Baroque music is instantly recognisable. It is the beautiful expressive music that accompanies many historic films. The uplifting instrumental music that is often used in advertising, and in public campaigns. Why is it so often used? Because it has an unique ability to lift the human spirit, and to set a mood of sublime enjoyment.
Baroque is the style of classical music composed between approximately 1600 - 1750. It is often divided into the Early Baroque, which lasted until the mid 17th century, and saw the initial development of the style. The Middle Baroque, until the late 17th century, and finally the Late Baroque, which ends with the deaths of both J.S.Bach and G.F. Handel in 1759.
The name 'baroque', comes from the Portuguese word 'barocco', meaning a strangely shaped pearl. It was a considerable departure from the established music of the time, and must have seemed quite unusual to a contemporary audience.From the outset it was music of the spirit, and of the emotions. Intended to express some of the most profound states of human experience.
Baroque music has a number of particular characteristics which underpin its performance. A strong projection of emotion, and a sense of underlying spirituality. It is a style which makes deliberate use of strong contrast to heighten dramatic effect, for example contrasting different sections of a piece against each other. With slow and fast sections, perhaps.a simple theme set against a complex elaboration and development. All to achieve the maximum dramatic effect. Indeed the whole idea of linking melody and bass dates from this period, with a strong bass part providing a solid foundation and structure on which to build and elaborate the different themes and contrasting elements.
|G. F. Handel|
For the novice to classical music, there are many notable composers of the Baroque period that are well worth taking the time to listen to. One of the joys of this music lies in personally discovering the many treasures to be experienced, as you explore this music of four hundred years ago.Yet which is still so accessible to us today.
It is generally accepted however, that three composers in particular symbolise the main achievements of the baroque. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), George Frideric Handel (1685- 1759) and Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). While many others such as Corelli, Purcell and Scarlatti were also important in the development of this new music.
With such a treasure trove of baroque pieces to choose from, it is difficult to know where to begin. But the enthusiastic listener wishing to gain a greater understanding of the style could well consider the following pieces in their initial exploration. From the works of J.S. Bach, a good choice would be the famous Brandenburg Concertos. Bach wrote this set of six concertos in 1721, and dedicated them to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg. They form perhaps the first musical jobapplication,as Bach was hoping for employment with the Margrave. Sadly for Bach, the job offer never materialised, but the Brandenburg Concertos remain an acknowleged masterpiece of the baroque.
A perennial favourite for lovers of this genre, has always been G.F.Handel's Water Music Suite. Composed in 1717 for an elaborate river party on the Thames, attended by King George 1. Some fifty musicians were on board the concert barge, which followed the King's own barge in stately progress down the river.The powerful and beautiful music was so popular with his majesty, that he is said to have requested the musicians to perform it for two further encores. While Handel's oratorio The Messiah, composed in 1741, is perhaps one of the most famous choral pieces of all time.
The Italian influence was strong throughout the baroque period, and in the works of Antonio Vivaldi we have one of its finest exponents. Vivaldi is famous for the sheer number of pieces he produced in his lifetime. Yet an enduring favourite, and one which can be recommended to anyone new to baroque music, is the set of four violin concertos called The Four Seasons. This remarkable piece composed in 1723, is an evocative musical picture of each of the seasons of the year, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.Each section attempts to show the character of the particular season, from the energy of spring, through the mellowness of autumn, to the icy sharpness of winter.
Baroque music was the music of the Enlightenment,of new developments in science, philosophy and literature. Of hope and optimism, a belief in humanity and its great potential for progress. A celebration of profound feeling and inspired vision that still has the power to entrance us in its magic today.