Baroque and Romantic Music Essay

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European music: Baroque vs. Romantic and Classical music

Any non-contemporary orchestral music is often called 'classical' in a colloquial fashion. However, there are many varieties of music between the eras of the 15th century and our own besides what is technically associated with the classical period. Perhaps the most notable movement which laid the foundation for our own contemporary era of music is that of the Baroque period. Rather than naturalness, the Baroque stressed ornamentation, artificiality, and technique, including its use of the human voice. "Generally, the qualities most valued in the Baroque voice were agility, purity and clarity, even at the expense of the power which characterizes today's operatic voice" (Thornburgh 1). The predominant instruments besides the human voice were the harpsichord, violins, recorders, and trumpets, which gave Baroque music its unique sound.

Stylistically, Baroque music is notable for its use of the basso continuo and its intense, ornamental style. "The continuo, typically consisting of a harpsichord and a cello, provided the rhythmic and harmonic foundation of Baroque ensemble" (Thornburgh 1). Considerable leeway was given to musicians in terms of ornamentation or the "embellishment of the musical line, with devices such as trills, mordants and grace notes. Ornaments were rarely written out, and often were not even indicated, but simply left to the taste of the performer. Vibrato was considered an ornamental enhancement of a given note or musical moment, not the ubiquitous element of tone production which it has become today" (Thornburgh 1). The fact that these elements were not written out and the fact that the piano rather than the harpsichord is the dominant percussion instrument in modern orchestras is why there may be a very notable contrast between how Baroque music sounded to its contemporaries vs. how it sounds in modernity when reproduced by a 21st century orchestra.

The way in which the artist was conceptualized at the heart of Baroque music was also quite unique.
Rather than an individual, expressive artist unpacking his or her emotions, the Baroque era stressed the need to give voice to 'pure' ideas and emotions. "Baroque musicians were not concerned with expressing their own feelings and emotions, rather they sought to describe with objectivity, feelings and emotions which were distinct from what they actually felt" (Thornburgh 1). The idea of complexity of thought and emotion was not lionized as a goal of the Baroque music -- instead, music took the form of singular movements designed to express a single emotion. Often, there would be significant pauses during movements to allow audience members to 'take in' the expressed emotions. "A distinctive feature of Baroque music is that each piece (or single movement within a multi-movement piece) limits itself to only one of the emotions. Baroque thematic development is thus quite different from the later Classical thematic development which juxtaposed themes of contrasting emotional content in the same piece" (Thornburgh 2).

The greatest composer of the Baroque period is widely considered to be Johann Sebastian Bach. The majority of Bach's music took the form of church cantatas. Cantatas manifested another notable feature of the Baroque era, namely the fusing of the sacred and secular themes and also styles of music. "One could perceive the cantata as a mini-unstaged opera" (Thornburgh 2). Handel, another notable composer of the period, was particularly noted for his oratorios, such as the Messiah, which were often performed in concert halls but had sacred themes. "The oratorios were the most operatic of all the sacred works, complete with narrative plots, several acts, real characters and implied action. Another major difference between sacred vocal works and Italian operas was the use of the chorus to heighten the drama and speak for the religious community" (Thornburgh 2). Bach did compose some secular….....

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