The Baroque Era
The Classical Era
The Romantic Era
The 20th Century
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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