This month, Clef Notes is exploring various periods in art and music that overlap in style characteristics. This week, we’re looking at the Baroque period. Last time we looked at Baroque art as ornate, emphasizing drama, action, and lighting. During the 20th century, music historians began to notice that some of these style characteristics map onto music from the period as well (roughly 1600–1750).
When we look at Baroque music, we often see the rebellion from the polophony that was prevalent during the Renaissance. Polophony is music that contains multiple, independent voices. Instead, Baroque composers would often use homophony, or a melody line with a basso continuo accompaniment. They would then leave the harmonies up to the performer to fill in. Because of this, performers often had the opportunity to improvise and ornament during performance. This reflects the ornamented architecture of the time that we discussed last time. Listen below to an excerpt from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. Can you hear that the vocal line is ornamented?
Last time we also talked about Baroque art emphasizing drama. In the Monteverdi excerpt below, take note of how the composer uses dissonances on words such as “Cruda” (cruel) to better convey the text.
There are, of course, many other characteristics found in Baroque music. Can you think of more?