Your Baroque History Check Up

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Next Thursday, the Venice Baroque Orchestra will take the stage in Brendle as our fourth Secrest event this season.  The VBO is renowned for their accurate and artistic representation of Baroque music.  In all of the excitement, I thought you may need some short and sweet reminders about what we call the Baroque Era.  Your music history debrief follows….

When is the Baroque Period?

Approximately 1600-1750.  It follows the Renaissance and is followed by the Classical era.

What is happening in the world during this century and a half?

Well, Europe is in the midst of a scientific revolution.  Scientists such as Kepler, Galileo, Bacon (Sir Francis Bacon, that is), Descartes, and Newton were using deductive and scientific approaches to studying science that relied on direct observation and reasoning instead of a ancient authority.

Meanwhile, there is more progressive thinking about politicsin Europe.  We see the Levellers advocate democracy and Hobbes write Leviathan. Many long-standing wars are settled: Henri IV in France guarantees freedom to some Protestants, while Protestant England and Catholic Spain end a years-long conflict.

In religion, conflict within the Holy Roman Empire precipitates in the this period in the Thirty Years’ War and the English Civil War

Another fun fact: this period is the beginning of America’s colonial history as many European countries, including Britain begin expanding oversees.

What does Baroque mean?

The term baroque means abnormal, bizarre, exaggerated and in bad taste.  The group that named this era clearly thought of it despairingly at the time.

What are the fundamental characteristics of Baroque Music?

The most striking aspect?  The focus on the dramatic.

Allow me to show you in picture:
Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s David (ca. 1620)
Michelangelo Buonarotti’s David (1501-4)
We have two statues, both of scarcely-clothed men, both by Italians, both named David.  But, they couldn’t be more different.  The first statue shows all of the ideal traits of Renaissance humanism–a regal, noble figure, the quintessential picture of balance and calm.  Michelangelo is evoking the ancient Greek ideas of the beauty of the human figure in a hero that is contemplative and still despite the oncoming battle with Goliath.  In Bernini’s rendition of David, the second statue, David isn’t calm and collected.  He sees the warriors coming and is winding up to sling a stone.  His body is in what looks like the most uncomfortable of positions, muscles taut, body twisted, face furrowed and tense.  Bernini is doing what Baroque artists loved to do: emphasize the dramatic in the art.  He is showing motion and change in attempts to get the viewer to respond emotionally rather than just admire the piece.
In music, this drama is centered in opera, but extends to all instrumental music.
A second striking aspect: the focus on the affections, aka the emotions.  Baroque composers wanted to move the emotions and conjure the passions in the soul.  Just take a look at Charles Le Brun’s illustrations.  He published this in a “Method for Learning How to Draw the Passions”

I could go on about different components and throw out words like basso continuo, recitative, and monody, but I’ll just let you experience the Baroque style at the performance.
Moving on…

Who are the fundamental composers of the Baroque Era?

Bach, Vivaldi, Geminiani, Telemann, Handel, Scarlatti, Albinoni Lully, and Corelli to name a few.  Funny enough, the first 5 composers listed will be performed by the Venice Baroque Orchestra Thursday night.

And finally, what makes the Venice Baroque Orchestra a special representation of Baroque music?

First, they play on period instruments. Second, they play the music of some of the most preeminent composers of the era.  And third, they are from the center of the music industry during the Baroque era—this means they get to see on a regular basis the places much of these songs were premiered or written.

Hopefully this clears up some of the mystery of the Baroque era and convinces you that you want to come to the performance!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

7:30 PM | Brendle Recital Hall

Dr. Peter Kairoff, director of Casa Artom, and Professor of Music will give the pre-performance talk in Rm. 208, adjacent to Brendle Hall, at 6:40 PM.
Reference tools: A History of Western Music by Burkholder, Grout, Palisca



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