music in the baroque era

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  • Do Not Copy A-R Online Music Anthology

    A-R Online Music Anthology

    Introduction to the Baroque


    Jonathan Rhodes Lee is Assistant Professor of

    Music at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas,

    with interests in both eighteenth-century topics

    (particularly the works of George Frideric Handel)

    and film music. His publications have appeared in

    the Cambridge Opera Journal, the A-R Online

    Music Anthology, and the Hallische Hndel-

    Ausgabe. Jonathan is active as a harpsichordist

    and has recorded on the MSR Classics label.

    by Jonathan Rhodes Lee,

    University of Nevada, Las Vegas

    Main Features

    The New Musics

    Operatic Invention and Affective Clarity

    New Instrumental Genres

    Musical Encyclopedism

    Bibliography/Further Reading

    Music List

    2016 A-R Editions, Inc. All rights reserved.

    This article is for authorized use only. Unauthorized copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. If you have

    questions about using this article, please contact us:

  • Introduction to the Baroque Era



    Introduction to the Baroque Era Jonathan Rhodes Lee, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

    Music historians typically define the Baroque era as spanning 16001750.1 The word baroque

    was applied to music near the end of this period; in 1734, an anonymous author drew on the

    Portuguese term barroco, which referred to a misshapen pearl, something that was supposed to be

    beautiful, but had been distorted. This idea nicely described the authors attitude toward Jean-

    Philippe Rameaus opera of 1733, Hippolyte et Aricie:

    [The opera] had no tune . . . [and] the music had no relationship to the dance except for its

    more or less lively movement. There was consequently no thought, no expression at all. It

    ran through every trick with speed, unsparing of dissonances without end. . . . Continually

    it was sadness instead of tenderness. The uncommon had the character of the baroque, the

    fury of din.2

    Despite the invective nature of this quotation, it is useful for understanding the coherence of

    grouping as baroque works as different as Monteverdis madrigals, Franois Couperins

    character pieces, and Bachs fugues. The critic of Rameaus opera shows three clear

    preoccupations of his day: a concern with the newness and complexity of the musical material

    (the uncommon had the character of the baroque); a desire for musical sound to have coherence

    and meaning, particularly tied to some extramusical association (no thought . . . no relationship

    to the dance); and a claim that music transmitted a clear, unambiguous emotional charge

    (sadness instead of tenderness). These were recurring motifs in both the aesthetic writing about

    music and in musicians compositional approaches throughout this period.

    Main Features The main features of the era are discussed in the sections that follow:

    The New Musics

    Operatic Invention and Affective Clarity

    New Instrumental Genres

    Musical Encyclopedism

    1 Claude Palisca has traced the emergence of this term among modern historians, showing that it only gained traction

    in the 1940s. (Baroque. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, 2 Lettre de M *** Mlle *** sur lorigine de la musique, Mercure de France, May 1734, 868/6170. Trans. in

    Claude Palisca, Baroque as a Music-Critical Term, in French Musical Thought: 16001800, ed. Georgia Cowart,

    78 (Ann Arbor and London: UMI Research Press, 1989). Rousseau gives a similar definition of this term in his

    Dictionnaire de musique (Paris, 1768), s.v. baroque: A baroque music is that in which the harmony is confused,

    laden with modulations and with dissonances, the melody hard and unnatural, the harmony difficult, and the tempo

    constrained. [Une Musique Baroque est celle dont lHarmonie est confuse, charge de Modulations & de

    Dissonances, le Chant dur & peu naturel, lIntonation dificile, & le Mouvement contraint.]

  • Introduction to the Baroque Era



    The New Musics Two events at the turn of the seventeenth century marked, in the perception of writers of the time,

    a clear break from tradition; together, they might be considered the inception of the Baroque era.

    First, the publication of one of the most famous disputes in music history, between the

    Augustinian monk Giovanni Maria Artusi (15461613) and the composer Claudio Monteverdi

    (15671643), proclaimed the emergence of a new tradition. In 1600, Artusi had encountered

    Monteverdis madrigal titled Cruda Amarilli (Cruel Amaryllis, published 1605). Artusi, who

    had studied with the great sixteenth-century contrapuntist, Gioseffo Zarlino (15171590), was

    distressed by the Imperfections of Modern Music emblematized by this madrigal.3 He accused

    Monteverdi of abrogating the rules that Zarlino had so carefully delineated:

    [This music] introduces new rules, new modes, and new turns of phrase. . . . They violate

    the good rules [of counterpoint], . . . [and] we must believe them deformations of the

    nature and propriety of true harmony.4

    Artusi cited no fewer than seven blatant contrapuntal errors in the 67-measure piece. Measure 13

    of Example 1 shows the first of these errors, which, Artusi charged, created a double offense: as

    the basso holds its g, the canto sings first an a and then an f, creating the dissonant intervals of a

    ninth and a seventh, without the proper preparation of these dissonances, or proper resolution of

    the ninth. (Boxes in Example 1 show the contrapuntal error.)

    Such dissonances could have been easily avoided, Artusi asserted, as he illustrated in notation

    transcribed as Example 2. This solution creates a sonic result that might strike the modern ear as

    dull and lifeless in comparison to Monteverdis counterpoint; even Artusi admitted that the

    sounds of Cruda Amarilli yielded a not unpleasing harmony at which I marvel.5 Yet seductive

    sounds were not to be trusted when judging musics value. Artusi claimed that Monteverdi and

    his advocates enjoyed this music because sensuous excess corrupts the sense [i.e., reason].6

    This claimof a conflict between sensual perception and rational deduction

    was an old one, dating back at least to Plato. Artusi therefore put himself firmly on the

    conservative side of what came to be called the conflict between the Ancients and the


    3 Giovanni Maria Artusi, LArtusi, ovvero, delle imperfezioni della moderna musica (Venice, 1600), trans. Oliver

    Strunk and Margaret Murata in Source Readings in Music History, Section IV: The Baroque Era, ed. Margaret

    Murata, 52634 (New York: Norton, 1998). 4 Artusi, LArtusi, 527. 5 Artusi, LArtusi, 531. 6 Artusi, LArtusi, 532. 7 The argument between the advocates of ancient and modern practices continued well into the eighteenth

    century. See, for instance, the documents reprinted from the 1770s and 80s debating these issues in Enrico Fubini,

    Music and Culture in Eighteenth-Century Europe: A Source Book (Chicago and London: University of Chicago

    Press, 1994), 34051.

  • Introduction to the Baroque Era



    Example 1. Claudio Monteverdi, Cruda Amarilli, from the Fifth Book of Madrigals (1605).

    This example is from the A-R Online Music Anthology:

  • Introduction to the Baroque Era



    Monteverdi responded to these charges in the preface to his fifth book of madrigals, an argument

    expanded upon by the composers brother (Giulio Cesare Monteverdi [15731630/1]) in the

    preface to the Scherzi musicali of 1607. Artusi, the Monteverdis claimed, had missed the point of

    these deviations from normal contrapuntal practice, which arose not from mere sensual excess,

    but from a firmly rationaland very oldidea:

    My brother says that he does not compose his works by chance because, in this kind of

    music, it has been his intention to make the words the mistress of the harmony and not the

    servant, and because it is in this manner that his work is to be judged. . . . Of this Plato

    speaks . . .: Quin etiam consonum ipsum et dissonum eodem modo, quando-quidem

    rithmus et harmonia orationem sequitur non ipsa oratio rithmum et harmonium sequitur.

    [And so of the apt and the unapt, if the rhythm and the harmony follow the words, and not

    the words these.]8

    Monteverdi thus alleged that Artusi, by ignoring the relat