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Anthony Simmons

Georgia State University

The Baroque Period and Its Composers
Honors Music, Society and Culture 4:00-5:15

Henry Purcell was born on September 10th, 1959 in London, England. The period that he
lived in is called the baroque period, which will be explained later in the paper. At the time, the
area was known as Devils Acre. His father was also named Henry Purcell and his mother was
Elizabeth. Purcell Senior was a musician. He performed as a singer for the Chapel Royal and
sang to Charles II, the King of England at the time. At a young age, his father passed away; he
was left with his mother and his brother and sister. The Purcell family originally had six children
but four of them died during infancy. Later on, he was placed under custody of his uncle, who
was named Thomas.
Henry Purcell starting composing music when he was nine years old. By the time he was
10 he was a chorister at the Chapel Royal, and in 1673, when his voice broke, he became for a
while an unpaid assistant to the keeper of the kings instruments (BBC). Around September
1977, he was assigned the position in the Court and his responsibility was to be a composer-inordinary for the violins. During his teen years, he became a great composer and earned another
position will help throughout the rest of his life. At this time, he exceeded the skill level of
different composers such as Matthew Locke; he was selected to be the organist at Westminster
Abbey in 1979. Later, Henry Purcell married and had six children in 1681; however, three of
them died while Purcells wife was giving birth.
During his life, Henry composed many different pieces of music. Personally, my favorite
music piece from Purcell is Rondeau. Rondeau is from Purcells Abdelazar. Although the
song is fairly short, it is one of my favorite when it is played with only two violins, one playing
the first violin and other playing the second; when only two instruments are playing at the same
time, this is called a duet (Kerman & Tomlinson 197). Duets are my favorite type of
performances because the two violins clash together playing the harmony and melody of a song

is one of the most peaceful sounds that two performers can make. Other popular music from
Purcell includes Minuet and March from Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary.
The period that Henry Purcell lived in was called the Baroque Period. This time period
lasted from 1600 to 1750. The word Baroque is Derived from the Portuguese barroco, or
oddly shaped pearl, the termhas been widely used since the nineteenth century to describe
the period in Western European art music (Music of the Baroque). It started in modern day
Rome, Italy. At this time, Composers began to write motets, madrigals, and other pieces more
directly for effectwith a new simplicity, but also with the use of exciting new resources
(Kerman & Tomlinson 83). Besides trying to grab the peoples attention, the point of this period
was to not only entertain but to make sure that people would see the difference of the music from
this period and other music from the past.
Many people saw Henry Purcell to be one of the greatest composers not only of the
Baroque period, but also in England during his time on earth. He was one of the main composers
that contributed to this time period. One of his earliest pieces that was done in the period is
called Theodosius. It was first played in 1680 at the Dorest Garden Theatre. Another piece of
music that Purcell composed was in 1689 which was an opera. According to Kerman and
Tomlinson, opera is drama presented in music with the characters singing instead of speaking
the most characteristic art form of the baroque period (Kerman & Tomlinson 87). Operas were
mostly plays that were performed in big theaters. Most of his music was for the London theatre.
One of his most famous operas that he wrote is called Dido and Aeneas.
Sadly, Henry Purcell did not live a long life. Purcell died on November 21, 1695 in his
home in Westminster. No one know how he died; the only thing that people know about his death
is that he died at a young age, which was either at thirty-six or thirty-seven years old. Henry

Purcells music is still played to this day at many college campuses and in large orchestral
As stated in the previous paragraphs, the period that Henry Purcell lived in and that lasted
from 1600 to 1750 is called the Baroque period. Right after the age of the Renaissance, the
Baroque Period had a new flair of music and arts that spread through most of Europe and all
across Italy. New styles of singing were established such as recitative, which is solo singing that
is a combination of music and speech. Later on, this led to operas and other types of dramas
performed with music. There were new style features added in the Baroque period, such as basso
continuo and functional harmony. Basso continuo is when a bass or low instrument is playing the
bass part of a piece of music with additional chords that are played continuously. The basso
continuohas the double effect of clarifying the harmony and making the texture bind or jell
(Kerman & Tomlinson 87). Functional harmony is when instruments had specific functions in
relation to the tonic, which is the central-sounding note.
Another composer that was a great influence during the Baroque period was Giovanni
Gabrieli. Born sometime in 1555, Giovanni Gabrieli was an Italian organist of St. Marks
Basilica in Venice. He used the choir lofts for the choristers so that when they sang from the top
of their lungs, their voices would go from the front of the cathedral all the way to the back. One
of his most famous pieces was written for the Christmas season called O magnum mysterium.
He used a mix of instruments in order for the audience to receive the full effect of the song.
Giovanni took brass instruments and a wide range of voices to make sure that every part, both
high and low, were either being played or sung. At the conclusion of the piece, Giovanni Gabrieli
repeats the entire Alleluia section, both the fast tripe-time alternations and the massive
slow ending (Kerman & Tomlinson 86). This is to add emphasis at the end of the music.

Claudio Monteverdi was another key composer of the great Baroque Period. Monteverdi
was one of the few composers who helped establish the transition from the Renaissance to the
Baroque period. During his life, he worked long and hard on his madrigals. A madrigal was
important in the Renaissance period; it is an elaborate song/piece of music for many voices and
usually did not have any instruments playing with the singing, which can also be known as
acapella. Monteverdi took around four years to complete his maiden book on madrigals made
up of twenty-one madrigals for five voices. In totality, the first eight books of madrigals illustrate
the massive growth from Renaissance polyphonic music to the monodic style typical of Baroque
music (The Famous People).
One of his major works made in 1642 is an Italian opera called Lcoronazione di
Poppea, from act I, which translates to The Coronation of Poppea. This opera has both a
recitative and an aria. An aria is usually sung by one person while being accompanied by an
orchestra. The story behind the opera is dramatic, having to do with Poppea repeatedly asking
her husband, Nero, if he will return. During the opera, Poppea constantly Tornerai? which
translates to wont you return? in English, which is the recitative of the opera because she is
reciting the word in a dramatic manner. Claudio Monteverdi died in Venice, Italy on November
29, 1943, a year after he created his beautiful opera that conductors still use in their theaters
While operas became popular, instrumental music started to rise in popularity during the
Baroque period. Instrumental music is defined just as it sounds like, music that does not have any
words (Kerman & Tomlinson 94). The three main sources of instrumental music are dance,
virtuosity and vocal music. These three genres helped provide one of the main basis of the
Baroque period, which was called the fugue and has only theme through the piece of music. The

person who should be given credit for the three main sources of instrumental music is Girolamo
Frescobaldi. Frescobaldi was born in Ferrara, Italy in September 1583. His father was also a
musician. Girolamo studied with the Ferrarese court organist Luzzasco Luzzaschi (a debt he
often acknowledged in dedications), from whom he received training on Vicentino's chromatic
archicembalo as well (Bach Cantatas). At the age of fourteen, he was already named an organist
at the Accadernia della Morte. Throughout his life, Frescobaldi performed at many different
venues and churches. Some of his major works and accomplishments include The Fiori musicali,
two books of Toccatas and Partitas, and his well-known miniature suite which is composed of
two short dances. Frescobaldi is also one of the main originators of tempo, which is how fast or
slow the speed or rate of the music is. In March 1643, Girolamo Frescobaldi got an illness and
died in Rome, Italy at the age of fifty-nine (Bach Cantatas).
Because of the big influence that Girolamo Frescobaldi made during the Baroque period,
instrumental music became extremely popular. Artists like Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian
Bach composed music that was so well-written, to this day, orchestra conductors use their pieces
of music for a performance. Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi is most famous for his two works
called La constanza triofante and Farnace. These two pieces were performed many times
throughout the duration of Vivaldis life.
Johann Sebastian Bach was also a huge influence in the Baroque period and he still is
today. He was born on March 31, 1685 in Ensenach, Thuringa, Germany. His father was a
musician and taught Bach to play his first instrument, which was the violin and later the
harpsichord. While young in school, he learned Latin which is now considered a dead language.
A few years later, both of his parents died so his older brother took him in as his own and taught
him more instruments and how to read and write music. Bachs singing ability is what helped

him get into a good university; however, he switched to the violin due to a change in his voice.
Bach was greatly influenced by a local organist named George Bhm. In 1703, he landed his
first job as a musician at the court of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimar. There he was a jack-of-alltrades, serving as a violinist at times and filling in for the official organist in other moments
(Biography). Throughout his musical career, he became successful, composing music for various
settings and combining different movements of his pieces for other conductors to use for their
own orchestra. He produced music for both people that belonged in the religious group or who
were a part of the royalty group. Pieces of music such as Jesu, Joy of Mans Desiring and the
concertos called the Brandenburg Concertos have been used in weddings during the
processional, when the bride walks down the aisle to the front, and different recital halls,
respectively. As he was getting older, Johann Sebastian Bach slowly started to lose his eyesight;
however, he fought through his disability and continued to create the beautiful music that
conductors still use today. He completely lost his eyesight in 1749 and was not able to finish his
composition The Art of Fugue. On the twenty-eighth day of July in 1750, Johann Sebastian
Bach died in Leipzig, Germany due to a terrible stroke. 1750 is also best known as the
conclusion of the Baroque period. After the Baroque period would come the classical era, which
artists like Haydn would be a part of.
Vocal music is one of the genres that helped set a path of new music in the Baroque
period. Born on February 23, 1685 in Halle, Germany. The young George Handel loved listening
to other play instruments and learning about the history of when music was created. With his dad
being a pessimist, Mr. Handel told his son that one cannot received a big enough income to fend
for themselves and his future family. His mother, however, was the opposite and encouraged him
to keep studying and learning music. He played as an organist when he was seven years old and

started to compose his own music when he was ten years old. Although he was doing music
behind his fathers back, he decided to study law in college; however, his love of music
overcame his love for law so he switched over to music. In 1703, when Handel was 18 years
old, he decided to pursue music in full force, by accepting a violinists position at the Hamburg
Operas Goosemarket Theater (Biography). After becoming more famous with his music and
organ playing skills, Handel began to create oratorios. An oratorio is a long piece of music that
has to do with a religious topic. His most famous work is Messiah, created in 1742, and is also
one of the most famous in all of Western music. Unlike most oratorios, Messiah does not have
actual characters depicting a biblical story in recitative and arias, although its text is taken from
the Bible (Kerman & Tomlinson 146). Many music conductors, if not all, play this beautiful
piece of music during the Christmas season so that everyone can be together in one setting to
sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Aside from oratorios, another important genre used in the Baroque
period was a cantata. A cantata is a piece of music that is not too long or short and for
instruments and voices. His other major works and oratorios include Hercules, Joshua, Solomon
and The Triumph or Time and Truth. Through the years of his music career, Handel began to
become physically and mentally sick and started to face health problems. In 1737, he had a
stroke which resulted in the weakening of his right hand. Because he was right handed, he
believe that he would not be able to composer music anymore; however, he overcame his small
disability and fully recovered. He lost his sight in both eyes in 1752, making him completely
blind. On April 14, 1759, a great composer of the Baroque period, George Handel, passed away
in his bed at his home in London. His music is played all throughout the world especially the
Hallelujah Chorus. When an orchestra plays the Hallelujah Chorus and the choristers start to
sing, the audience rises to their feet and sings along with them. It has been told that in King

George II stood up during the song because he was moved by the Lord. Ever since then, people
have been doing the same to show respect to God.
Another thing about the Baroque period that was interested was that women did not have
many opportunities in life at the time. Though some women worked as teachers, nurses, and
laborers, society viewed womens primary role as that of wife and mother (Kerman &
Tomlinson 149). When opera started to get popular, women decided to join the music industry
and became an opera singer. Since women are known for hitting higher pitches than some men,
they are better suited for the job. Anna Renzi is an example of an opera singer who was a
woman. She sang in Claudio Monteverdis The Coronation of Poppea. Women of the theater
paid a price for their career opportunitiesThey were displaying themselvestheir legs or their
voicesfort eh enjoyment of, mainly men, who paid for the privilege (Kerman & Tomlinson
149). Not only were there opera singers but there were also a few musicians. Elizabeth-Claude
Jacquet was a woman who is best known for playing the harpsichord. Born in Paris, France, Ms.
Jacquets major works of art include Premier livre de pices de clavessin and Pices de Clavecin
qui peuvent se jouer sur le Viollon
As one can see, the Baroque period had a numerous amount of composers and
instrumentalists that were a big influence at the time. Developing new styles of music, the
founders of this period were able to meet the wants and needs of the people which was music for
entertainment and relaxation. The integration of operas from composers like Antonio Vivaldi and
concertos from organists like Johann Sebastian Bach are what helped kept people of this time
period entertained. The different types of music that were played in the Baroque period and
assisted in making a pathway for composers to create new and better music include instrumental
music, vocal music and opera. Although the music was made more than three hundred years ago,

music professors, conductors and song writers use pieces of music from the early and late
Baroque period in their music recitals and for a high school or university teacher or professor to
use for educational purposes.
In my personal opinion, if I had to pick a time in the 17th century to live in, after doing
all of this research, I would choose to live in the Baroque period. I can play just about every
string instrument and some percussion instruments such as the Cajon and the Djembe. One of the
most amazing things about music is collaboration. I believe that since I will be around other
composers and song writers like Bach and Handel, we can make pieces of music that the people
of the Baroque period will love and appreciate.
One issue that I do find in living in the Baroque period is that women did not have that
much opportunity in music as men did. I believe that women should have had the same amount
of opportunities as men did. They could be better composers than the men were and no one
would even know. Women like Elizabeth-Claude Jacquet set the tone for other women during the
Baroque period because she was a composer.
In summary, I really like all of the qualities and music that the Baroque period had to
offer not only the people, but myself as a music appreciator. Ranging from music filled with
sorrow to joy, the music of this period was different from the rest. If I had to pick a favorite
composer, it would have to be Henry Purcell. As stated in the paragraphs relating to him, my
favorite classical song is Rondeau from Abdelazar because it sounds beautiful and majestic
when only two violins are playing.
Works Cited


"Claudio Monteverdi Biography." - Profile, Childhood, Life, Timeline. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr.
"George Handel." A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
"Girolamo Frescobaldi (Composer)." Girolamo Frescobaldi (Composer) - Short Biography. N.p.,
n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
"Henry Purcell | Biography - English Composer." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia
Britannica, n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
"Henry Purcell: A Concise Biography." Henry Purcell: A Concise Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 6
Apr. 2015.
"Henry Purcell." BBC. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
"Johann Sebastian Bach." A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.
Kerman, Joseph, Gary Tomlinson, and Vivian Kerman. Listen. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's,
2000. Print.
"Music of the Baroque." Baroque Music. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.