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BaroquePictureBaroque Music History Review

General Background on the Baroque Era

The Baroque Era (c1600-1750) was the last great age of European aristocratic monarchies. During this period, much of the world was colonized on behalf of Europe's crowned heads, and Protestantism successfully rivaled Catholicism. Notable scientists were Newton, Bacon and Kepler. Important writers and artists were Descartes, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, El Greco, Milton, Pope, Racine and Moliere.

Some Musical Considerations in the Baroque Era

Dramatic Contrast is the hallmark of Baroque musical style.  Composers of this era accomplished this by using structural opposition in their works:

In Baroque works, contrast is essential between movements; however, within a movement one consistent mood and rhythmic pulse prevails in order to evoke one specific emotional response (this concept is often called "The Doctrine of Affections"). For the first time, instrumental musicbecame more significant than vocal music, with the organ, harpsichord, and the violin family being the most favored instruments. Musical works became significantly longer, necessitating that larger works be subdivided into contrasting sections called movements.

In the Baroque, much of the music was written in polyphonic counterpoint(with several complex independent melodic lines occurring simultaneously within a work). Harmonymoved towards tonality(centered around a single "home-key" pitch called a "tonic"). By 1700, motoric rhythm (a constant pulse or beat) was a primary feature of Western music. Sacred and secular styles became more similar; thus, it is best to make distinctions between Baroque vocal and instrumental music. Many new forms and genres were created for instruments, and instruments were now used to accompany all types of vocal music.

An important feature of Baroque music is the use of basso continuo—a small  "back-up" instrumental group that provided an improvised harmonic accompaniment for many types of Baroque music (similar in function to the keyboard and bass instruments in today's jazz, rock and pop styles).  Basso continuo was usually comprised of a keyboard instrument (harpsichord or organ) and a melodic bass instrument (cello or viol' da gamba).

The Interactive Timeline on Baroque Music

You may begin your chronological review of Baroque music by clicking the "Interactive Timeline" link on the left index.