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Many musical terms and concepts from this era are still in use today. Early Medieval c. All of these efforts resulted in appreciable disagreement about time boundaries of the period, especially concerning when it began.

The Best of Baroque Music

Bach under a single rubric. Nevertheless, the term has become widely used and accepted for this broad range of music. It may be helpful to distinguish the Baroque from both the preceding Renaissance and following Classical periods of musical history. The Baroque period is divided into three major phases: early, middle, and late.

Baroque Music: Selected full-text books and articles

Although they overlap in time, they are conventionally dated from to , from to , and from to He developed two individual styles of composition — the heritage of Renaissance polyphony prima pratica and the new basso continuo technique of the Baroque seconda pratica. The style of palace, and the court system of manners and arts he fostered became the model for the rest of Europe.

This style, one of the most important contributions to the development of Baroque as well as the later Classical style, was generated by a new concept of melody and harmony that elevated the status of the music to one of equality with the words, which formerly had been regarded as pre-eminent. The florid, coloratura monody of the early Baroque gave way to a simpler, more polished melodic style, usually in a ternary rhythm.

The harmonies, too, were simpler than in the early Baroque monody, and the accompanying bass lines were more integrated with the melody, producing a contrapuntal equivalence of the parts that later led to the device of an initial bass anticipation of the aria melody. He purchased patents from the monarchy to be the sole composer of operas for the king and to prevent others from having operas staged.

He did, however, introduce this ensemble to the lyric theatre, with the upper parts often doubled by recorders, flutes, and oboes, and the bass by bassoons. Trumpets and kettledrums were frequently added for heroic scenes. Whereas Lully was ensconced at court, Corelli was one of the first composers to publish widely and have his music performed all over Europe. Internal evidence of the music itself suggests that the difference between the two outer, and the middle movement was one of character not speed. The outer movements would be lively and outgoing, while the centre movement would be more introspective or lyrical.

Thurston Dart, a major pioneer in the search for authenticity in performance during the s, was also of this view.

Baroque music night at the Vadim Sidur Museum

As a simple rule, "slow" movements should move along gracefully, never drag, while "fast" movements should never express haste, and should always respect the player of the fastest notes, so that every note is distinct. As Alessandro Scarlatti wrote in a letter to the Grand Duke Ferdinando de' Medici: Where 'grave' is marked, I do not mean 'melancolico'; 'allegro' should be judged so that too much is not demanded of the singer. And the literal translation of the Italian Vivace is "lively" - not ultra-fast! Many "authentic" performances also adopt unsteady tempi, so that the music seems to move in waves, or fits and starts, ignoring the fact that a regular tempo was universally accepted in baroque times when the major concern was keeping unruly players and singers together.

Indeed it was quite usual for conductors to beat time with a heavy object on a desk, or, more commonly still, on the floor with a staff. The French composer Lully was conducting a Te Deum to celebrate Louis XIV's recovery from illness; he was banging loudly on the floor with a staff when he struck his foot with such force that it developed an abscess, from which the unfortunate Lully died shortly after.

Slow, steady and deliberate tempi were the order of the baroque day. And clarity of contrapuntal line was paramount, which itself dictated a slow and deliberate rendition. Balance The importance of contrapuntal clarity leads to the issue of balance. Many recording engineers and studios will record a harpsichord concerto one session and a piano concerto the next; in both cases there is a keyboard soloist set against the orchestral background.

Yet while the piano is given prominence in the piano concerto, the harpsichord will be pushed into the soundscape background for the harpsichord concerto! It is not always easy to find recordings of Bach's harpsichord concertos in which the harpsichord is given correct prominence; and as for the poor Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, often and rightly billed as the world's first Triple Concerto, it seems impossible to find one recording from the zillions available in which the harpsichord is given the same prominence as the violin and flute, the other two solo instruments. The harpsichord is doing lots of wonderful things, but balance and excessive speeds usually render most of the player's work inaudible.

When the harpsichord emerges into its beautiful solo cadenza it is barely audible; indeed in one recent "authentic" recording the harpsichord volume is actually turned up for the solo, either during the recording, the mixing or mastering - a shameful practice hardly worthy of any self-respecting recording company! The tradition of the Inaudible Harpsichord is probably based on the perception of the harpsichord as being solely a continuo instrument, there only to keep the rhythm and to fill in the background harmony.

Baroque Music Cycle "Orlando Furioso" - Dubrovacki simfonijski orkestar

While this may be a true reflection of the harpsichord's major traditional role, this fine instrument was obviously much more significant to Bach, who pioneered its use as a solo-in-concerto. Another example of poor balance which fails to reflect Bach's own view of the harpsichord's role can almost universally be found in his sonatas for violin and keyboard. These were written as 3-part Trio Sonatas, one part for each keyboard hand, and the third for the violin. But once again the harpsichord is generally relegated to the rear of the sound spectrum, the result being an almost solo violin with a faint tinkling in the background.

Thus when the counterpoint moves from violin to harpsichord it is all but lost. The same applies with the sonatas for flute - or viola - and harpsichord. In choral music too, balance is often inappropriate musically, when for example the choir is given prominence over the instruments, although baroque composers generally and Bach in particular wrote equally for instruments and voices, taking the musical lines freely from one to the other.

A good Bach performance and recording might be summarized in one simple objective: "if Bach wrote it, the listener should hear it". In the case of Bach's cantatas and choral works, most performances and recordings use a small portable organ for the continuo, ignoring the church's main organ in the gallery.

This arrangement, while no doubt preferred by conductor and recording engineer, may be adequate for the accompaniment of arias and recitatives, but not for the opening choruses in cantatas such as 29 and which feature what amounts to a solo organ concerto movement.


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Here the thin, almost pitiful sound of the little chamber organ is simply not up to the task. This is one fine aspect among many others! In the accompaniment of concluding chorales too, the big organ provides what Bach would call gravitas.


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A document in Meissen Cathedral written by J F Doles gives detailed organ registration recommendations for the performance of Preludes, and for the accompaniment of chorales sung by the congregation. Since Doles was a pupil of J S Bach for five years his recommendations may be presumed to reflect Bach's own views. Full organ is recommended for congregational accompaniment, including the 16' Posaune in the pedal.

What is Baroque Music?

Doles incidentally, after a spell at Freiberg Cathedral, took over Bach's old post as Thomaskantor in which he held until his death. Timbre The third major issue to be considered is that of timbre , or sound quality produced by the instruments, in particular the violin and the harpsichord. The harpsichord sound generally associated with most "authentic" performances is, in the words of one outspoken reviewer, "tinny and jangly".

Was this the sound Bach would have preferred from his own harpsichord? This is not a rhetorical or unanswerable question, for we can ascertain Bach's taste in harpsichord sound with some accuracy. To begin with, the harpsichords built today as copies of baroque instruments normally copy the lighter French and Flemish designs. German harpsichords of the baroque period however, were much heavier and more solid, giving a deeper, richer, rounder tone.

Recent research has established that for his weekly concerts at Zimmermann's Coffee House Bach had a double manual harpsichord 16', 3x8', 4' mounted on a pedal harpsichord 2x16', 3x8' made by Zacharias Hildebrandt, who was both harpsichord builder, and organ builder under the direction of Bach's friend and colleague Gottfried Silbermann. Bach would naturally have been familiar with the instruments of the major harpsichord builders of his time, preeminent among whom was the Hamburg builder Hieronymus Albrecht Hass The Hass instrument shown as the heading to our page 'The Baroque German Harpsichord' link below was built in , it has three manuals with couplers, five choirs of strings 1x16', 2x8', 1x4', 1x2' with a separate soundboard for the 16' choir, six rows of jacks, a lute stop and harp stop for the 16'.

Clearly Bach in no way opposed to the use of the 16' stop in harpsichord performance as "authentic" performers imply ; the inventory of Bach's possessions at the time of his death reveals that as well as two lute-harpsichords, he owned several harpsichords of which his main instrument had a 16' stop on its lower manual.

As to the lute-harpsichord Bach, ever-inventive, had two "lute-harpsichords" custom-built with gut strings and other modifications rendering a gentler, more rounded sound. For more detail about the lute-harpsichord check the link at the bottom of this page. Also fashionable in "authentic" circles is to scorn such "bells and whistles" as foot pedals for registration changes, and - perish the thought - Venetian swell-shutters for volume variations.

Once again however, "authentic" ideology disregards historical accuracy. In addition to its six hand stops, it also has three pedals to control the lute, machine and buff stops for quick registrational changes. When the machine stop is put into the 'on' position the upper keyboard commands the upper eight-foot stop, and the lower keyboard the three sets of strings. On depressing the lute pedal this combination is changed to: upper keyboard, the lute stop: lower keyboard, the lower eight-foot.

The case also contains a Venetian swell, an inner lid consisting of eleven hinged shutters covering the whole soundboard area. These shutters can be opened by depressing the buff pedal, which permits crescendo and diminuendo, and also alters the tone colour. Similarly in the case of the violin, the research movement into "authentic performance" has totally overlooked one very important aspect of baroque performance on stringed instruments generally: the ability of the performer to produce true chords, a technique which required a type of bow widely used in German baroque performance.

The German baroque violin bow was quite different from its Italian counterpart, reflecting differences in German musical taste. The Italian bow was slim, light, almost straight, and very similar to those in general use today. The German bow was heavier and deeply arched; the strings were loose, and the tension was maintained by the pressure of the player's thumb which was placed under the bow strings. The more cumbersome method of holding the bow which this required, would have dictated slower performance speeds.

But more significantly, the tension, being maintained by the player's thumb, could be tightened for single-line melody, or loosened to play chords on three or all four strings simultaneously. This technique was expounded by one Emil Telmanyi whose performance of Bach's solo violin sonatas and partitas uses a modern reconstruction of the baroque German violin bow download from our Baroque Music Library. His performance brought out for the first time the alternation between chord and solo line which is such an important feature of Bach's solo string writing - all other performances play broken arpeggios which are not the same as true chords.

There need be no doubt as to the historical validity of the arched German baroque bow, with its associated technique of using the thumb to control tension and play chords or single line as required. A cursory glance at the frontispiece to the Musikalishes Lexikon published in and edited by Bach's cousin Gottfried Walther clearly shows players using arched bows, their thumbs holding the tension of the bowstrings.

And there is other documentation, as for example in the written comments by Georg Muffat A further point is that Bach was not the sort of slapdash musician who would write chords for an instrument incapable of playing them. His solo flute sonata has no "chords" which the player must replicate with arpeggios. Bach wrote chords in his solo string sonatas and partitas because chords were what he intended to be played and chords were what he himself would have played he learned the violin at an early age and was very fond of the viola.

In the absence of a revival of the baroque German bow and a fund of expertise in its use, the only way at present to render a truly authentic performance of Bach's solo violin and solo cello sonatas and partitas - authentic in the sense of how Bach visualized and would have heard them - would be to use a quartet. Fuller detail on the German baroque bow together with the illustration mentioned above and several others can be found by following the link at the bottom of this page.

Another very prominent feature of string playing in today's "authentic" performances is the almost total absence of vibrato, resulting in a flat, plaintive and lifeless tone. It seems quite unclear as to where this aspect of "authenticity" derived from, since much evidence supports quite the contrary view.


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A star pupil of Corelli, Geminiani moved from Naples to London in and was to become the most important Italian violin virtuoso resident in Britain, also teacher, composer and the author of an immensely influential treatise addressed to advanced players, The Art of Playing on the Violin as well as several other advanced musical treatises. He published several challenging collections of violin sonatas which require dramatic flair from the player. Geminiani provided ornaments for both slow and fast movements as well as cadenzas in his treatise; he advocated the use of vibrato 'as often as possible' , and the expressiveness of his playing was much admired by both Hawkins and Burney.

Vibrato was also well known and much valued during baroque times in its application on the clavichord, known in German as Bebung. There are also many references in baroque musical literature, both to the importance placed on warmth and vibrato in vocal performance, and to the ideal in violin playing of replicating the human voice.

A further, more practical consideration arises from the fact that musical instruments in those days were not maintained to the same high standard of tuning as they are today, since they were usually stored and often played in damp, cold conditions. It was recommended that instruments play in groups of at least three in order to minimize this problem, and vibrato likewise would have helped overcome the perception of imperfect tuning.

Period instruments A word or two might also be said about the use of the term "period instruments".