The Baroque Era had creative minds acting on many fronts, including
literature with Shakespeare and Cervantes and science with Newton and Galileo.
New forms of music were also emerging at this time.
A popular form of polyphony in the Renaissance involved intertwining voices,
which can be heard in Palestrina’s
work. The end of the Renaissance saw a new musical style that contrasted this.
The new style was called seconda prattica (distinguished from the
earlier prima prattica of previous Renaissance music). Seconda prattica
consisted of a single voice or instrument performing above a lower, simpler
“basso continuo” (“continuous bass”). The combination of a solo voice
accompanied by basso continuo was termed monody (“one song”), and it allowed
the soloist to ornament the melody freely, which was impossible in the
previous polyphonic style. This also allowed the composer to create more
expressive, ornamented melodies for soloists.
Additionally, composers began to give more explicit directions in terms of
tempo (e.g. adagio, andante, largo) and dynamics (e.g. forte, piano). (Rehbach)
Monody allowed opera to emerge at this time because the text of a piece
could now come through clearly through the voice of a solo performer. Three
Italian artists (Caccini, Peri, and Rinuccini) were inspired by the singing
style of Ancient Greek dramas, and they created the first opera in 1598:
Dafne. One of the most important early operas, though, was written by
Monteverdi in 1607: Orfeo.
The Catholic Church felt some operas were “immoral” and they banned their
performance during Advent and Lent. So instead of these, another style of
dramatic vocal music was created: the oratorio. These were similar to opera in
that they had recitative, arias, duets, instrumental, and choral pieces but
oratorios had no stage directions, costumes, or set, and they tended to have
biblical themes. This ultimately developed into pieces like Handel’s “Messiah”,
and J.S. Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”. (Rehbach)
Instrumental music gained aspects similar to the idea of monody, often
featuring the violin or another instrument instead of the voice as the melody.
This drove the
creation of sonatas and concertos, which European courts employed to entertain
their guests. Keyboard music (mostly for harpsichord and organ) was also
popular as entertainment and in churches.
As the size of opera ensembles grew, the orchestra eventually emerged.
Finally, the Baroque period saw national styles emerge, including:
Italian: “melodic dominance, virtuosity, and a strong sense of meter”
(e.g. Vivaldi, “Four Seasons”) (Rehbach)
French: developed by Lully in Louis XIV’s court, this style was influenced
largely by dance rhythms (note that Louis XIV is well-known for the
influence he had in codifying ballet).
German: led by Bach, a combination of the Italian and French style, also
adding counterpoint to his work.
English: Handel (though he is German, he spent most of his life in
England) – oratorios, operas, and instrumental music, most of which were
presented in England. (Rehbach)
(Unless noted, all information is sourced from Burrows.)
Emilio de’ Cavalieri:
Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo (1600):
The Well-Tempered Clavier (from 1722):
Sonata in A Major, K181 (early 1700s):
Four Seasons – four concertos for violin and orchestra (1725):