The Baroque music was born in Italy, in all its forms, under the push of the Renaissance, an era during which all the arts flourished.
Starting from Italy, the Baroque extends throughout Europe and as regards music, three main national schools are born: Italian, French and German.

Baroque music in Italy – Italian composers

The Italian school is the one that gives the greatest push to overcome the vocal and musical forms of the Renaissance. It develops mainly in three cities: Venice, Florence and Rome.
The first instrumental musical forms were born, the differentiation from the accompanied vocal music occurs through the Sonata and the Concerto (grosso and soloistic). The same vocal music, however, will develop going towards the Canzone and Madrigale up to the Opera.

In this period we find great musicians and innovators who contributed, with their compositions, to the development of instrumental techniques. We cannot fail to mention among the most important Girolamo Frescobaldi organist and harpsichordist, Arcangelo Corelli violinist and obviously Antonio Vivaldi, violinist too but great innovator with the Concerto solistico as opposed to the Concerto grosso.

A new instrumental musical form (Intermezzo) is also born, that accompanies the dance in the interludes of the opera.

Baroque music in Venice

San Marco in VeniceInstrumental music develops essentially in Venice thanks to the work of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli and the innovative use they have made of very large instrumental groups, divided into less numerous groups, called “cori battenti“, which alternated in the performance.
Other important Baroque composers in Venice such as Adriano Banchieri, Ludovico Grossi da Viadana, Salomone Rossi, Giovan Battista Fontana, Marco Uccellini, Giovan Battista Bassani are to be remembered.
The violin school assumes great importance, starting from Biagio Marini, the first great Italian violinist who will also influence German music, up to the most important Baroque violinists among whom we remember Antonio Vivaldi, Pietro Antonio Locatelli, Francesco Maria Veracini, Francesco Geminiani, Giuseppe Tartini, Arcangelo Corelli, Evaristo Felice Dall’Abaco, Francesco Barsanti.

Another great composer, in Venice, was Claudio Monteverdi who, devoted himself mainly to vocal music with his Operas and his eight books of madrigals, totally transformed the relationship of music with the word.
The other two schools starting from “recitar cantando” will develop mainly the Opera.

Baroque music in Florence

Firenze piazza della Signoria
During Baroque era a group of Florentine intellectuals the “Camerata de ‘Bardi” through the publication of the Dialogue of ancient and modern music by Vincenzo Galilei exalted Greek music by condemning the practice of Renaissance Counterpoint. Giulio Caccini, one of the most important exponents in the Florentine School, states that, in the compositions, the sung part must be more relevant than the instrumental part and therefore more importance must be given to what is expressed by the text rather than the musical constructions. From these statements the Basso Continuo is born in its definitive form of accompaniment.

Two names among all: Giulio Caccini, with his work Nuove Musiche and Jacopo Peri composer with his work Eurydice published, in fact, in 1600 and used to as a reference for the beginning of Baroque era.

Baroque music in Rome

Roma S. Peter PiranesiIn the Roman School, the forms of the Oratorio and the Passione mainly developed, both serving the Church.

The Oratorio and the Passion are a dramatic musical genre performed in concert form, without stage representation or costumed characters. Generally composed for soloists, choir and orchestra, sometimes with a narrator, it is usually of a religious subject, the oratory can sometimes also treat secular topics. Formally close enough to the cantata and the opera, they originate from the madrigal of the early seventeenth century.

In this context, Emilio de ‘Cavalieri and Antonio Cifra are to be remembered.

Baroque music in France – French composers

Music in FranceThe development of the Baroque music in France is slow, in fact, the French were more related to the tradition than the Italian.

They were the last to totally accept this new style, reaching its climax with Jean-Baptiste Lully. At his death the baroque style was transformed into the Stile Galante equivalent to what in the arts, in general, is called Rococo. Rococo music can be considered as very intimate music rendered in extremely refined forms. Among the leading exponents of this style we can find Jean-Philippe Rameau.

French musical Baroque had a close relationship with dance. The Ballet de court was born in the courts to entertain the nobles during the feasts. On these occasions large instrumental sets of lutes or violas da gamba were used. The Italian, naturalized French, J. B. Lully excels in this repertoire. The lute was not only used to accompany the arias but also to perform instrumental introductions that became autonomous solo musical forms. An important lutist was Jacques Gaultier, his collections of dances are in fact the first forms of Suites, which still do not have a well-defined structure. The baroque Suite, in its final form, normally included alternating slow and fast movements, preceded by a movement with an improvisational character (Prelude and Toccata).

In France, in addition to the lute, solo instrumental music is aimed at the harpsichord.
The first representative of the harpsichord school, which influenced all of Europe, was Jaques Champion de Chambonniere, other main composers are Luis Couperin, Jean-Henri D’Anglebert, Jean Philippe Rameau e Francois Couperin.

In parallel, solo instrumental music also develops on instruments such as the viola da gamba (Marin Marais), the Traversiere (Hotteterre family), the wind instruments in general Jean Baptiste Loeillet and Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, which addressed his compositions especially to beginners, probably his pupils.

German baroque music – German composers

German pipe organThe German baroque music of the early and middle era was influenced by the religious struggles that pervaded all of Germany. In the first half of the century, the influence of Italian music predominated, followed by the influence of French music. Catholic composers preferred the Italian style, according to the Catholic liturgy, without making substantial changes to it. Protestant composers adopted the Corale, a musical form, typical of religious hymns particularly widespread in the Lutheran Church, translating liturgical songs from Latin to German because the majority of the population did not know the Latin language.

German Vocal music

The main musical forms were the corale mottetto and the corale concertato. The first is based on the “cantus firmus”, a pre-existing melody often taken from the Gregorian chant, while the second is based on an original composition by the author. Both have in common the “Stile concertato”, that is the joint use of voices and instruments unlike the “a cappella” style composed only for voices.

The greatest masters of this period were Hans Leo Hassler, Michael Praetorius, Henrich Schutz, Johan Hermann Shein, Samuel Scheidt.

German Instrumental music

Most of the German composers completed their training in Italy, especially in Venice studying with Gabrieli.
Hassler transplanted into Germany the songs of Gastoldi and Vecchi, which represent a vocal and instrumental literature typical of a moment of transition, in which the basso continuo was optional or absent.

The first collection of monodies in Germany, the Arie, passegiate á una voce per cantar, e sonar del Chitarone by Johann Nauwac, appeared only in 1630 where not only the title and the texts are in Italian, but the famous monody of Caccini Amarilli is also included.

German Baroque keyboard music was often written in such a way as to allow it to be performed both on the organ, to which it was mainly addressed, but also on the harpsichord.
Three distinct styles flowed into it:
• the first from the German tradition of colorists who “embellished” the music in an extreme way with the result of obscuring its original theme
• the second from the Italian tradition, in particular from the Venetian and Roman schools (Merulo, Gabrieli, Frescobaldi)
• the third of Flemish origin (Jan Pieterszoon Sweelink).

Organ music was brought to the highest levels by its greatest exponent Johann Sebastian Bach, while Johann Jacob Froberger developed the one for harpsichord or clavichord also giving a valid contribution to defining the structure of the suite.
The German style, characterized by a propensity for a solid harmonic and counterpoint writing. Finally, it achieved his universality with Bach which mediated between the Italian and French styles, of which the essential characteristics were:

  • in Italy the tone harmonic resources, forms and style of the  Concerto and Sonata.
  • in France the very rich ornamentation, the use of large instrumental complexes, the discipline of orchestration, and the forms of Ouverture and Suite.

All German musicians experimented with both schools, in fact, composers such as Johann Cousser, Georg Muffat, Johann Fisher, Georg Phillip Telemann, Dieterich Buxtehude, etc. they have artistic productions that are sometimes very different stylistically and structurally.


Austrian Baroque composers

Fux Gradus ad ParnassumSince the development of baroque music in Austria follows very closely that of Germany, we will mention only the work of some of the main composers.

Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, a very famous and renowned virtuoso of the violin, wrote numerous ballets (in the form of interludes or suites, with frequent popular references) for the representations of Italian works staged in the city of Vienna.

Heinrich Biber violinist whose music was possibly influenced, on one hand, by the Italian tradition of Marco Uccellini and Carlo Farina, and on the other, by the new German polyphonic tradition as exemplified by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, who may have been Biber’s teacher. Biber’s achievements included further development of the violin technique – he was able to reach the 6th and 7th positions, and his left-hand and bowing techniques were far more advanced than those of contemporary Italian composers. He also excelled at counterpoint, frequently writing fully polyphonic textures. Yet another area in which Biber made a substantial contribution was the art of Scordatura, (alternative tunings of the instrument). Finally, much of Biber’s music employs various forms of number symbolismaffekten, programmatic devices, etc., as seen in the symbolic retuning of the violin for the Resurrection sonata of the Mystery Sonatas.

Johann Joseph Fux is most famous as the author of Gradus ad Parnassum, a treatise on counterpoint, which has become the single most important book on polyphony, used in almost all early music courses. In this book he explains, through the text and numerous exercises of progressive difficulty, what are the rules of counterpoint,

Baroque music in England – English composers

Haendel Water MusicIn England too, the innovative impulse from Italy contributed to making changes within forms, popular at the time, such as the Masque. This was the main theatrical form and corresponds more or less to the French Ballet de Court. There are only fragments of the music that accompanied the work, so it is difficult to reconstruct its content and development.
Instrumental music for harpsichord and organ had among its greatest composers William Croft, Maurice Green up to the best known Henry Purcell and George Friedrich Händel (a German naturalized in England)

A frequent typical musical form for organ, performed before or after religious services, was the Voluntary. Originally the term referred to a free-form musical moment that was improvised: the word voluntary means “proceeding from the will or from one’s own choice or consent”. Probably the slang use emerged from the improvisation practice of church organists.
Harpsichord music instead adopts many more musical forms, including suites or instrumental chamber music elaborations and dance movements on Basso ostinato (that is, a short musical design repeated to the bitter end without changing its pitch and rhythm).

It is important to mention Matthew Locke‘s opera Melothesia, a treatise containing instructions on how to play the Basso continuo, practical lessons and Suites composed by Locke himself and other authors.

Chamber music was mainly aimed at instrumental groups of strings (violins and violas), the predominant musical form is the Fantasia.

Notable composers are Christopher Simpson, best known for The Division Viol, or the Art of Playing upon a Ground (a treatise to learn how to play the viola da gamba published in 1659), William Lawes his pupil who surpassed him by producing a style completely personal, John Jenkins who reinvented the Fantasia by abandoning serious and austere themes, similar to the Ricercare, in order to adopt the Italian style of the Sonata a tre, divided into three sections, in which the violin predominates in the solo parts. There is no doubt that the most representative musician is Henry Purcell who perfected the different musical trends of the Middle English Baroque managing to integrate the Italian and French characteristics that were most lacking in the music of his compatriots: the representation of the affects and the emphasis of dance.

Spanish baroque music – Spanish Composers

Spanish Baroque GuitarIn Spain the music of the Baroque period was developed from popular music through what has always been its national instrument: the guitar. Mainly the form adopted is similar to the French Suite, therefore a collection of dances.
Gaspar Sanz, according to some musicologists, was the best Spanish theorist of the seventeenth century on the guitar that he also taught to Don Juan de Austria to whom he dedicated his famous Instrucción de música sobre la guitarra española, didactic method for the study of this instrument.

Santiago de Murcia, guitar teacher of Queen Maria Luisa of Savoy, as he defines himself in his Resumen de acompañar la altera parte con la guitarra, is one of the first composers to incorporate the rhythms of West Africa into his music, he leaves a rich and varied repertoire; his collections also include old French and Italian dance Suites updated according to the musical trends of the time and transcriptions, also for guitar, of Corelli’s music.

José Marin was a singer, guitarist who during the Siglo de Oro was one of the most appreciated authors whose fame is mainly linked to his songs called Tonos humanos of which we know several collections, the most complete is found in England in the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge known under various titles such as Libro de tonos de José Marín, or Cancionero de Marín or else the Cancionero de Cambridge.

Juan Hidalgo de Polanco, composer and harpist, became the most influential Spanish composer of his time composing the music for the first two Operas created in Spain (1660). He is considered by many to be the father of the Spanish Opera. He was the ruler, until his death, of sacred and profane music at the Spanish court and a very prolific composer and he enjoyed great popularity throughout his career. Its importance in the history of Spanish musical theater is similar to that of Purcell in England and Lully in France. He composed the music for at least nine Operas with a religious background that were performed in public on the Corpus Christi holidays. His production for court performances includes 16 comedies (comedias), many sung pieces (zarzuelas), two operas and semi-operas (shows that combined recited pieces with Masque-like episodes). He also composed numerous villancicos as well as liturgical music.

Baroque Music