A Brief History of Music

The History of Music - Baroque

Introduction       The Renaissance      The Baroque Era      The Classical Era      The Romantic Era     The 20th Century       Further References and Links

The Baroque Era

If the eras of musical evolution were to be compared to the eras of evolution in architecture, then the Middle Ages would be symbolized by the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, the Renaissance by a Florentine building, and the Baroque by Louis XIV's palace at Versailles. Baroque music is very rich and textured, especially in comparison with the music that came before it.

Johann Sebastian Bach At the beginnign of the Baroque age, around the year 1600, a new musical form was developed - opera. This form combined poetry, theater, the visual arts, and music. It arose as a result of the efforts of a group of Italian intellectuals in Florence who wanted to recreate the drama of the ancient Greeks, in which music played a key role. The first big opera was Orfeo, by Claudio Monteverdi, and it was first performed publicly in 1607. The ability of music to express human emotion and tp depict natural phenomena was truly discovered in the Boroque period. Vivaldi's The Four Seasons is the mos t well-known example of this.

Although imitational polyphony remained very substantial, homophony became more and more important. Homophonic music advanced a clear difference between the melodic line and the secondary accompanying parts. This style was very important in opera and in solo vocal music, where it helped listeners to locate the expressive melody of the vocal part.

The style of homophony became more widespread in instrumental music as well. Many baroque pieces contain a continuo part, in which the keyboard (a harpsichord or organ) and the bass instruments produce a harmonic point, which accompanies the melodic line or lines.

Manuscript of J. S. Bach - Canon in perpetuo motu; a musical offering New polyphonic forms were devised, and just as during the Renaissance there was an art of the counterapoint that was an essential skill for every baroque composer. Canons and fugues, two very strict forms of imitational polyphony, were extremely popular. It was even commonly expected of a composer of the period to be able to improvise a fugue anytime on the spot, if he wanted to be considered a real composer.

The orchestra was another creation to arrive at the beginning of the Baroque era, evolving from the accompaniment to opera and vocal arrangements. The most popular baroque musical genre was the concerto, in which solo musicians (or small groups of soloists) played "in concert" with an orchestra, which brought about interesting contrasts in dynamic and melody.

Many musical composers were also virtuoso musicians. For example, Archangelo Corelli was known for his ability on the violin and Johann Sebastian Bach was famous in his day for his ability on the organ.

Important Composers

Claudio Monteverdi 1567 - 1643
Heinrich Schütz 1585 - 1672
Arcangelo Corelli 1653 - 1713
Henry Purcell 1659 - 1695
Francois Couperin 1668 - 1733
Antonio Vivaldi 1678 - 1741
Georg Philipp Telemann 1681 - 1767
Jean-Philippe Rameau 1683 - 1764
Johann Sebastian Bach 1685 - 1750
George Friedrich Händel 1685 - 1759
Domenico Scarlatti 1685 - 1757

Czech Music in the Baroque Era

The Imperial Ensemble relocated during the reign of Matthias to Vienna and came to the Czech lands only for large court celebrations. The new focus of Czech music in the latter half of the 17th century became the nobles' ensembles. Especially noteworthy were two groups - the groups of the Bishops of Olomouc Karel Lichtenstein Kastelkorn (1664 - 1695) and Schrattenbach (1711 - 1738). Both of these groups originated in Kromeriz and Olomouc. Secular music also grew in popularity in the monasteries, as numerous documents surviving from the Cistercian monastery in Osek u Duchova can attest.

Opera came to Bohemia for the first time in the year 1627 during the coronation of Ferdinand II, and from then on was repeatedly performed on tours of the sovereign's home. In Prague and Brno at the start of the 18th century, there were numerous staggiony of Italian opera companies; none of them, however, succeeded in establishing themselves here permanently. The decisive turning point came at the coronation of Charles IV in 1723, when Fux's opera Constanza e fortezza (Constancy and Fortitude) was performed with an unusaully showy and beautiful staging, attended by the foremost musicians in all of Europe. As a result of this opera, Count Sporck summoned the opera company Ant. Denzia to his court at Kuks u Jaromere in 1724 and entrusted it with the management of opera in his Prague theater.
Manuscript of Jan Dismas Zelenka

The most identifiable of the personalities of early Czech baroque is the composer , organist and poet from Jindrichuv Hradec, Adam Michna z Otradovic (1600- 1676). With his creative energy, he took a significant place in the musical production of the time. In two collections, entitled Ceska marianska muzyka (1647) (Czech music of the Holy Virgin) and Svatorocni muzyka (1661) (Holy year music), he published four-part and five-part spiritual songs, frequently taken from popular tradition. Several of Michna's songs were used by later publishers of hymn books, and his song Chtic, aby spal (Desire to sleep) is still sung today. Somewhat more artistic, Loutna ceska (1653), (Czech lute) was a collection of spiritual compositions for two sopranos accompanied by two or three violas and bass.

The top figures of Czech baroque are undoubtedly Zelenka and Cernohorsky. Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679 - 1745) came from Lounovice pod Blanikem, and studied music in Vienna and Italy. In his melodic inventiveness, especially in rhythm, are recognizable features of Czech music, which considerably separated him from his Italian and German contemporaries. His distinctive melodiousness brought Zelenka to an accomplished mastery, in which he applied a beautiful contrapuntal technique and a freely expanded melody, articulated in the closed form da capo. Zelenka's compositional abilities were praised even during his lifetime by contemporaries such as Telemann and J.S. Bach.

Bohuslav Matej Cernohorsky (1684 - 1742) was born in Nymburk. Little information survives about him, so his biography can only be reconstructed approximately. The same can be said of his compositions, of which, for all his renown, very few have been preserved. Among those that did are the excellent motet Laudetur Jesus Christus (A grandiose vocal fugue with organ accompaniment), Regina coeli a concert cantata, several pieces for organ, fugues and toccatas. An entire school of composers are connected with his name, which includes names like Seger, Zach and Tuma.

Josef Seger (1716 - 1782) was the author of excellent organ pieces and fugues along the lines of J.S. Bach, and fugues to the song Narodil se Kristus Pan Christ the Lord was born).

Important Composers

Adam Michna z Otradovic 1600 - 1676
Jan Dismas Zelenka 1679 - 1745
Bohuslav Matej Cernohorsky 1684 - 1742
Jan Zach 1699 - 1773
Frantisek Tuma 1704 - 1774
Josef Seger 1716 - 1782

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