January 1, 1723 - Baroque Period Composers and Music

By: Anna Erksine

The Baroque was a period that followed the Renaissance and lasted from approximately 1600 to 1750. Baroque techniques began as a response to the counter-reformation and had close ties to the Catholic church. It was a way for Catholic parts of Europe to set themselves apart from Protestant Europe. The Baroque period started in Rome but spread across Europe, and it encompassed arts such as painting, sculpture, dance, and music. Baroque style involved lots of detail and complexity. This was reflected by heavily ornamented music, vibrant paintings, as well as grand and decorative architecture. Overall, the Baroque period was more dramatic than the artistic periods that had come before.

Baroque music was very diverse but had a common goal: to communicate emotion to the listener. Baroque music employed the use of contrast, such as quiet and loud, and composers became particular about what instrument played each part in a piece. Embellishments, or playing around a note instead of just playing that note, were used to create more complexity. The concept of basso continuo, or “thorough bass” was important throughout the Baroque period and was played by two or more instruments. The line instrument would play the baseline and the chord instrument would play the harmonies. All of the techniques in Baroque music were used to make the pieces more intricate.

Painted in 1746 by Elias Gottlob Haussmann. Image Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6a/Johann_Sebastian_Bach.jpg 

The types of music that emerged from the Baroque period included the sonata, cantata, oratorio, (religious musical drama), concerto, and suite. Another notable musical form was the Opera, which gained lots of popularity during this time and gave solo singers a spotlight. Instruments used in Baroque-era pieces included lutes, violins, cellos, violas, and bass for the strings. The trumpet gained popularity as a brass instrument, and wind instruments such as the bassoon, flute, oboe, and recorder were used. Because the modern piano did not exist until around 1700, pieces many were written for the harpsichord and organ.

Most composers of the Baroque era wrote music according to the musical demands of the patron or institution they were being paid by, and not necessarily because they felt compelled to compose the music a certain way. Some of the most famous composers of this time were Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi. Handel, who was born in Germany and later moved to England, was known for his operas, anthems, and organ concertos. Vivaldi was a Venetian priest, violinist, and composer who was recognized for his concertos, the most famous being the violin concerto The Four Seasons. Bach, arguably the most famous Baroque composer, was more known for being an organist than a composer during his lifetime, although he composed over 1,100 pieces of music. A few of his most popular pieces are The Well-Tempered Clavier, Brandenburg Concertos, and Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

Baroque era music would continue to have an influence on the periods that followed it and many still take inspiration from Baroque composers today. Musical forms that were created in the Baroque period like the oratorio, concerto, and opera are still used today. Pieces composed during the time are also widely played and practiced today. New instrumental playing techniques were developed during the Baroque period, as well as changes in musical notation. A major creation in the Baroque period that would influence music for centuries to come was the creation of tonality, which gave a piece a tonic center and a key. Bach’s system of tonality is still taught today because of how prominent it became in music. The musical advancements of the Baroque period allowed for further expansion and exploration of music and its works are still admired today.


Four Seasons, (Composed in 1723 by Antonio Lucio Vivaldi), performed by L’Orchestre de chambre de Genève

A performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor played at St Martin’s Church, Groningen: