Baroque Art and Music
The Baroque in Art
Baroque art emerged in Europe around 1600 as a reaction against the intricacies of the Mannerist style that had dominated the Late Renaissance. Baroque art was more direct, more realistic and certainly more emotionally intense than Mannerism. The word “baroque” is derived from the Portuguese and Spanish barroco or French baroque, both referring to a rough or imperfect pearl. This movement was characterized by drama and grandeur. The aristocracy saw the dramatic style of Baroque art and architecture as a means of expressing power and impressing visitors. In addition, Baroque art was encouraged by the Catholic Church, the most important patron of the arts at that time, as a return to the spiritual in art. Leading names in Baroque art include Caravaggio, Rubens, Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Velázquez, Vermeer, Annibale Carracci and Bernini. A special exhibit devoted to Bernini was held in Ottawa in early 2009.
The Baroque in Music
Early composers of the Baroque period strengthened the fundamentals of Renaissance style while integrating new elements. Single, individual lines, as opposed to complex polyphony, ushered in the birth of opera, which in turn gave rise to the golden age of the castratos, the true stars of the era. Singers added numerous decorative, often elaborate touches to the composers’ melodic lines, a practice also found in instrumental music.
In Baroque music we find the transition from the use of a whole range of church modes like Dorian, Phrygian and Mixolydian to just two, which became our major and minor scales. The concept of basso continuo (a kind of numerical shorthand for keyboard instruments indicating which chords are to be played) and the employment of cadences, which act as musical punctuation, helped solidify the importance of harmony as a vertical support for horizontally-conceived melody.
The love of contrast was another prime characteristic of Baroque music: the contrast between loud and soft, high and low, fast and slow, energetic and relaxed, chordal and contrapuntal, duple and triple meter, full texture and solo writing.
Musical forms became better defined. The trio sonata (a composition in three or four movements for two melody instruments of similar range and a keyboard instrument for harmonic support), the suite (a series of numbers derived from actual dances of various European countries), the fugue (a form in which a single subject is continuously repeated and developed in several voices) and the concerto (a sort of dialogue between full orchestra and one or more soloists) became dominant instrumental forms employed by such composers as Bach, Handel, Couperin, Purcell, Vivaldi, Telemann and Corelli.
In the Classroom...