruments.
The secondmovement heard contains soloists and continues without string orchestra. The third and last movement is made up of soloists and orchestra. George Friederich Handel, “For Unto Us A Child is Born” from MessiahHandel is known as the “other” Baroque composer. Handel contrastsgreatly with Bach, not only in their style of music but in their personalities,lifestyles, and careers. Handel was not born into a musical family. It wasn’tuntil the death of his father that he quite his law career to become amusician.
After the genre of Italian opera faded Handel hit upon an Englishadaptation of the early oratorio, originally a concert setting of a biblicalstory in Latin. The success of his oratorios and a steady stream of newcompositions made Handel increasingly wealthy and famous. He passed awayin 1759, blind, but was still seen as a celebrity. Due to Messiah’s length and it’s contemplative rather than dramatic approach to nature, it makes it a not typical oratorio. “For Unto Us A Child is Born” is a splendid example of Handel’s choral style, an element which makes oratorios so popular. As opposed to Bach’s style of writing for only small groups of boys and men, Handel was fond of grandiose effects, such as double choruses.
Handel’s choruses were written strong enough to impress the audience who had paid admission to hear the cantata. The oratorio is written in a three part structure. The three ideas are distinct and are always kept separate, and never combined. Out of this simple, repetitive structure comes a satisfying effect: the listener of this piece feels the triumph and joy of the text due to it’s easy to follow material. Antonio Vivaldi,”Spring” from The Four SeasonsBach and Handel are not the only great composer of this era. AntonioVivaldi was another master of music during the Baroque period.
Vavaldi was born in 1678 in Venice. His father too was a musician, aviolinist at St. Marks’s church in Venice. For thirty-six years, from 1704until 1740, he was music director at the Ospedale della Pieta, a school forillegitimate daughters of the aristocracy. He then left his job to conductopera in Italian cities.
He eventually wrote concertos not only for violin andstandard winds-oboe, flute, bassoon-but also for instruments such as thepiccolo, mandolin, and guitar. One of his best known works is “the Four Seasons. ” It is a set of fourconcerti grossi which relate to nature during these seasons. The spirit ofchildlike playfulness can be seen throughout out this piece which isimportant to Baroque style. It is very easy to see why Vivaldi’s pieces arestill played and enjoyed to this day.