The Baroque style didn’t just happen in painting, sculpture, and buildings. Baroque painting masters like Caravaggio and Peter Paul Rubens, Baroque sculpture, and Baroque architecture (especially church buildings) were all well-known in the 17th and 18th centuries. But classical music was an especially well-known form of Baroque art.
What makes the baroque different? The main characteristics of baroque music
1. Emphasis on dynamics
During the Baroque period, the harpsichord was replaced by the pianoforte, which was an early version of the piano. It was also called the fortepiano.
The piano’s hammers were made of felt, and they hit the strings, while the harpsichord’s strings were plucked. This brought with it the new style option of being able to play both softly and loudly, which made it possible to play in more dynamic ways.
Other new baroque instruments, like the trumpet with valves and the violin, also had a lot of power. Instruments that were popular during the Renaissance, like the lute, were still played, but they were not as popular as newer, more exciting instruments.
2. Contrast as a dramatic element
Contrasts are an important part of the drama in a baroque piece because they add movement. In a lot of baroque music, the differences between loud and soft, solo and ensemble (like at a concert), and different instruments and sounds are very important.
Composers also started to use more precise and delicate instruments. Instead of letting the performer choose, they would often tell the performer which instruments to use in a piece. Instruments with bright sounds, like trumpets and violins, also became more popular.
3. Instrumental music and tonal characteristics
Before the Baroque, singing went along with music only. In places of worship, vowel parts were often used.
Even though choirs, cantatas, and operas were still used by baroque composers, instrumental music became more and more popular. Some of the most well-known pieces of Baroque music are probably the instrumental ones, like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” or Bach’s “Brandenburg Concertos.”
In the last few decades, scholars and musicians have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what about the tones of 17th and 18th century music made it so unique and easy to recognize.
In 1939, modern orchestras agreed to tune to a standard pitch of a=440 Hz (the note A with a frequency of 440 Hertz). This took the place of a lower pitch (a’ = 435 Hz) that was set in 1859.
But there was no standard pitch before 1859. So, the note to which Baroque ensembles were tuned changed a lot from time to time and place to place. So, the music written down on a score might have sounded a semitone lower than it does now.
Some of the most important parts of a baroque orchestra are no longer found in modern orchestras. The harpsichord was the main keyboard instrument and a key part of the group called the continuo.
Instruments that were popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, like the lute and the violin, were still used. However, modern versions of these instruments give a modern baroque ensemble a different sound than those from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Stringed instruments like the violin, viola, and cello used gut strings instead of the metal-wound strings they use now. Because of this change, the stringed instruments now sound softer and sweeter.
3.3. execution and technique
A Baroque score doesn’t say much or anything about things like articulation, ornamentation, or dynamics. So, modern ensembles have to make their own decisions based on what they know before each performance.
Mechanical differences between Baroque and modern instruments suggest that the older instruments would have sounded different, so groups like Music of the Baroque often changed their style to fit this.
For example, because the structure of baroque bows is different from that of modern bows, string players who use modern bows often hit the strings with a softer attack and use crescendos and diminuendos on longer notes.
Finger vibrato, which is when a string player vibrates their fingertip on the string to make the sound richer, was used less often than bow vibrato, which is when the bow moves back and forth.
4. Ornamentation, embellishment and expression
The language of music and the way melodies were put together were based on a complex system of tonal figures that tried to show how people felt. Baroque music has embellishments, painting, and flair, just like the buildings and sculptures of the time.
Trills, acciaccaturas (short grace notes), appoggiaturas (long grace notes), mordents (short trills), and turns were often added to even the simplest melodies to make them more interesting (double beat).
5. Monody and basso continuo
In the past, a piece of music was usually just one melody, sometimes with improvised accompaniment, or several melodies played at the same time. It wasn’t until the Baroque era that the ideas of “melody” and “harmony” were really put into words.
In order to make music that sounded like music from the past, composers focused less on the complicated polyphony that was popular in the 15th and 16th centuries and more on a single voice with a simple accompaniment, which is called “monody.”
People now thought of music as a form of speech that required a strong speaker. A central vocal soloist would be the best person for this job. In the preface to “Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda” from his eighth book of Madrigals, Monteverdi makes a clear statement about the new mix of emotional expression and solo singer (1638).
There, he says, “It seems to me that the three main emotions or tendencies of our minds are anger, calmness, and modesty.” Philosophers agree that this would be reflected in the high, low, and middle ranges of our voices.
This new way of thinking about dramaturgy and aesthetics is best shown by the early operas.
Along with the focus on a single melody, the bass line in basso continuo notation became a single, continuous line.
This type of music notation has a full bass line, which in a baroque ensemble is usually played by a cello. Then, in figured bass notation, a player of a keyboard instrument like a harpsichord or piano makes up chords on the spot.
Most of the time, organists who play by themselves play basso continuo notation. The Baroque period is sometimes called the “Age of the Figured Bass” because the basso continuo, or “figured bass,” was used until the end of the time.
An epoch as important as that of baroque, which continues to have an impact on today’s music, can only be roughly touched upon in such an article. We hope that we are able to explain the most important parts of the music from this time and get you interested in the rich world of baroque music.