This term is now used to describe music from c1600 to the deaths of J S Bach and Handel around 1750. The term ‘Baroque’ meant ‘bizarre and unnatural’ and was used in the 18th century to criticize the musical style of the period. The music generally conforms to the ‘doctrine of affections’. This suggested that music’s primary aim was to arouse the affections or passions (love, hate, anger, joy etc). During this period, composers were still strongly linked to the state courts and churches, but some began to work for the newly opened public Opera houses.
Stylistically, Baroque music is founded on the bass-line. This implied the harmonies while an upper-part carried the melody. A group of musicians called the ‘continuo’ would often play the bass-line and improvise the harmonies on a keyboard instrument, over which the other parts would play. This division of labour between those responsible for the harmonic structure and those responsible for melodic decoration becomes a major feature of Baroque music. There is also a division between the new bel canto (beautiful melody) style for opera and the stile antico (old style) used for religious and instrumental music.
The birth of opera can be placed at the turn of the 17th century in Florence with Peri and Corsi’s Euridice, but soon spread throughout Italy and France. Early opera reflected the concern for clearly intelligible and emotionally appropriate settings of classical texts. Soon comedies were produced alongside more mythological subjects, though spectacular scenic effects were a feature of most! Important instrumental genres in the Baroque include the development of the concerto grosso by composers such as Corelli. In a concerto grosso, a small group of players (concertino) do musical battle with the main body of the group (ritornello) resulting in an exciting interplay between musical lines. In religious music the Oratorio Passion reaches its height and the chorale is introduced to allow the congregation to participate in the performance.