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Christopher Nicklin

Music History Online

Robert Cornejo


The Baroque era lasted from 1600 to 1750. It was the era immediately after the

Renaissance. However, that does not mean this era as a time of discovery as well.

Baroque is a Portuguese word meaning oddly shaped pear, which refers to the

extravagance of this age.

Culture during this time was changing. The middle class was growing at a high

pace. People were wearing more ornate stiffer clothes as opposed to the simpler soft

fabrics. Food had become more lavish. This is mostly due to the fact that spices had

become widely more available. In England they ate five meals a day. Utensils were being

widely used more and factories started to produce them at a feverish pace. The one

person within this era that defined the Baroque culture of exuberance was King Louis

XIV. He has also known as the Sun King. King Louis XIV lived in one of the most lavish

palaces ever known to man, the Palace of Versailles. However, even though he lived

lavishly he also led his people well and encouraged the discovery of art, science, and

everything in between.

Scientific discovery also had a huge impact during this era. The most notable

person in the scientific field during this era was Galileo Galilei. He had been called the

Father of Science among other things, and rightfully so. He invented the microscope and

telescope. With these things he discovered some of the most important natural laws of

this world. Gravity would be one example of this. Other discoveries included during this
period how the planets orbit the sun, discovered by Johannes Kepler. Sir Isaac Newton

came from this age with his countless discoveries, most notably the three laws of motion.

William Harvey discovered how the body circulates blood and Santoro Santorii invented

the thermometer. Countless inventions and discoveries were made during this era.

However, it was held back by the religious views of the church at the time.

The Baroque era was a time of religious fervor as well as a struggle between

churches. From 1618 to 1648 there was a thirty-year war between northern Protestants

and southern Catholics. This war had horrible results on both sides and ended with the

Treaty of Westphalia. As Protestantism grew in popularity Catholics grew more worried.

To counteract the Protestant Reformation the Catholics made the Counter-Reformation. It

started with the Council of Trent where they reformed the abuses of the Catholic Church.

As this happened the Protestant church branched off into many different factions. In 1611

the King James Bible was first published. This was one of the biggest developments of

Christian literature at the time. Another development was the pilgrims moving to the

America’s. They broke off from the Church of England to be more one with God and

have more religious freedom.

Baroque art in general featured exaggeration. It was a time where artists explored

the emotions of pieces. It was highly decorated and emphasized light and shadows to give

the pieces more power and make it more dramatic. Important artists in this era include

Michelangelo and Rembrandt. Architecture, in the same way as the art of the era, was

also dramatic in nature. It was rich in every way including texture and color. One of the

most famous architectural pieces of this era is the alter inside St. Peter’s church of

Vatican City.
I chose to write about the life of Carlo Gesualdo. He led a very troubled and

painful life. Carlo was born in Naples during the year of 1561 to a very wealthy and

highly aristocratic family. Because he was part of this family he became the Prince of

Venosa. Later on in his life he would also be known as the Count of Conza. At a very

young age he became a very skilled singer, lutist, and harpsichordist. This would be the

main passion in his life. By the time he was twenty-five his older brother had died and he

was the only heir to carry on the family name. He then had an arranged marriage with his

cousin, Donna Maria d’Avalos. She was already widowed twice and had two children.

Within a couple of years Don Emmanuelle was born and right when that happened Carlo

lost all interest in his wife and went straight back to his music.

Donna Maria was a highly passionate woman and it was only a matter of time

before she had an affair. She chose to have an affair with the Duke of Andria. This

unfaithfulness lasted two years until Don Carlo’s uncle Don Giulio enlightened him on

what was going on. Don Carlo eventually caught the two lovers in the act and Carlo

killed them both on sight. He then had their bodies hung outside a local church so that

everyone could see. Carlo was never brought to trial for this because of his high rank in


He moved away from Gesualdo incase someone wanted revenge. In Ferrara he

married the daughter of Duke Alfonso II, Eleonora d’Este in 1594. He remarried again

principally because of Alfonso’s connections in music. Within Alfonso’s musical court

Carlo wrote four of his six books of madrigals. However, his marriage did not go much

better than his first marriage. He had multiple affairs as well as beating his wife. Carlo
slowly became deranged and began practicing masochism. Multiple people beat him

every day. In 1610 he died from the disease asthma. Both of his sons eventually died,

which left him no living heir.

Carlo’s style, in his music, was extremely chromatic, dissonant, and used the style

known as word painting. This approach would not be seen again till the 19th century. In

many ways he was ahead of his time. His music highlights extremely emotional sections

with extremely dissonant intervals. Carlo wrote Tenebrae Responsoria in1611. This is

said to be his most important text. It is a sacred text about Christ and the betrayals of

Jesus. His six other books are most if not all of his work. Within them compositions like

O vos Omens, a motet, are some of the most revered of his works.

My favorite period of music from this class would have to be the Baroque period.

The main reason why I would have to choose this period is because they had the most

knowledge at the time of how music worked. It started to become advanced and I believe

the more knowledge you have of something the more you can do with it. Also, composers

started to go in a more instrumental direction, which is my favorite type of music. The

period was a time where they were trying to make each note speak and tell an emotion.

This speaks to me because my favorite period of classical music is the Romantic period

where the music is also about making each note an emotion.

One of my favorite compositions in this period is Fugue in G Minor by Girolamo

Frescobaldi. It has multiple lines that are independent yet they work together to tell a

complete story. This really intrigues me to have multiple thoughts that work together so

well. Another composition that I am enjoying is Domenico Scarlatti’s sonata is C Major

K .159. This one appeals to me because of the bouncy nature of it. It reminds me of foxes

playing. Anytime a song gives me on an image in my mind I tend to like it because then I

know the song did its job to transport me to somewhere else. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue

in C-Minor intrigues me because of the virtuosity to play a song like that. It takes a lot of

stamina to keep on going like that, which impresses me as well as the dynamics keep the

song so interesting. Vivaldi’s Winter is another piece that I enjoy also because of the

word painting involved in this piece. It combines virtuosity with a story, which to be is

the best music because technique does not hold these players from telling a story as well

as knowing that someone thought up these compositions. I see how the music of this time

influenced my favorite composers. One of my favorite composers these days is Danny

Elfman. His work on Edward Scissorhands and Corpse Bride are some of my favorites. In

all of his works he uses a lot of word painting. His choral music is really affected by

classical music of all eras. Elfman’s work in Corpse Bride reflects that of the Baroque

era, which is the time period of the movie, the Romantic era. All of his influences were

mostly Romantic era composers, but those composers were influenced by the Baroque

era so indirectly he was actually influenced by the Baroque era.

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Reviews ­ MusicWeb International. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2010. <http://www.musicweb­>. 
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Hooker, Richard. "Reformation: The Counter­Reformation." Washington State University ­ Pullman, 

Washington . N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2010. <>. 

"Serf®Event49." Serf's Up!. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2010.