Baroque music


The term Baroque was introduced in historiography to classify the stylistic trends marking architecture painting and sculpture, and by extension poetry and literature between the 17th century and the first half of the 18th. The term “Baroque” was used in the field of music, to define the style of music beginning in the early twentieth century, as we see in Curt Sachs” essay Barokmusik of 1919.

In the field of music, the Baroque can be regarded as a development of ideas that matured in the late Renaissance, and it is therefore difficult, and even arbitrary, to want to establish a precise chronological demarcation of the beginning and end of the Baroque period in music. Geographically, Baroque music has its origins in Italy, thanks to the work of composers such as Claudio Monteverdi, although towards the middle of the 17th century it began to take hold and develop in other European countries as well, either through Italian musicians (composers, singers, instrumentalists) who had emigrated there, or through native composers who developed an autonomous stylistic direction, as for example in France from the second half of the 17th century.

The term “Baroque music” has conventionally remained in use to refer indistinctly to any genre of music that evolved between the decline of Renaissance music and the rise of the Galante and then Classical styles, over a chronological span that, according to the periodization schemes adopted by the major music dictionaries and bibliographic repertories would range from 1600 (the first work that has come down to us intact) to 1750 (the death of Johann Sebastian Bach) The term “Baroque music” although it has entered common parlance, and the related periodization, however, are practically no longer used by musicology, due to the extreme variety of styles and excessive temporal and geographical breadth, which does not allow for a unified and coherent view of different manifestations of musical art. The musicologist Manfred Bukofzer was already aware of the problem, who in 1947 published the book Music in the Baroque Era from Monteverdi to Bach, which has long remained a reference manual, in which he significantly preferred to speak, already from the title, of Music in the Baroque Age and not of “Baroque music.” In other words, for Bukofzer, Baroque music, understood as a unified and organic style, did not exist. For this reason he proposed to adopt, instead, the criterion of the distinction between the three great styles that run through Western music between the late seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth century: the Italian concertante style, the German contrapuntal style, and the French instrumental style; operating, then, a further bipartition, namely that between instrumental idiom and vocal idiom. It assumes, however, a rigid view of musical phenomena linked to a nineteenth-century nationalistic ideology, contradicted by historical facts, which does not give due consideration to the circulation of ideas, social and musical practices, as well as musicians and music in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. In 1982, in a volume of the History of Music edited by the Italian Society of Musicology, dedicated to the music of the 17th century, musicologist Lorenzo Bianconi refused to use the term “baroque” or even “music of the baroque age,” because of the diverse and antithetical phenomena, and the heterogeneity of so many currents and traditions characterizing the music of that historical era. In general, today, in the field of musicology rather than “Baroque music” it is sometimes preferred to speak of “music of the seventeenth century,” extending this periodization not only to the music produced in the seventeenth century, but also to the music of composers born in that century, or to spin off the early eighteenth century, defining it as “the age of Bach and Handel,” the greatest composers of the time, linked to the musical language inherited from the seventeenth century and to a writing based on counterpoint, albeit grounded in modern tonality and the harmony that goes with it, and its exploitation in an expressive sense. The music of the two supreme German composers is characterized by elements of both the Italian and French styles, which they masterfully absorbed, elaborated and used in an original way in their production.

The term “baroque” from Latin verruca (excrescence) appeared in the neo-Latin languages of the 16th and 17th centuries (berruecca in Portuguese, barrucco in Spanish, baroque in French) to denote misshapen or irregular beads or precious stones. Baroque became an aesthetic category in eighteenth-century French culture to judge works of art that were considered excessively unnatural, irregular, forced, or pompous. In the field of music it was the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his Dictionnaire de musique (1768), who spoke of musique baroque to define a genre of music in which “harmony is confused, overloaded with modulations and dissonances, singing harsh and unnatural, intonation difficult and movement forced.” The main target of the harsh criticism was the music of the operas of Rameau, Lully and other Frenchmen, whose style was contrasted with the naturalness of that of Italian opera; but the criticism could also have been aimed at the music of Bach and Händel. Indeed, even without using the term “baroque,” the German music critic Johann Adolph Scheibe in 1737, in words similar to Rousseau”s, had levelled heavy criticism at Bach, whose music, in his view, was “ampoule and confused,” had “stifled naturalness and obscured beauty” with overly complex and artificial writing. In this sense, Italian opera of the mid-eighteenth century, and especially so-called “Neapolitan” opera, which dominated the European scenes from the 1830s onward, thanks precisely to the naturalness of the singing and the prevalence of easy-listening harmony over counterpoint, cannot properly fall within the sphere of Baroque music, being opposed to it in the judgment of contemporaries. Famous is the scathing but illustrative judgment Handel made in 1745 about the emerging operaticist Christoph Willibald Gluck, one of the leading figures in musical theater of that century: “[Gluck] knows no more of counterpoint than my cook Waltz.” The definition of “baroque music” formulated by Rousseau, referring to a particular compositional style that appeared outmoded in the musical aesthetics of the eighteenth century, was taken up by one of Germany”s leading theorists, Heinrich Christoph Koch, who in his Musikalisches Lexicon (1802) took up the French philosopher”s definition almost verbatim. In a devaluative sense, “baroque” continued to be used to define expressions of art, as well as music, that deviated from the canonical aesthetics set by critics and theorists between the late 18th and the first half of the 19th century.It was not until the second half of the 19th century that the term baroque came to denote the artistic style of an era after the Renaissance. Jacob Burckhardt, in his handbook The Cicero (1855), devoted a chapter to post-Michelangelesque art, entitled Baroque Style, pointing out its aspects of decadence compared to the Renaissance. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Heinrich Wölflin resumed the term in its historical, more neutral and nondevaluative sense, and also proposed expanding its use to literature and music in his essay Renaissance and Baroque (1888). In the Baroque, Wölflin saw a style not necessarily tied to an era, characterized by extravagant, bizarre, excessive, and exuberant elements, as opposed to elements such as order, balance, proportion, and symmetry that denoted the classicist style. In the field of musicology, Curt Sachs, in his essay Barockmusik (1919), referred to Wölflin”s positions on Baroque style in art and literature and applied them systematically to music: Sachs, from a positivistic perspective typical of the musicology of his time, endeavored to delineate the specific characteristics of Baroque style in music (e.g., the use of ornamentation, variation of melody, or monodic writing with basso continuo) while attempting to relate them to the stylistic innovations of Baroque painting. These kinds of classifications of style on the basis of internal characteristics of compositions resulted in some scholars in the first half of the twentieth century identifying the Baroque in music with “the age of basso continuo,” although this practice persisted long into the eighteenth century, even in music of a completely different style (galante, classical). However, such periodization remains a controversial issue and conditioned by the inevitable aesthetic changes over time. Many musicologists today are aware of how unproductive is the effort to frame under a single historical-aesthetic concept a century and a half of musical production, which developed through practices, musical and social, characters and moments significantly different between one European country and another. One need only think of the marked difference between Italian and French styles, well highlighted since the second half of the seventeenth century in the writings of critics, literati and memoirists from beyond the Alps, who compared

Baroque music, in analogy with other art forms of the time, aimed to amaze and entertain the listener. The characteristic elements of musical production of this period are sudden changes of tempo, passages of great instrumental or vocal virtuosity, and the use of counterpoint and fugue, as well as a developed sense of improvisation.

The colossal baroque

The “colossal baroque” style is a name that has been coined to describe a number of compositions from the 17th to 18th centuries written in an opulent, lavish, large-scale manner. In addition, polychoral techniques were used in these works and they often featured a quantitatively larger than average instrumentation of the time. The early colossal baroque was an Italian style, created to represent the successes of the Counter-Reformation. Pieces typically had 12 or more parts, but it is clear that polychoral aspects did not always affect the wide space (for example in Vincenzo Ugolini”s Exultate Omnes there are passages in threes for all sopranos, tenors and altos; this would have seemed absurd to play it in a wide space). However, some works were pleasantly performed by the singers and instrumentalists in Salzburg Cathedral.

Another composer of the colossal baroque was Orazio Benevoli, who was confused with Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and Stefano Bernadi as the composer of the Missa Salisburgensis.

The music of the colossal Baroque was a philosophical part of the Counter-Reformation and spread across the Alps, into the Austrian Empire, to Vienna and Salzburg, where multi-part compositions were written for special occasions, although they were not published preventing us today from knowing many works produced by Italian masters such as Valentini (some for 17 choirs), Priuli, Bernardi (the mass for the consecration of Salzburg Cathedral) and others.

Early Baroque

The Camerata de” Bardi was a group of humanists, musicians, poets and intellectuals in late Renaissance Florence who gathered around the patronage of Giovanni Bardi, Count of Vernio, to discuss and influence the artistic fashion of the time, especially in music and theater. With regard to music, their ideals were based on the reception of the value of speech and oration in the music of classical theater, particularly Greek theater. The Camerata therefore rejected the use that authors contemporary to them made of instrumental music and polyphony, created from independent melodic lines, and revived musical means of Ancient Greece such as monody, which consisted of a solo chant line accompanied by the citara, the ancestor of the zither. An early realization of such aesthetic ideas is represented by the works Daphne, the first composition ever to qualify as an opera, and Eurydice by Jacopo Peri.

In the music theory of the time, the use of the cipher bass became widespread, defining the beginning of the very important role of harmony in musical composition, even as the vertical foundation of polyphony itself. Harmony can be regarded as the ultimate result of counterpoint, the cipher bass being a graphic representation of the harmonies commonly employed in performance.

The big concert

The term concerto grosso denotes a 17th-century sacred music practice of dividing voices and instruments into two groups: one formed by a few select soloists, called a “concertino”; the other formed by a larger vocal group and

The solo concert

Generally identified in Antonio Vivaldi, the inventor of the solo concerto, that is, the evolution of the “concerto grosso” to a musical form involving one or more solo instruments to which an “obbligato” part is assigned.


The suite form originates from the practice of accompanying and supporting dance with a greater or lesser number of voices or instruments, but the term suite first appears in a collection published by French composer Philippe Attaignant in 1529. The practice of strictly codifying the naming and succession of different dances is, however, much later and occurs when the suite becomes a “continuation” of purely imaginary dances. We owe to Johann Jakob Froberger, a pupil of Girolamo Frescobaldi, the reduction of the suite to its four “basic” dances (allemande, corrente, sarabande, and jig), and this will be the basic model that Johann Sebastian Bach will follow for only some of his suites (his English Suites, for example, are divided into eight dances).

In some types of suites a prelude initiates the dances, in exceptional cases there is an overture, preamble, fantasia or toccata.Between the sarabande and the jig one can find dances such as the gavotte, siciliana, bourrée, loure, minuet, musette, double and polonaise, while after the jig the dances ordinarily are the passacaglia and ciaccona.

The sonata

The original model of the sonata appears in Venice towards the end of the 16th century, thanks to organists and violinists serving at the Chapel of St. Mark”s Basilica, but the idea of an instrumental form totally autonomous from vocal music, however, takes hold in the other great musical center of Italy at the time: the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna. It is here that the contrapuntal warp of the Renaissance sonata dissolves into its two hidden polarities: on the one hand the “basso continuo,” on the other the free improvisational play of the upper voices. Thus was born the prototype of the so-called “sonata a tre,” whose ensemble consists of the continuo and two melodic instruments. Beginning in the second half of the seventeenth century, the three-part sonata was divided into two complementary forms: on the one hand, the “church sonata,” initially intended to replace the missing parts of the vocal liturgy and thus characterized by strict contrapuntal writing; on the other hand, the “chamber sonata,” originally addressed to entertainment and thus marked by rhythmic-melodic writing typical of dance forms. One of the best-known Baroque sonata composers is Domenico Scarlatti, author of no less than 555 sonatas for solo harpsichord.

The work

Opera was born in Florence towards the end of the 16th century and, thanks to Claudio Monteverdi, became enormously popular in the Baroque age, establishing itself especially in Rome, Venice and, later (starting in the last decades of the 17th century), Naples. A show initially reserved for the courts, and therefore intended for an elite of intellectuals and aristocrats, it acquired the character of entertainment from the opening of the first public theater in 1637: the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice. The severity of early opera, still permeated with late Renaissance aesthetics, was then succeeded by a taste for the variety of music, situations, characters, and plots; while the aria form, with its captivating melody and occasion for singing performance, steals more and more space from the recitative of dialogues and, as a result, from the literary aspect, the singing becomes increasingly flowery. Among the greatest Italian representatives of Baroque-era opera we can mention Francesco Cavalli (Il Giasone and L”Ercole amante) and Alessandro Scarlatti (Il Tigrane e Griselda).

Meanwhile, Jean-Baptiste Lully, an Italian composer who emigrated to France, gives birth to French opera. In it the typical Italian cantabile, ill-suited to the French language, is abandoned in favor of a more rigorous musical interpretation of the text.The singing style, more severe and declamatory, is predominantly syllabic. Further differentiating elements from the Italian model are the importance assigned to choreography and the five-act structure, which French opera seria would retain throughout the 19th century. Thus were born the tragédie-lyrique and the opéra-ballet.

In the 18th century, Italian opera was reformed by the poets Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Metastasio, who established a set of formal canons relating to the dramaturgical structure, as well as the metrical structure of arias, applying the so-called Aristotelian unities and devoting themselves exclusively to the serious genre.

Zeno and Metastasio”s decision to exclude all comic elements from serious musical theater determined the birth of comic opera, first in the form of intermezzo, then as opera buffa.

The cantata

The cantata is a vocal musical form of Italian origin typical of Baroque music, consisting of a sequence of pieces such as arias, recitatives, concertati and choral numbers. It has a certain affinity with Baroque opera, but the performance takes place without stage apparatus or costumes, and the performance is smaller in size.

Cantatas can be sacred (or church), inspired mostly by events from the Holy Scriptures, or secular (or chamber), usually with mythological or historical subject matter, in Latin or vernacular.

In Italy the major composers of cantatas were Giacomo Carissimi, Alessandro Scarlatti, Giovanni Bononcini, Antonio Caldara, and Antonio Vivaldi.

Important in Germany were Georg Friedrich Haendel, Georg Philipp Telemann, Dietrich Buxtehude.

The concept of “sacred cantata” is foreign to Johann Sebastian Bach”s lexicon: in fact, the term was not coined until the 19th century to summarily refer to eighteenth-century church compositions on a spiritual text, inspired by the Holy Scriptures, sung by choir and soloists with instrument accompaniment. A turning point in the history of German church cantata is marked by the publication in 1704 of an anthology of texts for church cantatas by Protestant pastor Erdmann Neumeister. Inspired by the poetic forms of opera, oratorio and cantata, according to Italian usage, Neumeister articulated the verses of his texts into arias, recitatives, concertati and choral numbers, providing each composer with a convenient formal model to set to music according to the style of the time. Johann Sebastian Bach in many cases followed the “cantata” model offered by Neumeister, although he also employed other, more traditional models, such as the so-called “cantate-corali,” in which he uses the text of a Lutheran chorale, divided into several numbers each coinciding with a stanza of the text.

Originally the term “chorale” generally denoted monodic singing unaccompanied by the Christian liturgy. With the advent of the Lutheran Reformation the word came to denote the singing, also monodic, proper to the Lutheran church and other so-called “Protestant” denominations. The musical heart of the Lutheran Reformation is a new body of monodic songs, often of extreme simplicity and melodic concentration. The texts belong to the language of the Reformed liturgy, German, and permanently abandon the traditional Latin of the Catholic church fathers. The new “chorales” can be sung choraliter, in monophonic form, or figuraliter, in polyphonic form, thanks to the simple harmonization of the basic vocal line. This practice, in use since the mid-sixteenth century, would be used in the following centuries by all German composers serving Lutheran communities, including J.S. Bach. Generally, though with numerous exceptions, J.S. Bach”s Kirchenkantaten open with a chorale sung in non-polyphonic form, followed by arias, recitatives, and concertati, and conclude with a four- or five-voice harmonized chorale or choral number.

The oratory

Genre of cantata, developed from the beginning of the 17th century, specifically intended to make more attractive and solemn prayer and preaching meetings, which were held, outside the liturgy, in the oratories of religious brotherhoods or congregations. From its original place of performance this kind of cantata took the name oratorio. Like other forms of poetry for music, the oratorio features verses for recitatives and arias, and sometimes for choral numbers. The subjects of the texts are taken from the Holy Scriptures, in which the characters carry on a dramatic action only by singing, but not by acting it out on stage and without costumes. There are also secular oratorios with mythological or historical subjects. Generally the texts are in the vernacular, although there are a minority of oratorios in Latin. Among the major composers of oratorios are: Giacomo Carissimi, Bernardo Pasquini, Giovanni Bicilli, Giovanni Legrenzi, Alessandro Stradella, Giovanni Paolo Colonna, Giacomo Antonio Perti, Alessandro Scarlatti, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Heinrich Schütz, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Johann Adolf Hasse.

In the Baroque era, instruments of harmony dedicated to the performance of basso continuo, which is the true common denominator of all musical production, played a particularly important role. Of these, the two in prevalent use were the organ and the harpsichord (simple examples are Domenico Scarlatti”s 555 harpsichord sonatas or François Couperin”s L”Art de Toucher le Clavecin). The basso continuo, however, was also performed by the theorbo, harp, and occasionally the regal; it was common practice for multiple instruments (e.g., organ and theorbo) to concur in the performance of the basso continuo, especially in large orchestral or choral ensembles.Among string instruments, the lute and guitar were also widespread, both as solo and accompanying instruments. The clavichord, by contrast, was appreciated but was intended for solo use only.

Regarding melodic instruments, in the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque era there is a general reduction in the variety of instruments used: whereas in the 16th century practically every melodic instrument, whether wind or stringed, was built in different sizes, which reproduced the different vocal extensions (and were often referred to by the terms “soprano,” “alto,” “tenor, and “bass”), during the first half of the 17th century, with the emergence of a true idiomatic instrumental literature, a single size was favored in each “family” of instruments. The only notable exception is the arm viols, for which the four versions we still know today (violin, viola, cello and double bass) were consolidated.

Next to the family of strings, which were the indispensable element of any orchestral ensemble, the most frequently used instruments among the treble instruments were:

Among the serious instruments:

In the Baroque orchestra, the trumpet and from the early 18th century the horn were also often present. (Among the percussion instruments, timpani gained a particularly important role.

Alongside these widely used instruments both as solo instruments and in the orchestra, in the Baroque era they enjoyed occasional popularity within specific musical schools or fashions:

The composers of the Baroque period best known to the general public, thanks to extensive concert and record production over the past fifty years, are the Italians Claudio Monteverdi, Giacomo Carissimi, Bernardo Pasquini, Alessandro Scarlatti and his son Domenico, Antonio Vivaldi, the Germans Bach and Händel, and the Englishman Purcell. Numerous other composers of great renown in their own time such as Girolamo Frescobaldi, Heinrich Schütz, Arcangelo Corelli, Dietrich Buxtehude and Georg Philipp Telemann, as well as all the major composers of the French School Jean-Baptiste Lully, François Couperin, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Marin Marais, Jean-Philippe Rameau, etc.), while having had no less historical and artistic importance than those previously mentioned, are today familiar to a relatively smaller audience. It is especially in the field of opera that the wealth of names and influences is vast: since opera was the main source of success for most of the composers of the time, the production connected with it is also practically boundless, and it is not uncommon for works of considerable artistic value to be rediscovered, even by composers who until our time had remained virtually unknown to musicological research.

Famous opera composers were certainly (in addition to the already mentioned Claudio Monteverdi, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Pier Francesco Cavalli, Alessandro Scarlatti, Händel, Vivaldi, and Purcell) Alessandro Stradella, Bernardo Pasquini, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Leonardo Leo, Antonio Caldara, Nicola Porpora, and Jean-Philippe Rameau. Many belong to the Neapolitan School of Music, which was among the most influential and fashionable from the third decade of the 18th century. Indeed, from that time Naples emerged as one of Europe”s leading opera centers, contending with Venice for a supremacy that the lagoon city had always held in Italy.

In the 17th century Rome was one of the main centers of Italian opera, contributing greatly to the development of the genre and its conventions from its earliest days. Unlike other centers, such as Venice, which since 1637 had developed a system of public theaters, that is, for a paying audience, in Rome opera performances thrived mainly in the theaters of aristocratic families, such as the Barberini in the first half of the 17th century and the Colonna in the second half, who built theaters in their own palaces. Numerous composers and opera singers were trained in Rome during the 17th century, and they were also active in theaters in other Italian and European cities. Among others, Alessandro Scarlatti, later active in the theaters of Venice, Florence, and Naples, was trained in Rome. In Italy, in the wake of the Venetian example, the activity of opera houses open to the public spread from the mid-17th century to other centers such as Bologna, Florence, Genoa, Pisa, Livorno, Modena, Ferrara, Parma, Naples, Palermo, Milan, etc., through models of theater management adapted to the different local social and political structure. In the rest of the European countries, opera life generally revolved around a court. either almost exclusively (Paris and Madrid) or predominantly (Vienna and London). Only in Germany were operatic performances based on models not too dissimilar to those in Italy, with large and medium-sized cities having been equipped with adequate theater facilities, including private ones, since the 17th century. In Munich a permanent theater was opened as early as 1657 (the Opernhaus am Salvatorplatz that remained in operation until 1822), in Hamburg the first public theater in Germany opened in 1678, and Dresden established itself from the first decades of the eighteenth century as a first-rate venue.

Throughout Europe (with the exception of France, which had developed its own genre of theater for music, the tragédie-lyrique), however, Italian opera dominated throughout the Baroque age and throughout the eighteenth century, establishing itself as a transnational phenomenon, to the point that among the major composers of the genre we can point to three composers from the Germanic area, such as Händel, Gluck, and Mozart. Italy possessed good music conservatories at the time, and the most important opera companies were formed to a greater or lesser extent by Italian performers. Italian composers were sought after by European courts, and those from other countries almost always had to orient their production according to the customs and lostile of Italian opera. Especially in Vienna, Italian culture dominated in the 17th and for much of the 18th century. The court poets, authors of opera librettos, were always Italian; one need only recall Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Metastasio; as were the chapel masters; one need only recall the names of Antonio Caldara and Antonio Salieri.

Synoptic table of Baroque composers (1550 -1750)

Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio Monteverdi (Cremona, May 9, 1567-Venice, Nov. 29, 1643) was the first great opera composer in the history of opera and among the greatest composers of his time.

He was the creator of operatic language, a language that was meant to enhance the human voice and be a function of the truth of expression. Monteverdi”s Orfeo (1607) is the first opera in the history of melodrama in music worthy of the name. In it Monteverdi succeeds in perfectly blending the various genres of entertainment, from madrigal songs, to scenes with a pastoral background, via the music played at court at festivals and balls, sublimating them with his art and putting them at the service of a coherent dramaturgical development. The characters acquire, in The Orpheus, a new dimension and depth and connotations of painful humanity. With Il ritorno d”Ulisse in patria (1640) and L”incoronazione di Poppea (1643), Monteverdi once again reveals himself to be an artist of rich and multifaceted inspiration and highly refined musical and harmonic techniques. Indeed, he gives birth to a new sublime creation, animated by deep patheticism and an expression of a formal perfection, both musically and dramaturgically, that will remain unmatched for a long time.

Monteverdi was also a composer of madrigals, attributable to a genre that reached its highest expression with him, and of instrumental and sacred music (his Magnificat composed for Pope Pius V is famous)

Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell (Westminster, London, September 10, 1659 – Westminster, London, November 21, 1695) was one of Britain”s greatest composers. During the last years of his life he wrote a number of plays such as Dido and Æneas, The Prophetess (The History of Dioclesian), King Arthur, The Indian Queen, Timon of Athens, The Fairy Queen and The Tempest. He also composed notable music for birthday anniversaries and for the funeral of Queen Mary II.

Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi (Venice, March 4, 1678 – Vienna, July 28, 1741) is a famous violinist and composer of the Baroque period. He was also a priest, and for that reason-and the color of his hair-he was nicknamed “The Red Priest.”

His best-known composition is the four violin concertos known as The Four Seasons, a famous and outstanding example of “subject music.”

The recovery of his work is a relatively recent event and is identified in the first half of the 20th century. It came about thanks mainly to the efforts of Alfredo Casella, who in 1939 organized the Vivaldi Week, an event that is remembered as historic in that, since then, the Venetian composer”s works have enjoyed full success.

Innovating from the depths of the music of the time, Vivaldi gave more emphasis to the formal and rhythmic structure of the concerto, repeatedly seeking harmonic contrasts and inventing unusual themes and melodies. His talent lay in composing non-academic, clear and expressive music, such that it could be appreciated by the general public and not only by a minority of specialists.

Vivaldi is considered one of the masters of the Italian Baroque school, based on strong sonic contrasts and simple, evocative harmonies. Johann Sebastian Bach was deeply influenced by Vivaldi”s concerto form: he transcribed some concertos for solo harpsichord and some concertos for orchestra, including the famous Concerto for Four Violins and Cello, Strings and continuo (RV 580).

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (Eisenach, March 31, 1685 – Leipzig, July 28, 1750) was a German composer and organist of the Baroque period, universally considered one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time.

His works are famous for intellectual depth, mastery of technical and expressive means, and artistic beauty, and have been an inspiration to most of the composers who have followed in the European tradition.

Johann Sebastian Bach”s contribution to music or, to use an expression popularized by his pupil Lorenz Christoph Mizler, to the “science of music,” is frequently compared to William Shakespeare”s contribution to English literature and Isaac Newton”s contribution to physics. During his lifetime, he composed more than 1,000 works. His collection of preludes and fugues called The Well-Tempered Harpsichord constitutes a monumental and definitive repertory for what concerns the state of the form called fugue in the Baroque sphere. He fully explored the possibility of performing compositions in all 24 major and minor tones on the keyboard, as a result of the abandonment of the mesotonic tuning system in favor of so-called “good temperaments” (which foreshadowed the later adoption during the 19th century of equable temperament).

Georg Friedrich Händel

Georg Friedrich Händel (Halle, February 23, 1685 – London, April 14, 1759) was one of the major composers of the 18th century. In the past the name was transcribed as George Frideric Handel, or Haendel or again, but less frequently, Hendel.

He was born in the city of Halle, in the German region of Saxony, to a middle-class family (his father was a barber-cerusician) and spent most of his life abroad, attending numerous European courts. He died in London at the age of seventy-four.

Händel lived from 1706 to 1710 in Italy, where he refined his compositional technique, adapting it to Italian texts; he performed operas in theaters in Florence, Rome, Naples, and Venice and got to know such coeval musicians as Scarlatti, Corelli, and Marcello. In Rome he was in the service of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, also a patron of Corelli and Juvarra.

After briefly serving as music director at the court of Hanover, he moved to London in 1711 to perform Rinaldo there, which was a considerable success. In London, Händel thus decided to settle down and found a royal opera house, which would be known as the Royal Academy of Music. Between 1720 and 1728, he would write fourteen operas for this theater.Händel composed forty-two serious genre operas for the theater that have become famous (and many of which are still performed around the world today).He was also the author of twenty-five equally famous oratorios (including his masterpiece Messiah).

He then wrote many pages of music for orchestra. These included anthems, sorts of celebratory hymns, and sacred sonatas, as well as one hundred and twenty cantatas, eighteen concerti grossi, twelve organ concertos, and thirty-nine sonatas, fugues, and harpsichord suites.

Other composers

The panorama of music in this era was certainly not restricted to the five composers mentioned above. In the century and a half of evolution that distinguishes the Baroque era, extremely heterogeneous musical paradigms emerged: this was the era in which some of the fundamental musical styles and forms in classical music, such as the concerto, opera, and much of sacred music, were codified or fundamentally revisited.

As far as the development of the concerto grosso is concerned, fundamental was the contribution of Händel, but also of the Italian Arcangelo Corelli whose op. 6 is considered one of the highest expressions. Still in the field of instrumental music one must remember the work of Georg Philipp Telemann, whom his contemporaries considered the greatest German musician (far more than Bach, as mentioned above).

In the case of the solo concerto, Vivaldi”s name is the one most readily mentioned, but other artists contemporary with him made fundamental contributions to the development of these styles, among whom we cannot fail to mention Alessandro Marcello, Giuseppe Torelli.

Diachronic table of Baroque composers

The following are groupings of Baroque composers by date of birth according to periodizations made by Suzanne Clercx.


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