In this area, music from approximately 1600 – 1750 will be discussed. This period in musical history is generally known as the Baroque Period and includes composers such as Handel, Bach, Telemann, Vivaldi as well as others.

Music from this time in the history of Music has features that are quite distinct from other periods in that there was not really a ‘fixed’ idea of what an orchestra should consist of yet. It was a great period of pure harmony, where some composers moved from a time of modal harmonies to the idea of using what are known as keys.

In fact, Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues were a kind of experiment in that there is a Prelude and a Fugue in every major and minor key available to us in the Western world. Nowadays perhaps not so new an idea, but to be able to tune a keyboard instrument like a harpsichord so that it sounded in tune in all of the keys was quite a step in technology. For instance, if you try to tune ‘by ear’ in say, the key of C major – then if you play a piece in F major or B major or any other key, it’s very likely that it well sound terribly out of tune.

Welcome to the world of ‘equal temperament’. A world where the distance between notes had been worked out so that they were all equal, therefore it would be possible for a keyboard instrument to play in ANY key, without the need for retuning. That’s the theory but whether this happened so easily might well be another matter. Have you ever tried tuning a piano? I have. It’s murder!!

So we’re looking at a great time in the history of music, with one of my favourites – Bach.

Just as a starter, try finding something by say Bach or Handel and listen for the following things which are pretty typical for this type of music:

a)      A harpsichord is normally present, unless there is a church organ handy!!

b)      The bass instruments will play the same bass line as the keyboard instrument. (Yes, a keyboard instrument featured in orchestral music of this time)

c)       The mood and key for each separate movement remains the same. No quick change of mood in this music.

d)      The dynamics or volume of the music wasn’t gradually changed. We call this ‘stepped dynamics’. ie: the volume went up suddenly and back down again rather than build up. This didn’t mean that the music lacked expression, but it tends to alternate between volumes rather than change slowly.

e)      No percussion section. (Drums)

f)       Recorders may well be present.

As a starter, if you are interested in this kind of music, which I find fascinating I would suggest you try listening to Bach’s’ 48 Preludes and Fugues’ or his wonderful ‘Brandenburg Concertos’. There are other types of instrumental music of course, such as his ‘Suites’ and if you can take an ‘operatic’ voice, then Handel wrote plenty of operas. Not forgetting the infamous ‘Seasons’ by Vivaldi and all of his wonderful ‘concerto grossi’.

Not too much information here, just a few pointers for anyone interested in listening to Baroque music.

In the review section you can find reviews of interesting albums in this genre.

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