The Baroque Period (1600-1760), houses some of the most famous composers and pieces that we have in Western Classical Music. It also sees some of the most important musical and instrumental developments. Italy, Germany, England and France continue from the Renaissance to dominate the musical landscape, each influencing the other with conventions and style.
Amongst the many celebrated composers of the time, G F Handel, Bach, Vivaldi and Purcell provide a substantial introduction to the music of this era. It is during this glittering span of time that Handel composes his oratorio “The Messiah”, Vivaldi the “Four Seasons”, Bach his six “Brandenburg Concertos” and the “48 Preludes and Fugues”, together with Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas”.
Instrumental music was composed and performed in tandem with vocal works, each of equal importance in the Baroque. The virtuosity that began amongst the elite Renaissance performers flourished in the Baroque. Consider the keyboard Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti or the Concertos that Vivaldi composed for his student performers. This, in turn, leads to significant instrumental developments, and thanks to the aristocratic support of Catherine Medici, the birth of the Violin.
Common musical forms were established founded on the Renaissance composers principles but extended and developed in ways that they would have probably found unimaginable. The Suite became a Baroque favourite, comprising contrasting fast slow movements like the Prelude; Allemande, Gigue, Courante and the Sarabande. Concertos became ever more popular, giving instrumentalists the opportunity to display their technical and expressive powers.
Vocal music continued to include the Mass but now also the Oratorio and Cantata alongside anthems and chorales. Opera appears in earnest in the Baroque period and becomes an established musical form and vehicle for astonishing expression and diversity.
Increasingly, the preferred harmony is tonal and the system of keys (major and minor), is accepted in favour of modality. This lifts the limitations of modes and offers composers the chance to create ever more complex and expressive pieces that combine exciting polyphonic textures and dynamics.
Notation accompanies these developments and steadily we find that the accuracy of composers works becomes more precise and detailed giving us a better possibility of realising their intentions in performances of today.