Notes: Baroque 1600-1750

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BAROQUE (1600-1750)


  • Baroque style is elaborately ornamented, focusing on movement and action
  • Baroque music introduced homophonic texture:
    • one main melody with chordal accompaniment
  • Dissonance was used to express extreme emotions


  • Early Baroque --  voices were accompanied by melodic lines written just for instruments (before instruments just doubled the melody)
  • Middle Baroque -- compositions began to have a tonal center (major/minor)
  • Late Baroque -- instrumental music became as important as vocal music


Characteristics of Baroque Music


Unity of Mood:  usually only one mood in a Baroque piece.  These moods were called affections.

Unity of rhythm


Recurring Melodies

Dynamic Continuity

  • Terraced Dynamics: sudden changes from loud to soft, soft to loud
  • Predominantly polyphonic, two or more melodic lines compete for listener’s attention
  • Music was used to depict meaning of certain words

Ex.  Heaven may be set to a high note, and hell to a low note

  • Most music was written to order, to meet specific demands that came mainly from churches and courts.



  • Violin teacher, composer, conductor in Venice
  • Virtuoso violinist and composer
  • The Four Seasons
    • Each one depicts sounds and events associated with each season
    • Most popular is Spring



  • Church organist and composer, director of music of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig Germany
  • Deeply religious man
    • Wrote J.J. “Jesu Juva” (Jesus Help) at beginning of all his sacred pieces
    • Wrote S.D.G. “Sol Deo Gloria” (to God alone the glory) at the end
  • Master at organ, harpsichord and at improvisation
  • First marriage began in 1707 to his second cousin Maria.  They had seven children before Maria died in 1720.
  • 1721 Bach married again, having 13 children with his second wife.
  • Of Bach’s twenty children, 10 died in infancy and 4 became significant composers.
  • Wrote in every form except opera

Why not Opera?

  • Most of his work was vocal music written for the Lutheran Church
  • In his later life, Bach suffered from failing eyesight and it’s believed that complications from two eye surgeries caused him complete blindness and damaged his health.  He died of a stroke in 1750.



  • Father wanted him to study law
  • By age 11 he was composing and giving organ lessons
  • A talented violinist and harpsichordist
  • By age 20 one of his operas was produced
  • Later is in his life, Handel was still conducting and playing organ concerts even though he was blind.
  • A large parts of his output consists of oratorios and operas.
  • Oratorio:  large scale opera like composition but with no dramatic elements



  • Oratorio
  • Lasts 2 ½ hours, composed in 24 days
  • First London performance poorly received

Religious opposition to the use of Christian text in a theater


Three Parts

Part I – prophecy of Messiah’s coming

Part II – Sacrifice of Messiah

Part III – redemption through Messiah

Hallelujah Chorus is most famous.