Introduction to the Baroque Period
By Catherine Hua
The Baroque period, which took place between approximately 1600 and 1750, contrasted with the restraint and rationality of the Renaissance. It is unsurprising that the art and music of that era, most of which were commissioned by the Catholic Church and by royalty, were marked by their emotional intensity, grandiosity, and ornate beauty.
The piano's predecessor, the fortepiano, had not even been invented until late in the period. Rather, composer-musicians mainly used the harpsichord, organ, cello, and violin. The harpsichord, which features only two levels of dynamics (loud or soft), made it impossible for composers to include crescendos or descendos in their music.
However, the music was not scarce of ornamentation. Composers often decorated their pieces with trills, mordents and accents, and also left key parts open to improvisation in a feature called basso continuo. While the bass line was written, the composer might choose not to specify the type of chord or inversion to play, and players were then expected to add their own notes to the harmony.
A piece's one main melody, often repeated in variations throughout the music and within the different voices, added to the sense of emotion in the music and emphasized the piece's consistent mood. The infusion of emotion also carried into the creation of opera during this era.
Other forms of music used during this era were concertos, sinfonias, sonatas, cantatas, fugues and canons. Some of the most famous composers include Johann Pachelbel, Antonio Vivaldi, Henry Purcell, Georg Telemann, George Handel, Domenico Scarlatti, and of course, Johann Sebastian Bach.