Classical Baroque Music (1600-1750)


The Baroque covers the period from 1600 to 1750. The early Baroque finds the beginning of opera, a form of princely entertainment first seen in Florence, and notably exemplified by Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, staged in Mantua in 1607. This follows the development of a form of Italian monody in which a vocal line, closely associated with the words set, was accompanied by a bass-line, with chords from a keyboard or plucked instrument. Monteverdi (1567-1643) moves in 1613 to St Mark's in Venice. His last operas in 1640 and 1642 are staged at a newly opened commercial opera-house in Venice. Italian opera continues with Cavalli (1602-1676), Cesti (1623-1669) and Rossi (1597-1653), among others. Oratorio, associated with the religious order established by St Philip Neri, is exemplified by the Rappresentazione di anima e di corpo of Cavalieri (c.1550-1602) performed in Rome in 1600. The form continues with composers such as Carissimi. In France a predilection for dance results in instrumental music for this purpose. French opera, developed in the second half of the 17th century, owes much to the domineering Italian Lully (1632-1687), who became Louis XIV's composer of instrumental music in 1653. In German-speaking countries Schütz (1585-1672) brings the musical style of Venice to Dresden. Other Protestant German composers include Schein (1586-1630) in Leipzig. In England the early 17th century continues the development of domestic music-making with the madrigal, consort music and a flourishing school of keyboard music under Byrd, carried to the continent by John Bull (c.1563-1628) and continued by the Dutch composer Sweelinck (1562-1621). The latter's pupils did much to foster the organ-playing tradition of North Germany, notably in Hamburg.


The second half of the 17th century in England is the age of Purcell (1659-1695), with elaborate church music, particularly for the Chapel Royal, theatre music and songs. Lully (1632-1687), in France, dominates the theatre, creating a French form of opera, often coupled with ballet. In Italy, instrumental forms lead to the solo concerto and the concerto grosso, the latter exemplified particularly by Corelli (1653-1713) with his concerti grossi and trio sonatas, a parallel and related form. In Germany the tradition that Bach was to follow is further established in Lübeck with the organist and composer Buxtehude (c.1637-1707).


The late Baroque, the first half of the 18th century, refines and defines existing forms still further. In England the German-born Handel (1685-1759) is employed to write and stage Italian operas, later turning also to a new form, the English oratorio. In Italy the Venetian Vivaldi (1678-1741) writes more than 500 concertos, establishing a form that is much imitated. In Germany Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) demonstrates a characteristically German command of counterpoint in sacred and secular compositions. His contemporary, Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) is one of the most prolific composers of the period. France, with its own form of opera under composers like Rameau (1683-1764), boasts a distinguished tradition of keyboard composers such as François Couperin (1668-1733). In Spain the Italian Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) writes some 500 single-movement keyboard sonatas.


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