The Baroque Era


Baroque era (1600-1750) refers to time period in European history when musicians composed and performed certain typical style of music (Winterer, 2005). Initially, the term Baroque was largely used in Portugal. In spite of the fact that it later surfaced as an important development in music, original interpretation of the term was rather derogatory. For instance, it was used to imply extravagancy, abnormality or some form of strangely composed art. Later, the term was changed to denote a historical period in music.

Unlike other styles of music that were in Europe prior to 1600 C.E., Baroque style was characterized by intense, lavishly texturized and highly ornate music. Besides, melodic lyrics that were played during Baroque era were highly decorated and had rich counterpoints (Vaubel, 2005). Apparently, this attracted huge following due to appealing nature of the music itself.

This musical era carried with it beliefs and characteristics such as those of the doctrine of affection that allowed composition of songs which expressed emotions of the composer. Additionally, in this era, unlike the Renaissance era, the music style emphasized elements such as pace, texture and contrast in volume (Winterer, 2005).

Research studies indicate that style of music that was played during the early Renaissance and the medieval periods were harsh and lacked decorations such as instruments and vocal colors. Music in Baroque era was characterized by abundant use of instruments, voice colors and liturgical music styles. During this time, secular music had gained fame.

It is imperative to note that besides secular music, other styles that were gaining rapid acceptance during that period were homophonic and polyphonic styles (Locke, 2007). The latter was used by instrumentalists and composers to write and play more than one line of music. Homophonic music technique separated accompaniment that was playing from the melody lines. These lines were later on supported by harmony from bass instruments such as a cello or a bassoon and a harpsichord.

During this period, it is worth mentioning that there were other forms of music that were developing simultaneously with homophonic music. Additionally, the artistry in counterpoint that was popular during the renaissance period spread into Baroque era (Winterer, 2005).

Composers were using art to compose polyphonic music such as the fugues and the cannons which were imitative of counterpoints. In the period around 1600, orchestra and opera music began (Morazzoni, 2005). Opera was important in Baroque era since it played a key role in Greek drama shows.

Intellectuals from Italy were interested in ancient Greek drama and therefore, they depended on opera music to recapture its spirit. Opera music blended well with homophonic music style by using poetic melody to attract concentration of listeners. It was during Baroque era that orchestra evolved. It came from a combination of vocal and operatic music. The first great opera music in that era was called Orfeo which was played by Claudio Monteverdi in 1607 (Locke, 2007).

The most popular style of music that was played in mid 1600s was concerto. Unlike orchestra which was unique in style, concerto had a contrast of volume and texture that made it so interesting. Besides, its distinguishing features from orchestra included an ensemble of soloists or a solo instrumentalist. It was during the baroque period that natural phenomena and human spirits were incorporated in music composed (Winterer, 2005). This essay explores styles of music that were used during Baroque Era.

The Baroque Era and music style (1600-1750)

The period covered by Baroque era began from 1600 C.E. It commenced with the birth of opera. During the initial stages of development, by Monteverdi to and ended with the death of Handel and Bach in the 1750’s. Conservatives believe that Baroque era sprang from Renaissance era that lasted between 1400 to 1600 C.E. The music style that characterized this era was conceptually grandiose with a design that was elaborately ornate. It followed Baroque’s literature and music arts which displayed tension, energy and movement.

The music played in this era was conscious of style in the sense that words were used to describe picture and intellectual knowledge. Richer vocabulary characterized music and played the role of expressing extreme affections (Friesen, 2010). Needless to say, music classification played during this era was There were other forms of art besides music. Such arts included painting, sculpture and architecture.

The music played in this era was different from that which was played during the Renaissance period. It had tonalities such as minors and majors, and titles that indicated the centers of the tones and forms such as D Minor for fugue and toccata, A Major for orchestra and violin used in concerto. These replaced the modalities that were in the Renaissance style. Besides, the modal cadences were replaced by authentic cadences.

The birth of opera was a fulfillment of extreme affections in Baroques music. Melodic freedom was shown by the way musicians displayed their emotions. It is imperative to note that, music in that era moved the hearts of listeners, composers and instrumentalists and caused them to freely express their emotions. It was during this time that the modal system of Renaissance period was replaced by tonal system of Baroque era (Locke, 2007).

Research studies indicate that the stile antico music, famously known as enaissance music, required academic training to gain singing and composing skills. Music style in Baroque era had new concepts that did not require training. It was a different concept from that which existed in the Renaissance era. Learning how to express words and emotions in that new concept was spontaneous. Musicians and composers doing secular and church music in Baroque era mixed stile moderno with stile antico to make it interesting.

The counterpoint art that had dominated Renaissance period crossed into Baroque era and reached its paramount after being oriented harmonically by Bach. During this time, Baroque’s music was considered contrapuntal (Locke, 2007). However, Baroque music took a new turn and adopted new styles such as Basso Continuo and Stile Concertato.

With these styles, a keyboard and a bassoon were used to play music. The harmony was filled in with the keyboard while the written parts were played using the bassoon, cello or the viola da gamba (Vaubel, 2005). Stile Concerto involved a concept whereby an ensemble and a group of performers played music in opposition (Friesen, 2010).

Baroque era marked the first time in history where dynamics and tempo were used in music. Tempo involved styles such as presto and allegro while piano and forte formed the dynamics (Locke, 2007). Additionally, musicians in this period increased their skills and techniques in identifying figured bass parts, cadenzas, ornamentations and, variations in melodies. It was in this period that new musical styles were formed.

Those styles included cantata, oratorio, suite and opera. Others in this category included sonata, concerto, toccata, passacaglia, chaconne and fugue. Many composers used styles that displayed contrasting elements such as concertanto.
Moreover, research studies indicate that the music played during this era embraced the use of idioms. After 1600 C.E. many songs that were composed developed idioms from the main instruments (Morazzoni, 2005).

Music was composed for a particular instrument. Initially, and in the era that preceded Baroque, songs were composed for any instrument. During that time, instrumental and vocal music formed the centre of music since the church dominated. Stile moderno gave way to new and differentiated ideas whereby composers doing instrumental writing borrowed vocal styles and idioms (Vaubel, 2005).

The stages through which Baroque music developed were many bearing in mind that it was a long era coupled with serial development in music of a particular style. It is also imperative to note that during this era in the development of music, several types of both composing and singing style s were used to produce high quality of music that the entire society could appreciate. As already mentioned, use of musical accompaniments was a common experience during this era.

This was found to be necessary especially due to the fact that there was need to blend every piece of production in order to match with the dynamic needs of the society. Moreover, Baroque era was not merely associated with simple playing of music but w as also laced with live stage managed concerts.

The use of tempo and dynamic s was a common experience among music composers and singers during this historic era. A case ex ample was the use of ornaments as well as special ornaments during music concerts. These w ere found to appeal to greater majority of music lover. Indeed, it is definite that mixed expressions were common experience in the type of music played during this time.


Before 1600, notations were used to indicate the tempos of traditional songs. Most of the songs had fairly equal tempos. During the Baroque period, composers began composing songs that varied in tempo.

Unlike the traditional way of using notations to determine variance in tempo, composers in Baroque period used terms such as Vivacissimo, Ralletando, pretissimo and poco a poco to indicate tempo (Morazzoni, 2005). These Italian words, which were later used to express convectional tempo, were initially used in Italy and later spread in other parts of Europe.

Even though on one hand, these terms caused confusion to composers due to their strangeness, on the other hand, they were helpful to composers who needed to interpret their musical works. For instance, a moderate tempo would be termed as andante, an Italian word for walking. This term would fall between adagio which means slow tempo and moderato which stands for moderate speed (Friesen, 2010).

Others include Meno and Lento that means less and slow respectively. The terms can be used together to mean a different kind of tempo. For example, meno andante would mean a slightly faster tempo. During this era, metronomes were invented. Metronomes were used by composers to mark music tempos. Most performers and conductors preferred using metronomes in tempo markings since they were precise (Yudkin, 2010).

Baroque era and the composers

During the baroque era, a number of composers composed songs of different styles. Some of the prominent composers included the master of Baroque opera called Claudio Monteverdi, Georg Philipp Telemann – a prolific and versatile instrumentalist and composer from German, Domenico Scarlatti- a developer of classical music during Baroque era, Jean-Philippe Rameau-a harpsichord music composer from France, Henry Purcell- a string music composer, and Johann Pachelbel- a chamber, choral and organ music composer (Vaubel, 2005).

This individual was famous during this era for his combining D Major in Basso Continuo and 3 violins while playing his compositions of Gigue and Canon (Morazzoni, 2005). Others include an English composer of stringed music called Mathew Locke, lute music composer from France- Denis Gaultier, organ music players- Jose Elias and Francois Couperin, and Arcangelo Corelli among others.

Major periods in Baroques era

Baroque era and music styles were divided into early middle and late periods. The latter covered a period between 1680-1750 while the middle age the period between 1630 and 1680. The earlier period 1600-1630 was characterized by recitative-free rhythms and counterpoint styles (Vaubel, 2005).

Composers preferred applying different styles in their music to the old fashioned concerto and recitative styles. It was after this period that composers developed a desire to create harmony and dissonance in their compositions (Morazzoni, 2005). This was for the purpose of overcoming small scale kind of music lacked progress. They felt the need to introduce instrumental combinations, new vocals, recitatives, monody, dissonance and chromaticism.

This caused the abandonment continuity that characterized melodies and rhythms. In their place, discontinuity, a distinguishing characteristic between Baroque and renaissance was introduced. It was rhapsodic in rhythm, harmony and melody. An example of a discontinuous rhythm and harmony was the monadic madrigals of Peri and Caccini (Friesen, 2010).

Opera and Cantanta styles found in bel-canto dominated the middle period. During this time, composers reinstituted contrapuntal texture. These brought growth in musical forms. Tones were introduced and minor and major chords were used to replace modes. The period 1680-1750 saw complete institution of tonality in Baroque’s music styles (Friesen, 2010). Sonata, concerto and aria styles grew to full dimensions and instrumental music dominated.


In summing up, it is imperative to note that the style of music during Baroque era and especially towards the late period was largely characterized by exuberance and ecstasy. As aforementioned, the style of music that was embraced during this era could best be described as intense, lavishly texturized and highly ornate form of music.

Besides, melodic lines of this historical music that were played during Baroque era were highly decorated and had rich counterpoints. As noted in the literature review, there were instances when music style in baroque era was blended by the church with that of Renaissance period.

This increased the much desired taste and preference in music. Additionally, it is important to note that the three major periods of music style during Baroque era were influenced by individual national styles. Some of the nations that historically embraced this form of music included Italy and France.

For instance, the former introduced Italian genres such as sonata. The Italian sonata was later used to express convectional tempo. It was initially used in Italy and later embraced in other parts of Europe. France introduced the ballet as well as French horn.


Friesen, E. (2010). “Great music and the spell of cinema”. Queen’s Quarterly, 117(2), 286-297.
Locke, R. (2007). “A Broader View of Musical Exoticism”. The Journal of Musicology, 24(4), 477-521.
Morazzoni, A. M. (2005). “Challenging wisdom”. European Journal of Information Systems: Special issue: personal reflections on Claudio ciborra’s, 14(5), 522- 523.
Vaubel, R. (2005). “The role of competition in the rise of Baroque and renaissance music”. Journal of Cultural Economics, 29(4), 277-297.
Winterer, C. (2005). “From royal to republican: The classical image in early America”. The Journal of American History, 91(4), 1264-1290.
Yudkin, J. (2010). Understanding Music (6TH ed.). Boston: Boston University Press.