The Baroque Period (1600 - 1750)
The art and architecture of the Baroque period reflects an often bizarre style characterized by ornamental decorations. Especially noted in churches, palaces and other buildings of the period is the profusion of worldly splendour apparent in grandiose designs and elaborate decorations.
The music of the period reflects the decorative art in the use of ornamentation to embroider melodies. Thick and complex polyphonic texture prevails in many composers works. A sense of drama and urgency is incorporated into in vocal forms such as the cantata, mass, opera, oratorio and passion, and in instrumental forms such as the concerto, concerto grosso, prelude, fugue, toccata sonata and suite. Vibrant rhythms and expressive dissonances heighten tension in many Baroque works.
Much of the Baroque keyboard music written for the harpsichord and clavichord was written in suites comprising separate dance pieces, changing in tempo and meter but maintaining key unity throughout. The suite (Italian: Partita, Sonata da Camera; German: Suite, Partita, Overture; French: Order, Suite; English: Lessons) consists of dances such as the allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue and others such as the gavotte, musette, bouree, minuet and pavane. Each dance movement is usually written in two sections called Binary form, and is generally performed with each section repeated. Other forms of keyboard music from the Baroque period are theme and variations, passacaglia, chaconne, invention, prelude, fugue, choral prelude, ricercare, fantasy, toccata and concerto.
The two best known Baroque composers are Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel, both Germans. Other German Baroque composers include Buxtehude, Pachelbel and Telemann. English Baroque composers include Byrd and Purcell. Italian Baroque composers include Monteverdi, Corelli, Vivaldi and Scarlatti. Prominent French Baroque composers were Lully, Couperin and Rameau.
Some general characteristics of Baroque Music are:
MELODY: A single melodic idea.
RHYTHM: Continuous rhythmic drive.
TEXTURE: Balance of Homophonic (melody with chordal harmony) and polyphonic textures.
TIMBRE: Orchestral - strings, winds and harpsichord with very little percussion.
DYNAMICS: Abrupt shifts from loud to soft - achieved by adding or subtracting instruments.
An overall characteristic of Baroque Music is that a single musical piece tended to project a single mood or expression of feeling.
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