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Bach wrote the number of cantatas he did, for example, not necessarily because he found the form inspirational, but because of the liturgical demands of the Leipzig church that employed him. When viewed in this light, Baroque music can provide a fascinating window into history. Contrast as a dramatic element Contrast is an important ingredient in the drama of a Baroque composition. The differences between loud and soft, solo and ensemble as in the concerto , different instruments and timbres all play an important role in many Baroque compositions.

Composers also began to be more precise about instrumentation, often specifying the instruments on which a piece should be played instead of allowing the performer to choose. Brilliant instruments like the trumpet and violin also grew in popularity. Monody and the advent of the basso continuo In previous musical eras, a piece of music tended to consist of a single melody, perhaps with an improvised accompaniment, or several melodies played simultaneously.

As part of the effort to imitate ancient music, composers started focusing less on the complicated polyphony that dominated the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and more on a single voice with a simplified accompaniment, or monody. If music was a form of rhetoric, as the writings of the Greeks and Romans indicate, a powerful orator is necessary—and who better for the job than a vocal soloist?

The best philosophers agree, and the very nature of our voice, with its high, low and middle ranges, would indicate as much.

Along with the emphasis on a single melody and bass line came the practice of basso continuo , a method of musical notation in which the melody and bass line are written out and the harmonic filler indicated in a type of shorthand. As the Italian musician Agostino Agazzari explained in Since the true style of expressing the words has at last been found, namely, by reproducing their sense in the best manner possible, which succeeds best with a single voice or no more than a few , as in the modern airs by various able men, and as is the constant practice at Rome in concerted music, I say that it is not necessary to make a score… A Bass, with its signs for the harmonies, is enough.

The Standard Oratorios by George P. Upton

But if some one were to tell me that, for playing the old works, full of fugue and counterpoints, a Bass is not enough, my answer is that vocal works of this kind are no longer in use. Different instrumental sounds After being ignored for decades, Baroque music has become increasingly popular over the last fifty years. As part of this new interest, scholars and musicians have spent countless hours trying to figure out how the music might have sounded to 17th and 18th century audiences. While we will never be able to recreate a performance precisely, their work has unearthed several major differences between Baroque and modern ensembles:.

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Before , however, there was no pitch standard. The note to which Baroque ensembles tuned, therefore, varied widely at different times and in different places. As a result, the music notated on a score might have sounded as much as a half tone lower than how it would traditionally be performed today. The harpsichord was the primary keyboard instrument and an important member of the continuo group , and instruments important in the 16th and 17th centuries like the lute and viol , still continued to be used.

Variations in instruments still popular today also gave the baroque ensemble a different sound. String instruments like the violin, viola and cello used gut strings rather than the strings wrapped in metal with which they are strung today, for example, giving them a mellower, sweeter tone.

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Mechanical differences between baroque and modern instruments also suggest that the older instruments would have sounded differently, so ensembles like Music of the Baroque often adjust their technique to allow for this. Because baroque and modern bows are structurally different, for example, string players using modern bows often use a gentler attack on the string and crescendos and diminuendos on longer notes.

While forms from earlier eras continued to be used, such as the motet or particular dances, the interest in music as a form of rhetoric sparked the development of new genres, particularly in the area of vocal music. Many of the forms associated with the baroque era come directly out of this new dramatic impulse, particularly opera, the oratorio and the cantata.

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In the realm of instrumental music, the notion of contrast and the desire to create large-scale forms gave rise to the concerto, sonata and suite. Opera: A drama that is primarily sung, accompanied by instruments, and presented on stage. Operas typically alternate between recitative , speech-like song that advances the plot, and arias, songs in which characters express feelings at particular points in the action. Choruses and dances are also frequently included. The advent of the genre at the turn of the seventeenth century is often associated with the activities of a group of poets, musicians and scholars in Florence known today as the Florentine Camerata.

When the first public opera houses opened in Venice in , the genre was altered to suit the preferences of the audience. Solo singers took on a sort of celebrity status, and greater emphasis was placed on the aria as a result. Recitative grew less important, and choruses and dances virtually disappeared from Italian opera. The financial realities of staging frequent opera productions also had an effect. The spectacular stage effects associated with opera at court were greatly downplayed, and librettos were constructed to take advantage of stock scenic devices.

By the early 18th century particularly in Naples , two subgenres of opera became evident: opera seria , in which the focus was on serious subject matter and the da capo aria , and opera buffa , which had a lighter, even comic tone and sometimes used duets, trios and larger ensembles.


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The Italian tradition of opera gradually dominated most European countries. Oratorio: an extended musical drama with a text based on religious subject matter, intended for performance without scenery, costume or action. Oratorio originally meant prayer hall, a building located adjacent to a church that was designed as a place for religious experiences distinct from the liturgy.

Although there are late sixteenth century precedents for the oratorio in the motet and madrigal repertoire, the oratorio as a distinct musical genre emerged amidst the excellent acoustics of these spaces in the early s. By the middle of the 17th century, oratorios were performed in palaces and public theaters and were growing increasingly similar to operas, although the subject matter, division into two parts rather than three acts and absence of staged action still set it apart.

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