Showing posts with label Baroque Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baroque Music. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL and the Hallelujah Chorus

George Frederick Handel (23 February 1685 - 14 April 1759) was a German-English Baroque composer who was born in Halle, Germany (Halle is the largest city in the German State of Saxony-Anhalt.) Handel moved to Hamburg in 1703 after being unsatisfied as the organist at the local Protestant cathedral. He got a position as violinist and harpsichordist in the orchestra of the opera house. In 1706 Handel travelled to Italy at the invitation of Gian Gastone de' Medici, whom Handel had met in 1703/1704 in Hamburg. In 1710, Handel moved to Hanover Germany to become Kapellmeister to George, Elector of Hanover, who would become King George I of Great Britain in 1714. In that year Handel moved back to London and stayed there for 35 years with yearly salary for the rest of his life.

Handels was influenced by his father and the duke: Handel's father wanted him to become a lawyer and have nothing to do with music or playing an instrument however a clavichord was smuggled in with muffled strings so his father would not be able to hear him play. His father took him to Weissenfels where his playing on the chapel organ attracted the attention of the duke. The duke was amazed by Handel's abilities in the chapel that he insisted that Handel is allowed to study music. The duke thought it would be a crime to rob the world of such genius.

Handel wrote many works including:

Operas eg. Araphina which brought him fame in Italy in 1709 and Rinaldo which brought him fame in London in 1711
Dramatic Oratorios eg The Messiah in 1741 which is famous all around the world and Athalia in 1742 which is famous in Dublin
100 Cantatas and 20 Chamber Duets
Church Music eg. Gloria Patri (1707), Funeral Anthem (1707)
Orchestra-eg. Water Music (1717),
Instrumental And Chamber Music ~ Including 9 Trio Sonatas, 5 Concerti for Orchestra.
Vocal Music eg. Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (1713)

An oratorio is a musical play based on a bible story or scripture. It uses choruses, ensembles and solos to tell a story and usually, an organ or orchestra accompanies the singers. Oratorios are not acted out with costumes or props. The Messiah is an oratorio. You go along and listen to it or sing along to it near Christmas time. This is because The Messiah is about Christs' life and Christmas Day is his birthday.

The Messiah:
In 1741 Handel began putting Charles Jennens' Biblical libretto to music, and 24 days later Messiah was complete (August 22 - September 14). The Messiah was written because Handel was discouraged with his opera writing and after being sent libretto from Charles Jennings Handel felt inspired and immediately began setting the work to music. Legend says that when Handel had finished his work, a servant of his heard him exclaim "Hallelujah Chorus," "I did think I did see all of the heaven before me and the great God Himself!"

The Hallelujah Chorus:
A chorus is a musical ensemble of singers who perform the non-soloist parts of an opera or musical theatre production (or sometimes an oratorio). Handel was known as the master of the oratorio where no composer before or after has surpassed his abilities in writing them. The Hallelujah Chorus was typical of his writing because he wrote 27 oratorios in the later part of his life and wrote many operas which indicate he enjoyed composing music which consists of instruments and singing.

The Hallelujah Chorus is a typical piece of music written in the Baroque period because of the religious text used and the use of English to please the middle class. Religious text is found throughout the Hallelujah Chorus including in bars 36-51 where the text states that "He shall reign forever and ever." referring to Christ. Another thing that makes the Hallelujah Chorus typical of the Baroque period is the way Handel used a mix of homophonic, polyphonic and a small amount of monophonic texture eg. Bars 33-41 of the Hallelujah Chorus is homophonic and bars 41-51 are polyphonic.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

VIVALDI - Son of Venice

Antonio Vivaldi by François Morellon la Cave; 1725
Antonio Vivaldi by François Morellon la Cave; 1725
 (Photo credit: 
Venice, Italy, is a popular and fascinating travel destination visited by thousands every year. In addition to the canals and other famous attractions, a visit to Venice can be a great experience for classical music lovers, especially fans of Antonio Vivaldi.

Antonio Vivaldi was trained as a priest, but learned violin at an early age from his father and is best known today for his innovative, flamboyant compositions. His most famous work, the Four Seasons, is one of the earliest tone poems, or a musical piece that captures specific moods and elements of a scene being depicted. His work heavily influences Bach, though many of his works disappeared into obscurity after his death. The Four Seasons, in fact, remained unknown through Vivaldi's lifetime. He also composed several operas, which were popular at the time and much in demand from royal sponsors.

Born in Venice in 1678, Vivaldi spent many years in the city as the master of violin at the Ospedale della Pieta, an orphanage. Today, a small Vivaldi-centric museum exists at this site, featuring items relevant both to Vivaldi and to the orphanage itself. Some items displayed in the museum include instruments that were played by the orphanage's inhabitants during Vivaldi's time. These instruments might even have been played by Vivaldi himself. The church where his formal baptism took place, the Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, also still stands in Venice, an additional must-see destination for Vivaldi fans.

The Museo della Musica, or Museum of Music, also features information and displays about the life and works of Vivaldi. This small museum is also housed in a church, and entry is free of charge. The museum features a collection of baroque period instruments and a display that discusses how violins are made. The church itself provides a beautiful display of neoclassical architecture, as well.

With careful planning, it is even possible to attend concerts to hear Vivaldi's works performed live in the city of his birth. Be sure to ask for information at the Venice hotels of choice to find current available performances or concerts. Since these performances vary from season to season, a schedule specific to the time of year will be important.

Staying at hotels in Venice can help contribute to a detailed, informative and enjoyable exploration of the city as well as Vivaldi's history and early years. Many Venice hotels are located within easy reach of these Vivaldi landmarks. Staff at hotels in Venice will likely be able to help provide guidance on where the best Vivaldi-themed locations in Venice can be found.

    By Roo Sadegi

    Roo Sadegi is a travel writer based in London's East End, although he spends much of his time traveling around Europe's travel hotspots.

    Article Source: EzineArticles

Friday, September 1, 2017


For me the baroque period music really has some of my favourite pieces in it, is usually bright and very positive in sound. From the wonderful sound of the oboe, to the really bright tones of the mandolin. There is something in this musical genre to lift anyone's spirits.

I do of course also like some of the sad and dark moments in the baroque music era as well, one that i love is didos lament (when i am laid in earth) from henry purcells opera dido and aeneas. This aria is really beautiful and very sad indeed, it cannot fail to move anyone almost to tears.

One really cannot do justice to the baroque period, which spans from about 1600 to 1750. With the wealth of composers contained within that timeframe, in just the brief context of this article. But we can list a few of the composers and some of my personal favourites.

Tomaso Albinoni
ATomaso Albinoni (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
George Friderich Handel.
1/ Lascia Ch'io Pianga (let me lament my cruel fate) from
2/ Ombra mai fo from his opera xerxses (known as his largo)
3/ The Sarabande (3 beat dance)
4/ Sound an Alarm from his oratorio Judas Maccabeus.

Johan Sebastian Bach.
1/ Double violin concerto
(The Concerto for 2 Violins, Strings and Continuo in D
Minor, BWV 1043)
2/ The bach Cello Suites.

Antonio Vivaldi.
1/ The Four Seasons (spring,summer,autumn,winter)
2/ The mandolin concertos

Tomaso Albinoni
1/ The Oboe Concerto,s
2/ Adagio for Strings.

Johan Pachelbel
1/ Pachelbel,s Cannon (Canon in D major )

Gregorio Allegri
1/ Miserere mei, Deus" (Latin: "Have mercy on me, O God").
This is a truly beautiful piece of music.

I really hope i have managed to give you an appetite, and you will now explore the diverse amount of music contained within the baroque period.

The baroque period contains some real jewels to listen to, i never tire of listening to the wonderful music contained within this timeframe. I also look forward to discovering some more gems as i continue exploring the genre.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Canon in D by PACHELBEL - The Song Everybody Knows

The Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel is a composition well known throughout the world. It's a piece of music that is played in commercials, feature films, and shopping mall music systems. Its melody and harmony are such that, when heard, spur an "I know this song" reaction in listeners.

Johann Pachelbel
Pachelbel wrote this music around 1680. Its exact name is 'Canon and Gigue in D Major for three Violins and Basso Continuo'. It's now called, in regular parlance, the Canon in D (or D Major).

This canon was the only one that Pachelbel wrote. He wrote it as a piece of chamber music. Chamber music is a form of classical music originally intended for performance in a palace chamber. This type of music is for a small group of instrumentalists. One performer plays each separate part of the music.

Written for the bass and the violin and for small rooms, this song is not limited to that today. A wide variety of instruments in small and large musician groups perform this famous piece each year.

The term 'canon' in the title of the song refers to the type of music. A canon is a music of staggered singing or playing. In a canon, different instruments or singers start playing music. However, they do not start at the exact same time. They enter into the song one after another. The key to the canon is that they play the exact same sequence of notes. This results in intriguing variety and song complexity.

The note sequence in Canon in D Major is what catches one's ear. It is now a famous chord progression, which we recognize whenever and wherever we are. The song has a bass line-harmonic pattern, two bars long. This sequence repeats throughout the piece. The staggered singing or playing (the canon) plays over this repeating sequence of notes.

Johann Pachelbel was born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1653. He lived and worked during the Baroque period of classical music.

He was an organist, composer, and teacher in his life, who wrote much keyboard music for the organ. He wrote church music and secular music, holding jobs as a church organist throughout his career.

In fact, he established himself as a musician of stature in Erfurt, Germany. Here he was church organist at the Protestant Predigerkirchie (Lutheran Preacher's Church) starting in the year 1678. Erfurt was the Bach family's land of ancestral roots. Pachelbel actually taught Johann Christoph Bach, who was Johann Sebastian Bach's older brother.

Pachelbel also worked as an organist in the Court at Stuggart and the Court at Gotha in Germany. In 1695, he became organist at the Church of St. Sebald in Nuremberg. He replaced his former teacher, the German organist, and composer, George Caspar Wecker here upon the latter's death.

Pachelbel wrote chorale variations for the keyboard. Written in his day for organ and harpsichord they receive treatment on modern pianos of today as well. In this type of music, the chorale melody is the theme, and then the performer plays variations of this theme.

Although famous for his Canon in D today, Pachelbel also wrote toccatas, fantasies, and fugues. One important and impressive work is the Hexachordum Apollinis, which is a set of six keyboard arias and their variations.

The Canon in D Major continues to inspire listeners, piano players, and musicians of all sorts today. It's a 'musical' canon of great power that has endured through the centuries.

    Duane Shinn is the author of the popular online newsletter on piano chords, available free at Exciting Piano Chords and Chord Progressions!
     Article Directory: EzineArticles

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Medieval and Renaissance EUROPE MUSIC

Medieval and Renaissance Europe

While musical life in Europe was undoubtedly rich in the early Medieval era, as attested by artistic depictions of instruments, writings about music, and other records, the only European repertory which has survived from before about 800 is the monophonic liturgical plainsong of the Roman Catholic Church, the central tradition of which was called Gregorian chant. Several schools of liturgical polyphony flourished beginning in the 12th century. Alongside these traditions of sacred music, a vibrant tradition of secular song developed, exemplified by the music of the troubadours, trouveres and Minnesanger.

Much of the surviving music of 14th century Europe is secular. By the middle of the 15th century, composers and singers used a smooth polyphony for sacred musical compositions such as the mass, the motet, and the laude, and secular forms such as the chanson and the madrigal. The introduction of commercial printing had an immense influence on the dissemination of musical styles.

European Baroque

The first operas, written around 1600 and the rise of contrapuntal music define the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Baroque era that lasted until roughly 1750, the year of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach.

German Baroque composers wrote for small ensembles including strings, brass, and woodwinds, as well as Choirs, pipe organ, harpsichord, and clavichord. During the Baroque period, several major music forms were defined that lasted into later periods when they were expanded and evolved further, including the Fugue, the Invention, the Sonata, and the Concerto.

European Classical

The music of the Classical period is characterized by homophonic texture, often featuring prominent melody with accompaniment.

These new melodies tended to be almost voice-like and singable. The now popular instrumental music was dominated by further evolution of musical forms initially defined in the Baroque period: the sonata, and the concerto, with the addition of the new form, the symphony. Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, well known even today, are among the central figures of the Classical period.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

ANTONIO VIVALDI Composition History

Deutsch: Antonio Lucio Vivaldi
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Vivaldi was a pioneer of the concerto. He is one of the most popular and greatest composers. Early in the 1700's Vivaldi began to write his concertos that were widely spread in manuscript. Vivaldi is known for changing the nature of the concerto. Earlier concertos were relatively different; Vivaldi was able to mark change concertos from what they once were, to what they are now.

He explored new ways of composing solo instrumental passages to be placed in between sections of orchestral music. This created contrasts in the sound and gave the soloist a chance to impress the audience. His most famous concertos aren't especially distinctive. His concertos interested many not just because of the song itself but because of the way the songs were played, how the instruments worked together and how they all became such an amazing and unique work of art. Many of Vivaldi's concertos feature one or more violins.

Many of Vivaldi's works have also included the flute, oboe bassoon and cello. Some include the guitar and mandolin, horns and trumpets and several works included unusual combinations of solo or single instruments. Today, Vivaldi is particularly founded on his 500 concertos.

Vivaldi was the first composer to regularly use the ritornello form in fast movements. He is also known to standardize the movement scheme; fast, slow, fast of the classical concerto. Vivaldi probably had no idea that he was making musical history. He wrote music very quickly and efficiently. He has many concertos that are known today however, there are many more to be discovered.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Delights of BAROQUE MUSIC

Baroque music is instantly recognisable. It is the beautiful expressive music that accompanies many historic films. The uplifting instrumental music that is often used in advertising, and in public campaigns. Why is it so often used? Because it has an unique ability to lift the human spirit, and to set a mood of sublime enjoyment.

Baroque is the style of classical music composed between approximately 1600 - 1750. It is often divided into the Early Baroque, which lasted until the mid 17th century, and saw the initial development of the style. The Middle Baroque, until the late 17th century, and finally the Late Baroque, which ends with the deaths of both J.S.Bach and G.F. Handel in 1759.

J.S. Bach
The name 'baroque', comes from the Portuguese word 'barocco', meaning a strangely shaped pearl. It was a considerable departure from the established music of the time, and must have seemed quite unusual to a contemporary audience.From the outset it was music of the spirit, and of the emotions. Intended to express some of the most profound states of human experience.

Baroque music has a number of particular characteristics which underpin its performance. A strong projection of emotion, and a sense of underlying spirituality. It is a style which makes deliberate use of strong contrast to heighten dramatic effect, for example contrasting different sections of a piece against each other. With slow and fast sections, perhaps.a simple theme set against a complex elaboration and development. All to achieve the maximum dramatic effect. Indeed the whole idea of linking melody and bass dates from this period, with a strong bass part providing a solid foundation and structure on which to build and elaborate the different themes and contrasting elements.

G. F. Handel
For the novice to classical music, there are many notable composers of the Baroque period that are well worth taking the time to listen to. One of the joys of this music lies in personally discovering the many treasures to be experienced, as you explore this music of four hundred years ago.Yet which is still so accessible to us today.

It is generally accepted however, that three composers in particular symbolise the main achievements of the baroque. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), George Frideric Handel (1685- 1759) and Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). While many others such as Corelli, Purcell and Scarlatti were also important in the development of this new music.

With such a treasure trove of baroque pieces to choose from, it is difficult to know where to begin. But the enthusiastic listener wishing to gain a greater understanding of the style could well consider the following pieces in their initial exploration. From the works of J.S. Bach, a good choice would be the famous Brandenburg Concertos. Bach wrote this set of six concertos in 1721, and dedicated them to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg. They form perhaps the first musical jobapplication,as Bach was hoping for employment with the Margrave. Sadly for Bach, the job offer never materialised, but the Brandenburg Concertos remain an acknowleged masterpiece of the baroque.

A. Vivaldi
A perennial favourite for lovers of this genre, has always been G.F.Handel's Water Music Suite. Composed in 1717 for an elaborate river party on the Thames, attended by King George 1. Some fifty musicians were on board the concert barge, which followed the King's own barge in stately progress down the river.The powerful and beautiful music was so popular with his majesty, that he is said to have requested the musicians to perform it for two further encores. While Handel's oratorio The Messiah, composed in 1741, is perhaps one of the most famous choral pieces of all time.

The Italian influence was strong throughout the baroque period, and in the works of Antonio Vivaldi we have one of its finest exponents. Vivaldi is famous for the sheer number of pieces he produced in his lifetime. Yet an enduring favourite, and one which can be recommended to anyone new to baroque music, is the set of four violin concertos called The Four Seasons. This remarkable piece composed in 1723, is an evocative musical picture of each of the seasons of the year, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.Each section attempts to show the character of the particular season, from the energy of spring, through the mellowness of autumn, to the icy sharpness of winter.

Baroque music was the music of the Enlightenment,of new developments in science, philosophy and literature. Of hope and optimism, a belief in humanity and its great potential for progress. A celebration of profound feeling and inspired vision that still has the power to entrance us in its magic today.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Antonio Vivaldi is an Italian composer and violinist. He was born March 4, 1678 in Venice, Italy. He is major figure in baroque music and exercised a considerable influence on the development of the concerto. Antonio Vivaldi was the first child of his family. He was born with chest illness and wasn't expected to live long. He survived, but remained very weak throughout his life.

Antonio Vivaldi.jpg
"Antonio Vivaldi" by François Morellon la Cave -
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Antonio grew up in Venice. His father Giovanni realized that his son was very musical and taught him to play the violin at a young age. Antonio Vivaldi was trained in the priesthood in 1693 and was ordained in 1703. His first known performance was in 1696. Within a year after Vivaldi's ordination, he stopped practicing Mass. He claimed this was because of his poor health, while others believed he quit because he was forced into becoming a priest at such a young age.

Six months after he was ordained in 1703, Vivaldi was appointed as the maestro de violin at theOspedale Della Pieta, an orphanage in Venice. Their purpose at the Pieta was to give shelter and to provide education and musical training. The Pieta was famous for its music. During Vivaldi's time many girls were described as the best in Italy. The girls would put on performances to raise money for the Pieta. Vivaldi soon became well-known in Venice as a promising young composer. He spent many years at the Pieta however; in 1709 he was asked to leave. Vivaldi returned to the Pieta as a violin teacher in September of 1711. He worked for the Pieta on and off for the next 40 years.

 Throughout the years he changed positions from a violin teacher, to a church composer and all the way to the director of music. Vivaldi's music was new and exciting. It was also unique in style. He liked to created vigorous rhythms. This gave his work a feeling of freshness and energy. Vivaldi was by now a great virtuoso violinist and admired among many. He began to compose different kinds of music that was becoming more popular in Venice. This music was opera.

When Vivaldi wasn't working at the Pieta, he was composing music for the theater. Vivaldi realized that he could make more money composing operas. He then decided to take a month's leave and start composing one. His first opera produced great success. From then on, Vivaldi became important in the Venetian opera world.

In 1718, Vivaldi was offered a job in the city of Mantua. For three years, Vivaldi worked as one of the Prince Philip's court musicians, composing many secular instrumental works. He left Mantua in 1720, but continued to write music for the prince. During his time in Mantua, he produced more operas. He fame had now spread beyond Venice, and was asked to compose operas for other popular cities such as Milan and Florence. Vivaldi also became popular in Rome for his violin playing and opera. He was invited to the Vatican to perform for the pope. At this time he was still working for the Pieta however; they were upset that there maestro was not there. They agreed that Vivaldi would have to write two works for them each month.

Throughout the next few centuries Vivaldi published many musical works. His goal was to entertain audiences rather than express himself in some deep personal way. However, as time went on, he grew more and more out of touch with Venice. The musical taste had changed and the people focused on other composers. Vivaldi became less popular. He did not write another opera for over four years. Audiences abroad still enjoyed Vivaldi's work, which is why he traveled so much. In 1740, Vivaldi had one final triumph at the Pieta with a grand gala concert. He then decided to leave Venice for good. He began raising money for his last journey.

Vivaldi shortly became a forgotten composer. New composers quickly took his place in the music world. Vivaldi was however, rediscovered later by J.S Bach, who composed numbers of his songs for the keyboard. Vivaldi died of internal inflammation and was buried on July 28, 1741. He suffered all his life with a chest illness. This did not stop him from composing a vast amount of music. He claimed to have written 94 operas. He also wrote secular cantatas and many church works for chorus, soloists, and orchestra. His instrumental, however, is the most admired, nearly 500 concertos. "He is known for fast movements with vigorous, tuneful themes and impassioned, lyrical slow movements."

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Keyboard Technique - Playing BAROQUE PIANO Compositions

Baroque music is formed in large part from contrapuntal textures (having two or more independent but harmonically related melodic parts sounding together). Written for the harpsichord, these textures aren't as well suited to the modern piano's thicker tone and rich, low harmonies. So, special care has to be taken when you interpret Baroque period music on the piano.

An upright pedal piano by Challen
An upright pedal piano by Challen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In contrapuntal music, the individual parts are of equal importance, even though their inter-relationship is continually shifting. To reproduce this type of texture well, you need to train your mind, ears and fingers to follow the course of individual contrapuntal lines, as well as their combined texture, so the pianist presents a picture of an ever-changing whole.

Pianist H. Ferguson gives this analogy: You can think of the music as a kind of conversation, in which the voice shifts continually from person to person, as each person makes a contribution without unduly raising his tone. The dynamic range shouldn't be too great (a true fortissimo is rare, since several people shouting different things at the same time will never make themselves understood); and touch and tone should be lighter than in homophonic music typical of the later 19th century.

A semi-legato is more usual than a legatissimo, especially if the notes are quick-moving, since it promotes clarity. It also allows freer play for the subtle kaleidoscopic changes of thought and mood particularly characteristic of Bach. The sustaining pedal should be used sparingly; it should never be allowed to obscure the line, or produce the kind of impressionistic haze that is only heard in modern music such as Debussy.

So, when you interpret Baroque music during piano instruction, try to avoid the thickness of sound that is characteristic of the piano, yet was foreign to the harpsichord. This is especially important with close-position chords in the bass. These sound clear and transparent on the early instrument, but on the thicker-toned piano of today they should be played carefully to avoid a muddy sound. One solution is to lighten the middle notes of the chord, so they are less prominent than the octave played by the fifth finger and thumb. Sometimes it helps to break the chord slightly and play it as a quick arpeggio.

Occasionally in Baroque music there are passages that would have been comparatively easy with the light and shallow touch of earlier instruments, but now are extremely difficult, or impossible, with the deeper and heavier key-action of today. For instance, the repeated triplet octaves in the right hand part of Schubert's song 'Der Erlkonig' were originally not terribly hard to play, but for the modern pianist they have become a virtuoso athletic feat.

In playing fugal music, then, you might find the following points helpful:
  • Characterize all parts of fugue with carefully defined articulation.
  • Make sure that the articulation for the main part is contrasted with that required by the counterpoint, and by parts 2 and 3 if the fugue happens to be double or triple. This ensures that each part remains distinct when several occur together.
  • Characterize the episodes of the fugue in the same sort of way.
  • Keep the texture as light as possible, particularly the top and bottom lines.
  • Don't feel that the part must always stand out as though it were played on a solo blaring horn. The other parts are equally important.
  • If you do want to bring out a particular part, stress it only very slightly. Its characterization, coupled with the generally light texture, will do the rest.
  • A moving part will always stand out more clearly than a static one; if an even balance is required, the part that moves most needs the least stress.
  • Always aim for clarity.

    By Barbara A. Ehrlich
    Barbara Ehrlich is a private piano teacher based in Bedminster, NJ with a roster of current young piano students that includes a broad array of student ages, cultures and backgrounds. New Jersey Piano Lessons works closely with parents to oversee and coordinate music activities in a variety of areas, including piano lessons, technique, theory, ear training, and sight-reading.
    Article Source: EzineArticles

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Periods of Music - BAROQUE, Classical, and Romantic

Classical music of the common practice era is divided into 3 main periods, that each have distinct styles and forms. While there is a little overlap between each period, it is universally recognized that the baroque period came first, followed by the classical, and romantic romantic periods respectively.

Copy of a portrait of Claudio Monteverdi by Be...
Claudio Monteverdi by Bernardo Strozzi,
(Photo credit: 
The Baroque Period (1600-1760)
The baroque period is characterized by music that is very structured and in "high form". It also is known that many of the compositions that were written in this musical era were extremely contrapuntal and contained many fugues and fugue like passages. Contrapuntal music, or music with counter-point, is polyphonic in nature and features at least two musical voices, or melodies. These voices work against each other, and when one voice is stagnant for a while the other voice tends to doing something interesting melodically. A fugue is a formal method of counter point, where one theme is repeated in different voices complementing it. The baroque era is represented by such composers as J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, George Friderick Handel, Arcangello Corelli, Claudio Monteverdi, and Henry Purcell.

The Classical Period (1750-1830)
The classical period takes place from the middle of the 18th century to about a quarter's way through the 19th. The classical period brought many changes to music as the greatest proportion of music was played for the wealthy upper-class nobles. This called for a drastic increase for comic operas, it also called for a decrease in the importance of a continuo part. The continuo is the harmonic fill beneath the music, commonly played by several instruments including a harpsichord.

Classical music is marked by a clearer texture than baroque music and was increasingly homophonic. Homophonic means that a chordal accompaniment supports a melody above it. The orchestra of the classical period increased and the harpsichord was replaced by the piano-forte. Early piano music was very simple and light in texture but as the classical period went on, it became richer and more sonorous.

The main kinds of compositions were sonatas, trios, string quartets, symphonies, concertos, serenades and divertimentos. The sonata form developed and became the most important form. It was used to build up the first movement of most large-scale works, but also other movements and single pieces, such as overtures. The most famous composers of the classical period include Mozart, Beethoven*, Haydn, and Schubert. (*Beethoven was a crucial factor in the movement towards the romantic period and can be classified as both classical and romantic)

Robert Schumann (June 8, 1810 – July 29, 1856)...
Robert Schumann (June 8, 1810 – July 29, 1856) 

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Romantic Period (1815-1910)
The romantic period does not necessarily refer to romance love. instead the pieces written during this time are considered to be more passionate and expressive. Chromaticism and dissonance grew more varied as well as modulations and the properties of the 7th chord. Composers such as Beethoven and Wagner used many new chords that increased the harmonic language of the time. Composers of the romantic period include Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Weber, Chopin and Franck.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Saliency of JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH's Music of the BAROQUE Era

Johann Sebastian Bach's contributions to the music of the Baroque era are undoubtedly among the most important in history. His unparalleled ability to combine eclectic techniques, styles, and traditions are perhaps the most important aspect of his compositional virtuosity. Having composed music of sacred and secular purposes, as well as within the many genres of Baroque music (opera excluded), J.S. Bach's role as a composer can ironically be described as that of a "Renaissance man." 

A portrait which may show Bach in 1750
A portrait which may show Bach in 1750 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
While his innovativeness did not extend very far from the techniques and styles of his predecessors and contemporaries (it was his mastery of these styles that exposed his true innovative effect on music), his ability to express himself emotively without attaching the music to his own biographical perspective, his outstanding skill in terms of applying compositional techniques, and his affinity for the infusion and juxtaposition of seemingly disparate musical characteristics were the most salient markers of his place as arguably the greatest composer of the Baroque era.

A study of Bach's influence on this historically profound era in musical composition and expression may appropriately begin at the analysis of his music for keyboard instruments (e.g. organ, harpsichord). Influenced by the monumental, highly ornamented style of Dieterich Buxtehude, Bach's music for the keyboard is exemplified by his Preludes and Fugues. In his toccata-style compositions, Bach explored the juxtaposition of highly-contrasting sections to the point that these sections became distinct movements within a piece. The quasi-improvisatory nature of the prelude drew on the compositions of preceding composers of the French Clavecin School - namely Louis Couperin's 'prelude non mesure' - in its adoption of a non-imitative style. However, this style was improved upon by keeping the music within a structured metric scheme.

By doing so, Bach ensured that his preludes were less esoteric than his contemporaries' in terms of performance and emotional expression; anyone could play and interpret his works, for their meaning and expression was not specific to the composer. The metric structure of these movements also meant that they could be easily reproduced through print. As an example, the first movement of "Prelude and Fugue in C Minor," titled "Das Wohltempiert Klavier" (English: "Well-Tempered Keyboard"), portrays the repetition of a single melodic figure (in the form of an arpeggio) applied to a repeated rhythm. This technique is known as 'motoric rhythm,' and functions as a textural contrast in which tempi were also varied.

Aside from many of his dance suites, Bach usually composed his preludes as a non-imitative introduction to a Fugue. These imitative expressions of subject-and-exposition often contrasted, in unsurprising monumental fashion, the nature of preceding preludes, and in more than one case expanded on the imitative structure of canon. An example of this expansion is seen in his organ piece, "'Little Fugue' in G Minor." In this piece, the concept of canon-style expositional imitation is altered so that subjects and expositions take on new meanings as musical context is retrospectively apparent.

As if this extremely advanced application of compositional technique was not enough to reflect J.S. Bach's virtuosity, his "Art of Fugue" (German: "Die Kunst der Fuge") actively archived all possible imitative techniques of fugue-style music. Upon establishing a remarkably simple introductory subject melody, he subsequently applied a variety of imitative devices, such as inversion, retrograde, retrograde-inversion, and even much more specific techniques such as 'stretto.' While shortly after his death (he did not complete this volume) Bach's "Art of Fugue" was considered obsolete in the presence of the 'stile galant,' this collection of fugue pieces is regarded today as the greatest compositional work of imitative techniques, and serves as a testament to J.S. Bach's importance in Western musical history.

The French Clavecin School, including influential composers such as Chambonnieres, Couperin, Lully, and D'Anglebert, was responsible for the standardization of the Dance Suite during the Baroque era. Bach composed both solo instrumental and orchestral works based on these standardizations. However, his talent for perfecting and infusing compositional techniques from many sources and styles is once again apparent in these works. For solo instrumental dance suites - which Bach prepared for a variety of instruments ranging from the harpsichord to the transverse flute - both French and Italian techniques were adopted. While Bach made an effort to remain within the constructs of the French Clavecin School in these instrumental pieces, he often abstracted this model. For one, his preludes were not strictly 'non mesure,' but reflected a quasi-improvisatory nature and occasionally resembled 'recitativo' expression.

Furthermore, Bach followed the (accidental) ordering of a suite's movements as established by Froeberger's publisher by ending each suite with a 'gigue' movement. Otherwise, the style of the suites were relatively conservative in that they followed the structure of late French composers and focused on the nuclear movements of a dance suite, rather than reflecting later trends such as the dissolution of movements as typified by Couperin's ('le grand') 'ordres.' Further evidence of his adherence to the French style is seen in his omission of the fast-tempo 'sarabande' in favor of the 'sarabande grave.' These suites were not solely reflective of French influences, however. The inclusion of 'doubles' - repeated movements with the addition of even-note 'passaggi' - was purposefully designed to mimic the compositional techniques of Italian composers. Cumulatively, Bach's solo instrumental suites represent dance music's transition from purely entertainment-focused to the realm of serious listening and interpretation; even the most simple styles and techniques of the French School dances were elaborated into intellectual challenges for the listener.

J.S. Bach did compose dance music that starkly contrasted the conservative nature of the French model in his orchestral suites. While he only composed four of these pieces, all of them begin with 'ouvertures' (a testament to the influence Lully in contrast to the style of toccata-based preludes). Also, unlike his adherence to the traditional French model as seen in the solo instrumental suites, the orchestral suites often omitted, renamed, or rearranged many of the 'nuclear' movements (exemplified by the fact that these pieces never included an 'allemande' as their second movement); this decision shows how Bach was in fact influenced by Couperin's ('le grand') 'ordres.' By contrasting the styles and titles of their movements, this discrepancy can be shown through his work for solo instrument, "Lute Suite No. 1 in E Minor," and the orchestral work, "Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major."

Ritornello concerti were also works that Bach adopted, mastered, and altered by combining many techniques and styles. In these pieces, Bach only loosely followed general models of concerto composition: many of his concerti fit with the three movement model of the ritornello, while others only apply the tempi of ritornello to the first movement of the piece, and some movements were even composed in the style of dance music. As an example of this, let us consider the first three movements of the piece, "Brandenburg Concerto No. 2." The first movement reflects the style of an Italian ritornello concerto, but it varies in that it is not imitative. Instead, the melody is fragmented and scattered in a way so that the piece does not play for too long without referencing the thematic element. The following movements vary greatly from the Italian model: the second movement is through-composed, and mimics the slow tempo and triple meter effect of a 'sarabande grave.'

This movement's texture includes entrances of short melodic themes in many instrumental timbres, and even juxtaposes these themes with counter-melodies. The third movement is reminiscent of a 'gigue,' which is cheerful-sounding and imitative, but the comparison ends there due to its use of double-meter and its likeness to the subject-exposition structure of a fugue. However, it is not strictly a fugue, either, due to the fact that at one point the subject stands alone and is countered by another polyphonic melody. This piece once again showcases Bach's tendency to borrow compositional techniques from contrasting sources; Bach's mastery of these techniques resulted in truly innovative treatment of traditional styles, despite the fact that no novel material was introduced.

Finally, Bach's treatment of cantata music shows further evidence of his influence on music of the Baroque. While they were usually based on the melody of a Lutheran chorale, Bach often incorporated characteristics of a 'chorale prelude' in his treatment of the chorale melody. Bach would use the melody in the style of cantus firmus; its first appearance was remarkably simple (to aid in teaching anyone who was not familiar), while subsequent presentations kept the melody in the foreground through textural context (in the form of organ stops). Furthermore, the polyphonic texture built around the chorale melody was highly complex and artistically expressive (e.g. fourth movement of the cantata, "Sleepers Awake Calls the Voice"). Regarding the text of the chorale, Bach would use 'madrigalism' as a way to enhance the expression of the sacred libretto, even if no text was sung at that moment in the piece. This is apparent in his chorale prelude, "We Should Now Praise Christ." For the vocal accompaniment of these pieces, Bach still relied on instrumental composition techniques, such as 'sequence' and 'passaggi.'

he collective works of Johann Sebastian Bach are extraordinary in their mastery of past techniques and styles combined with Bach's ability to impersonally attribute innovative combinations of these techniques across otherwise disparate musical genres. His recognition as the greatest composer of this era is well-earned and clearly evidenced, as is his influence on later composers and novel compositional styles.

    By Brian J Sullivan
    Brian Sullivan received a bachelor's degree from Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey, in the field of communication, with a special interest in mass communication and media studies. As part of this program, Brian also studied musical theory, history, performance, and the impact of music on contemporary popular culture.
    Source: EzineArticles

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH - One of the Greatest Composers of All Time

On March 21, 1685, a German organist and regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach was born. He came from a family of musicians. His father is Ambrosius Bach who worked as the town piper. His father's profession included organizing the town's secular music and participating in the church music. In addition, his uncles were church chamber musicians to various composers and organists for the church. It is believed that Bach started his interest in music at an early age when he started helping his father in his work. During that time, sons were expected to aid their father's work.

Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach lost his mother when he was just a young boy. When he turned nine, his father passed away. Bach then moved with his brother Johann Christoph Bach who worked as an organist in Ohrdruf. He continued studying, copying, and playing music at his brother's house.

In Ohrdruf, Bach started to learn the process of building an organ, where he would usually fix the church's organ. During that time, an organ is considered a very complex machine in the European town. Bach's knowledge with the innards of organ is believed to be influential to his exemplary skills in playing said instrument.

At very young age of 18, Bach finished his Latin school, which is considered as an extraordinary accomplishment. He started working as an organist in Arnstadt in 1703. He then became a court organist in 1708 where he was given the chance of not just playing the organ but composing and playing varied repertoire of music as well.

Bach gained immense popularity because of his exceptional talent. Some of his works include "Brandenburg concertos," the "Partitas," and "Mass in B Minor." His works have given inspiration to almost all musicians in the European tradition including Mozart.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Ever since the baroque revival of the 1970s, there has been much discussion of the use of so-called period instruments. Many people have argued that the music of the baroque composers, and even that of the classical composers, cannot be performed properly on modern instruments. What reasons would someone have for saying such a thing? What follows is a discussion of the instruments of the orchestra and how they changed drastically during the nineteenth century. I will leave out any discussion of the piano because I am limiting this discussion to instruments that became standard in the orchestra, and because the evolution of the piano is such a huge topic by itself.

Réunion de musiciens by François Puget traditi...
Réunion de musiciens by François Puget traditionally believed to depict Jean-Baptiste Lully (holding the violin) and Philippe Quinault (playing the lute) surrounded by other musicians at the court of Louis XIV. The painting is held in the Musée du Louvre.
(Photo credit: 

In the middle of the nineteenth century there was a great revolution in instrument making. Actually, many of these changes had been slowly taking place over the course of a century or so, especially with the string instruments. However, the style of music in the late eighteenth century probably had some influence on the evolution of the instruments of the orchestra. Extreme contrasts of dynamics were called for in the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Although, that was, no doubt, an important factor behind the desire to manufacture louder instruments, with more dynamic range, I believe that it was not the only factor.

There was another reason for the nineteenth century preoccupation with increasing the dynamics of instruments. Audiences were getting larger and concert halls were getting larger in order to accommodate these larger audiences. Orchestras were required to produce a greater volume of sound to fill the new concert halls. Making orchestras larger was simply not the answer. Larger orchestras have a hard time playing fast tempi with precision. This is why Beethoven preferred a forty-piece orchestra for his symphonies when he could have had them performed by a sixty-piece orchestra. The choice between using a large or small orchestra to perform a given composition, of course, boils down to how big the string section is.

The number of woodwinds and brass is determined by the score, but you can have as big or as small a string section as you like. The standard orchestra of the late eighteenth century consists of: first violins, second violins, violas, cellos, string basses, two oboes, two bassoons, two kettle drums, sometimes two or three horns, sometimes a trumpet or even two, and two flutes. By 1800 two clarinets had also become a standard part of the orchestra. What follows is a discussion of the differences between modern orchestral instruments and their earlier counterparts, with an emphasis on the development of the string instruments.

The Violin

The first thing I would like to discuss is the violin bow. The original violin bow, when the instrument was fist invented by Amati, in 1550, was shaped more or less like a hunting bow. It had a pronounced arch to it, and the hairs were rather slack. The tension of the hairs was controlled by subtle movements of the bowing hand. This made it easy to bow all four strings at the same time, or one at a time when necessary. When the player wanted to bow three or four strings, he would slacken the bow hairs a bit. When he wanted to bow one or two, he would increase the tension a bit. This type of bow had changed little in the time of Bach.

Another thing that made it easier to bow all four strings at once, was the fact that the bridge was not quite as arched as that of a modern violin, thus putting the strings closer to being in the same plane. On a modern violin, one can bow three strings simultaneously, but it is difficult to do this without giving greater pressure, and therefore greater loudness, to the string in between the other two. Modern violinists have to sort of fake it, when they play Bach's sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin. When Bach calls for four notes to be played simultaneously, the player of a modern violin will rapidly move the bow, one string at a time, causing the notes to be heard in rapid succession, one after the other, closing approximating the sound that one would get from bowing all four notes at once. On the violin of Bach's day, this technique wasn't necessary, as the bow could easily be moved across all four strings simultaneously.

The violin bow underwent a gradual change throughout the eighteenth century, becoming less and less arched. At the end of the eighteenth century a man named Tourte created a new style of bow. This bow actually curved slightly toward the hairs, instead of away from them. This new bow could play much louder than the old baroque bow. Also, unlike the baroque bow, this new bow could produce an equally loud volume along its entire length. With this new bow, a skilled violinist could make the change from upbow to down bow almost imperceptible. It was perfectly suited to the new style of music, with its broad, sweeping melodic lines. The same reasons that make the Tourte bow so well suited for nineteenth century music make it somewhat unsuitable for eighteenth century music, especially early eighteenth century music.

English: Hornviolin (trumpet-violin)together w...
Hornviolin (trumpet-violin)
together with a normal violin
(Photo credit: 
The old baroque bow produced a strong sound in the middle of its length, the sound getting much weaker as the string was approached by either end of the bow. This is actually an advantage when performing baroque music, with its highly articulated phrasing and lean texture. The old baroque bow allowed more nuances of shaping a note. With the Tourte bow, it is hard to shorten a note without making it sound chopped off. And with most baroque music, it is advantageous to make the up-bow sound different from the down-bow. The old baroque bow is much better suited to the lean, transparent textures of baroque music. In polyphonic music, it is easier to hear all of the individual lines if each player does not smoothly connect his or her notes, but allows a bit of "space" between them. This is possible on a modern violin, but comes naturally with a baroque violin.

The body of the violin went through major changes in the middle of the nineteenth century. A chin rest was added by Louis Spohr early in the nineteenth century, resulting in a whole new technique of playing. The strings were made thicker, and eventually were wound with metal, the sound post was made thicker, the bass bar was made thicker and stronger, and much more tension was put on the strings. With the thicker strings, the bow has to be drawn over the strings with much more pressure in order to get them to vibrate, but the sound is much louder. The neck, instead of coming straight out from the belly, was glued on at an angle, which makes the angle of the strings across the bridge more acute.

All of these changes resulted in a tremendous loss of overtones, resulting in a much dryer sound. This is why the old baroque violin has such a sweet, pretty sound, when compared to a modern violin. This is the price that was paid in order to increase the volume of the instrument. With the new instrument, dynamics became the dominant means of achieving variety of expression, while nuances of articulation were the main means of achieving expressive variety with the baroque violin. Also, a musician playing a modern violin, in order to compensate for the inherently dry sound, will make almost constant use of vibrato, a technique, which was only used sparingly, and only for special effect, in the eighteenth century.

Eighteenth century books on violin playing, including the one by Leopold Mozart, tell us that vibrato should sometimes be used to add spice to a note. Vibrato is the daily bread and butter of the modern violinist. It is used almost constantly. Without it, the sound would be dull and dry. I should mention here that I am speaking of the fingered vibrato, not the bowed vibrato. The bowed vibrato is produced by a rapid pulsation of the bow across the strings. This effect was rather common in the baroque period and is meant to imitate the tremulant in organs.

In the middle of the nineteenth century great instruments built by the great masters of old, such as Stradivari, Gaunari, and Stainer, to name the three most important, were taken apart and rebuilt in an effort to make them like the newer violins. Many of them literally broke in two from the strain. There are no instruments built by the great masters, that have not been rebuilt, some of them many times over. In my opinion this is a great tragedy.

Everything that has been said above about the violin is also largely true of the viola and cello. The bass violin had a somewhat different history. In Germany, in the eighteenth century, a three stringed bass was commonly used. The Germans discovered that a bass with only three strings, had a beautiful, more pure sound than one with four. However, the more versatile four string bass become the norm and the three string bass became obsolete.


A shawn.
A shawn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The woodwinds also underwent a complete makeover in the nineteenth century. The taper of the internal bore also was changed. This resulted in a louder instrument with a different timbre than the old ones. The old baroque woodwinds had seven or eight holes. Six holes were closed directly by the fingers and the others were closed by keys. In the modern woodwind, all of the holes are closed by keys. Due to the nature of the arrangement of the holes, and mostly because of the fact that they are closed directly by the fingers, each woodwind is easily playable in one certain key and is progressively more difficult to play in keys that are more and more distantly related to the basic key of the instrument. The modern woodwinds, with the key mechanisms used to cover the holes, instead of being covered directly by the finger tips, are just as easy to play in one key as in another. Besides equal ease of playing in all keys, another important difference it that every note on a modern woodwind has pretty much the same timbre, while on a baroque woodwind, especially the flute, each tone will have a noticeably different timbre.

In the clarinet and oboe the internal bore was widened. The end bell of the clarinet became less flared. This resulted in a different sound. The bassoon of the eighteenth century was constructed differently too, the main difference being the walls of the instrument were thin enough to vibrate. This is an important difference. The laws of acoustics dictate that the timbre of a wind instrument is not affected by the material it is made from as long as the walls of the instrument are too think to vibrate. The thinness of the wooden tube out of which the old bassoons were made gave it a sweeter sound, but the new bassoons were much louder.


The main change in the brass instruments was the invention of valves which are operated by pressing levers with the fingers. This made the instruments much more versatile. With the old brass instruments the player had to change the tension of his lips to make different notes, the only notes being available being the ones of the harmonic overtones. Horn players employed short lengths of tubing called crooks. In order to play in a different key, the horn player removed one crook and inserted another. This was a bit cumbersome and composers rarely asked for horn players to change crooks within a movement, though they usually had to change crooks between movements.

Horn players in Mozart's day had figured out that they could change a note by a semitone by inserting their fist carefully into the end bell and holding it just right. This gave them the ability to play things that they could not otherwise play, but this technique was used sparingly because of the difference in timbre of the not thus produced. The invention of valves gave all of the brass much more versatility. In the late eighteenth century the trumpet was outfitted with one valve, which was controlled by the thumb. This enabled the trumpet player to play a lot more notes. It was this type of trumpet for which Josef Haydn composed his famous trumpet concerto. In the nineteenth century three valves which control the airflow through sections of tubing were added to the trumpet, allowing the player much more versatility. The trombones, of course did not need to be outfitted with valves because they always had a slide which changed the length of the vibrating column of air, thus changing the note.

The smaller internal bore of the old brass instruments gave them, well, no pun intended, a brassier sound. The trumpets had more of a bite to their sound. The horns were a bit harsh compared to the smooth sounding modern horn. The trombones had a slightly harsh edge to their sound compared to modern trombones.

Pros and cons

So which is better, the old baroque instruments of modern ones? I don't think either is better. They are only different. The old instruments have a sweet sounding quality that comes through even in recordings. They are perfectly suited to the music of Bach and Handel. They are great on recordings but they will never have an important place in the modern concert world because their sound is too weak to fill a big concert hall. While it is possible to do justice to the music of Bach and Handel on modern instruments if the musicians have an intimate understanding of the style, it would be sheer madness to play Strauss or Debussy on baroque instruments.

As for the music of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, it is easy to make the argument that it should be played on the same type of instruments they had in their time, and maybe certain aspects of their music do come through more clearly on the old instruments. But it is also easy to argue that their music pushed the instruments of their time to their limits, and even beyond. Their music was revolutionary. It was ahead of its time in many ways, especially the music of Beethoven. Why should we have to put up with the limitations that were forced on them when we can hear their music played very effectively with modern instruments?

Ultimately, it is the skill, understanding and sensitivity of the musicians to the style of music that they are playing that makes the biggest difference, not the type of instruments they are playing.