You are on page 1of 3

Characteristics of Baroque Music

Unity of Mood
Baroque music is known for its focus on a single mood at a time, coming from a philosophy
known as the Doctrine of Affections. You may also see this in German as Affekt. In short,
what is happy will be happy throughout and what is sad continues to the end. Composers
molded the musical language to fit moods and affections. Moods do change from
movement to movement.
One common feature of Baroque music is continuity of rhythm. Rhythmic patterns heard at
the beginning of a piece are reiterated many times throughout the piece. This relentless
drive compelled the music to push forward. This forward motion is infrequently interrupted.
A constant steady beat is more common in Baroque music that later music, which may
occasionally change the beat emphasis. The harmonic rhythm the rate at which the
chords change is also fast, often changing every beat.
Baroque music creates a feeling of continuity. An opening melody will be heard over and
over again in the course of the piece. Many baroque melodies are complex and elaborate,
often with a great deal of ornamentation (trills, shakes, and other techniques), arpeggios, or
scales. They are not easy to sing or play. The notes will often make large jumps all around,
however, an overall texture is definitely heard.
The technique of counterpoint essentially 2 or more melodies or interesting parts
happening at the same time is common and often creates a texture that is very busy and
complicated. In counterpoint, no single line is the most important.
In Baroque music, you will also often hear lots of imitation. The same melodic fragment will
be played by one instrument and then immediately copied by another instrument this is
similar to call and response. Melodic fragments will also rapidly be repeated at changing
pitch levels in a technique known as sequencing.
Terraced Dynamics
Often, the dynamics of a piece stay constant for some period of time before they shift to
another level. When the dynamics shift, it can be sudden, like physically stepping off a step.
Therefore, terraced dynamics are a distinctive quality of Baroque music. The main idea here
is that Baroque music places a great emphasis on contrast. Sometimes the dynamic change
is created by switching between a full orchestra playing vs. only soloists.
Basso continuo

The driving bass line present in most Baroque music, especially obvious in faster music. It is
often rhythmically constant and the notes often are disjunct (it jumps around a lot). The
basso continuo is the combined term for the cello and harpsichord part that are usually
locked together. The harpsichord players would actually only look at the single cello part
and then improvise chords based on a number code that the composers included. This was
called figured bass. Sometimes, instead of a harpsichord, the continuo role is played by
organ or lute, and instead of a cello, you might see a bassoon.
The form of movements was typically very simple, often in either Binary or Ternary form.
This means that the whole movement is perceived to be in only 2 or 3 obvious sections. The
sections often repeat. For example, a rounded binary begins with an A part, goes to the B
part, and then rounds out by repeating part of the A section. This is written ABA
Orchestra Size
The symphony orchestra as we know it today did not yet exist. Various combinations of
instruments would often be combined in ways that they are not today. Eventually, the string
orchestra became more or less standardized, and sometimes small numbers of winds
(especially oboe, bassoon, or recorder) would be added. Orchestra sizes were generally very
small compared to today, with perhaps only a handful of violins, 2 violas, one or two cellos
and basses, plus harpsichord.
String Performance Considerations
The important bow stroke of Baroque music is the sprung detache, used on the note value
that equals the pulse of the music (quarter notes in 3/4 and 4/4, eighth notes is 3/8, etc)
The weight releases from the bow hair, but the bow hair does not leave contact with the
string. The resulting sound is one of beautiful separation, but not at all short. One way to
think of it is as long as possible, but still with a tiny space between each note.
Important Composers to Know
George Frederic Handel German composer who ultimately moved to England and wrote
the famous Messiah with its Hallelujah Chorus.
Johann Sebastian Bach The master who many consider the greatest composer ever to live.
His name means brook, but because of his influence on later composers, Beethoven said
his name should have been Ocean. Bach is the master of writing ingenious counterpoint,
exemplified in his fugues and inventions for keyboard instruments.
Antonio Vivaldi A great composer of Baroque string music. His many concertos, chief
among the The Four Seasons, is still very popular today.
Other Composers You May Come Across
Monteverdi, Purcell, Telemann, Frescobaldi, Geminiani, Corelli, Scarlatti, Pachelbel (for that
one piece)

Four Week Unit:

Week 1 Harpsichord Demo:
Handel Concerto Op 6 no 1.
Week 2 Vivaldi Summer
Week 3 Bach Brandenberg Concerto 3
Week 4 - Is it Baroque or Not? Could end with something from Beatles Go Baroque
to hear how a modern song is adapted to Baroque style. It really is a terrible thing
and only Baroque in the most superficial way, but the kids think it is fun.