CHAPTER 9: THE BAROQUE
Adapted from Introduction to Music Appreciation by Hanse, Whitehouse and Silverman with additional material added
Dr. N. Boumpani and Dr. J. Carteret
WHEN INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC AND VOCAL MUSIC BECAME EQUAL
ABOUT THE BAROQUE
The term baroque is an arbitrary term used for stylistic practices existing from 1600 to 1750. It may derive from the word barroco in Portuguese meaning “irregular shape.” Originally used in a derogatory fashion to describe artistic trends of this time period, baroque has come to broadly refer to the century and a half beginning in 1600. This time period, known as the Baroque era, saw the rise of scientific thinking in the work of discoverers such as Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, William Gilbert, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, and Isaac Newton.
Baroque organ case made of Danish oak in Notre Dame Cathedral, St. Omer, France.
A view of St. Peter's Square in Rome shows Bernini's famous columns, four rows deep and curving, as if they were massive arms enveloping the faithful.
Francesco Mochi, St. Veronica, 1580. This sculpture by Mochi, who lived from 1580 to 1654, shows the drama of movement carved in marble.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF BAROQUE ART
All of Baroque art, including music, has a tendency to be dramatic. Drama in music was displayed most obviously in opera but extended to sacred, secular, vocal, and instrumental music. In music for solo instruments—solo voice, orchestra, and orchestra with chorus—the use of musical devices enhanced musical forms and techniques of the previous era. These devices included increasingly daring use of dissonance (harsh sound), chromaticism (half-step motion) and the use of altered notes, counterpoint that was driven by harmony where horizontal musical lines suggested vertical chords, regularity of rhythm, regular use of meter, and ornamental melodies.
Another general characteristic of the Baroque was that people did things on a grandiose scale. As explained above, buildings were extremely ornate. Art was very ornate also. Paintings filled every space, and sculpture was very detailed. In music, melodies were very ornate. Both instrumental and vocal music works were created on large scales. These included opera and oratorio on the vocal side, and concerti and suites on the instrumental side.
Finally, during the Baroque, peoples’ beliefs in God had a great impact on the arts. In music, this was very present in vocal works where cantatas and oratorios were almost exclusively based on Biblical themes. The great cathedrals built during this time were decorated with art work depicting saints and stories from the Bible. Great art of the day also focused on Biblical themes. Below are two examples of art and sculpture.
The Calling of St. Mathew by Caravaggio (1571–1610)
The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Benini
CHARACTERISTICS OF BAROQUE MUSIC
THE BASSO CONTINUO
Most music of the Baroque utilized the basso continuo. The basso continuo included 2 performers: one performing on a harpsichord and the other playing a bass part (low part) on the cello (sometimes another low instrument was used). The basso continuo may sound as if it refers to one performer, but it does not. These two performers would be given a “short-hand” piece of music from which they would have to improvise an accompaniment. This music became known as “figured bass.” There were, however, strict rules and keyboard players of the time were highly trained in the interpretation of this music. The composer wrote the desired bass notes along with the melody line and a set of symbols that are known as figured bass. From this outline the harpsichordist would improvise the harmony as the cellist played the bass notes. This is similar to what musicians call a “lead sheet” today. The exact way the performer played these suggestions, however, was left up to his or her skill and taste. Instead of just playing clusters of chords underneath the melodic line, the performer could include ornamental notes to add interest to the music. Below is an example of figured bass and following that is an example of a modern-day lead sheet. Although they are written differently, the general idea is the same. In a small jazz group setting, the lead sheet could be given to everyone in the group. The bass player would create a bass line based on the chords and the style of the music. The piano or guitar would play chords and an instrument like the saxophone or trumpet would play the melody before improvising a new melody based on the harmony of the song. Below is an example of a basso continuo part from the opera Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell.
In the figure above, both the bass instrumentalist and the harpsichordist would read from this music and create a complete accompaniment based on the notes and the symbols below each staff.
EXAMPLE: Beginning of Dido’s Lament, Purcell (1659-1695)
You will notice that there is not a lot of accompaniment happening at this point. The reason for this is the character of the song. Aeneas is heartbroken and seeks death. Still, what the accompanist is doing here is based on the music you see above.
Above is an example of a present day “lead sheet.” Like the basso continuo of the Baroque, the performer uses the chord symbols to improvise harmony. If a bass player was reading from this sheet, he or she would create a bass line based on the given chords and the style of the music. The pianist would create an accompaniment that would use the chord symbols; however, a professional jazz pianist would know how to add to these chords, or even substitute them with other chords. The other instrumentalists would use the melody and the chord symbols to play the song and then improvise upon it. Listen to how a small jazz group interprets the music above.
EXAMPLE: Swing Time in Podunk N. Boumpani
The bassoon continuo was used in almost all Renaissance music. Because of the construction of the harpsichord, there were only two dynamic levels available: soft and loud. We will discuss this more when we discuss characteristics of Baroque music below
Five basic classes of instruments—strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, and keyboards were used during the Baroque era. You may recognize these from our discussion of the orchestra from previous chapters. The viol family of stringed instruments gradually gave way to the violin family. Renaissance brass instruments developed into the modern trumpet, trombone, and tuba. Hunting horns with no valves developed into the French horn with valves. Woodwind instruments included flutes, oboes, and bassoons. Percussion instruments included kettle drums (timpani) and little else. Keyboard instruments included clavichord, harpsichord, and organ. In addition, solo singing and singing in chorus led to the use of the human voice as an instrument during the Baroque era (we will discuss the human voice in the next section).
TIMBRE OR TONE QUALITY
What did instruments and human voices sound like in the years 1600 to 1750? When answering that question, think of how we listen to music today and how people listened to music then. Also think about instruments as solo, part of small ensemble, and part of a full ensemble. A group of violins, violas, cellos, and double basses playing together have a different timbre than a solo string playing alone. The same is true of each family of instruments. Each section of the Baroque orchestra—strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, and keyboard—has its own group timbre, as we have studied in Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Combining all groups or combinations of groups produces other timbres. A composer thinks about his/her tonal resources when deciding what will convey the musical ideas.
Texture has to do with how many instruments are playing and how many lines of music are playing at the same time. You can have a hundred musicians playing the same melody in unison, and the sound will have a different texture than four musicians all playing different melodies. Which example do you think would be “thicker” sounding? Baroque orchestras were not as large as the orchestras of the following eras, and the instruments were not refined enough to give the rich sounds we hear from instruments today. Although much of the instrumental music used polyphonic textures, especially in the keyboard music of Bach, vocal music tended to mainly utilize homophonic texture (one melody supported by harmonic accompaniment). Homophonic texture allowed the listeners to better hear the text of the song. Early opera was in large part responsible for this.
Harmony grew into distinct patterns known as progressions during the Baroque era. The Western tonal system was finalized when Johann Sebastian Bach equalized the tuning of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale. This allowed composers to write music in every major and minor key. This also allowed composers to change keys during compositions without fear of poor intonation. Musical forms were based on accepted patterns of harmonic progression. The harmonic texture of most of the vocal works of this time was homophonic. In instrumental music, polyphonic texture was still very prevalent.
EXAMPLE OF HARMONIC PROGRESSIONS: Pachelbel Rant
Tempi increased in the Baroque era. The basic pulse of music in the Renaissance era was a modern whole note with swift-moving passages in quarter and eighth notes for human voices. The tempo was even faster for instrumental works. By the Baroque era, the basic pulse became the modern quarter note with sixteenth notes common for both human and instrumental voices.
In the Baroque era composers used terraced dynamics meaning the change from soft to loud, or loud to soft was instant. Sometimes the sound of a full ensemble was contrasted with that of a smaller ensemble. Harpsichords were responsible for this use of dynamics because they were used in much of Baroque instrumental and vocal music, and the harpsichord only had 2 dynamic levels, soft and loud. Both techniques produced terraced dynamics, loud and soft. As a general rule, there were no gradual crescendos or decrescendos in instrumental music. In the vocal works of the era, a human singing solo or a chorus singing together could gradually increase or decrease the sound; however, the human voice was usually treated in the same way as instrumental voices. Gradual changes in sound level were not the norm.
While musical forms have been in constant development throughout history, several formal designs were finalized in the Baroque era. These forms include the concerto, ritornello, sonata, fugue, toccata, prelude, chorale, theme and variations, opera, oratorio, aria, and recitative. Some forms, such as the fugue and ritornello, were exploited to their fullest potential by the end of the Baroque era. Others, such as the concerto and sonata, were developed further after the Baroque era.
SCALES AND KEYS
As the seventeenth century progressed, the medieval scales were mainly abandoned until the main scales of major and minor remained. These are the main scales we continue to use today. Music theorists reflected this tendency in new rule books written to instruct those intending to become composers.
Within instrumental music, there was a tendency to start a work and end it in the same general mood. If a work began in a happy, uplifting manner, it ended the same and never deviated. To create contrast, the composer would write orchestral suites which were a collection of short works with different moods, different meter, and different tempi to achieve contrast.
CLASSIFICATIONS FOR THE HUMAN VOICE
Earlier we examined how the families of the instruments of the orchestra included instruments that could play pitches from very low to very high. The families of instruments were based on the classifications of the human voice. We have not explored this until now because these voice classifications were firmly established during this time.
In the discussion of melody, we found that there are many pitches used in music, from very low to very high. When you listen to music, most of the time you are hearing a variety of pitches at any one time. Can you imagine if all music was built on only one pitch or even a small range of pitches? It would not be very interesting, to say the least. Composers create music by using pitches in a variety of ways. When we think of the human voice, we begin with this one simple truth: females generally have higher voices and males generally have lower voices. If you look at most choirs, whether in schools, communities or churches, you are usually hearing music written where the females and males are each separated into two groups. These groups are based on the physical characteristics of the individuals. We are born with a unique set of vocal cords that allow us to sing a range of pitches. Some females can naturally sing very high pitches, while other females cannot. Some males can sing very low pitches, while other males cannot. Please note, however, every voice can be trained to increase their range, but only within the limits of their vocal cords. Some people have been gifted with vocal cords that allow them very large ranges, while other people have vocal cords that allow them a much smaller range.
The four basic categories of voices are:
|Female||Soprano||Sing the highest pitches|
|Female||Alto||Sing lower than sopranos, but higher than tenors|
|Male||Tenor||Sing notes higher than the basses, but not as high as the altos|
|MAle||Bass||Sing the lowest pitches|
POLYPHONIC VOCAL WRITING IN THE BAROQUE
In Baroque vocal writing, the sacred works of Johann Sebastian Bach employed polyphonic writing. We will examine one part of Bach’s Magnificant in D Major, BWV 243. A magnificant is a work that centers around a Christian theme. Bach wrote one for Christmas and this one, in D major was probably written for the Feast of Visitation. This holiday celebrated the Biblical story of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, meeting Mary, the mother of Jesus. The polyphony in this work starts in the same way that Renaissance polyphony began, with imitation. One voice begins and is followed by another voice, then another. Bach also used this technique in his instrumental fugues (we will discuss later).
Listen to this choral work by Johann Sebastian Bach. Although this work separates the soprano line into two different lines at times, the audio clip clearly demonstrates staggered entrances using the same melodic figure. It is sometimes difficult to follow the text of a polyphonic selection, especially if it is in Latin. For this work, simply focus on how each voice enters, one after the other. The listening guide only covers the entrances; however, please listen to the entire work, which is around a minute and a half.
EXAMPLE OF 4-PART CHORAL MUSIC: “Sicut locutus Est” from Magnificat in D Major J. S. Bach
SICUT LOCUTUS EST from MAGNIFICANT IN D MAJOR
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685‐1750)
FOCUS: Polyphony by imitation
|0:00||sicut locutus est ad patres nostros||Bass voices|
|0:07||sicut locutus est ad patres nostros||Tenor voices|
|0:14||sicut locutus est ad patres nostros||Alto voices|
|0:20||sicut locutus est ad patres nostros||2nd Soprano|
|0:34||sicut locutus est ad patres nostros||1st Soprano enters, Alto and Bass stop|
|0:41||sicut locutus est ad patres nostros||Alto re-enters, tenor stops|
|0:48||sicut locutus est ad patres nostros||Tenor re-enters|
|0:55||sicut locutus est ad patres nostros||Bass re-enters, full chorus until end|
The style of singing used in much of the music we cover is often called “operatic singing.” This style is much different from modern day popular singing or singing used for Broadway musicals. Many Broadway singers are trained to sing operatically, so the two styles at times sound very similar. Modern day pop singers may or may not have had voice training; however, the training to sing popular styles is different from operatic style training. To sing in the operatic fashion, a person requires specialized training. One aspect of this style is training a person to project the human voice over the accompaniment of an orchestra without aid of a microphone. Listen to about a minute of each of the works below to hear how the singing style between Opera and Broadway are in some ways similar and in other ways different.
What do you hear?
EXAMPLE OPERATIC: “Un aura amorosa” from Cosi fan tutte W. A. Mozart
EXAMPLE BROADWAY: “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera A. L. Webber
ASSIGNMENT: Try and explain, the best you can, the differences in these two styles.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Johann Sebastian Bach’s musical output represents the culmination of many contrapuntal forms in use during the Baroque era. In his instrumental works, which included keyboard works, writing for chorus and orchestra, cantatas, passions (church works depicting the life of Christ), and settings of chorales he infused a wealth of technical, melodic, and harmonic richness and variety with a depth of formal organization. His works for solo instruments, especially his keyboard pieces for harpsichord and organ, brought forms such as the toccata (virtuoso keyboard piece), prelude (keyboard piece preceding another), chorale variation (Lutheran church hymn with altering), Baroque sonata, and fugue to perfection. He wrote monumental works for chorus, soloists, and orchestra in the form of two passions, the St. Matthew Passion and the St. John Passion, and a large-scale setting of the mass, the Mass in B minor, for the same instrumental groupings as the passions. Bach worked his entire career for towns and churches, and his positions did not require him to compose any operas. He was a pious Lutheran, heading all of his compositions with the mark S.D.G. (Soli deo gloria) meaning “To God alone be glory.”
Bach spent his entire career in Germany. He traveled when he could, getting into trouble several times with employers for being away from his employment too long. On one occasion he walked two hundred miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck just to hear the famous organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude. As he sought to educate himself in all styles and to keep abreast of current developments, Bach was a master synthesizer of styles. Bach never imitated other composers; he synthesized stylistic trends and harmonic advances and brought forms to levels of expression unheard of and unmatched since.
Bach’s music is performed today in churches, concerts, recitals, at weddings, in movies, on television, etc. Students who major in music all over the world study the music of Bach in music theory and perform his music. Although Bach did not create all of the rules of music theory, his music demonstrated his mastery of the rules of theory.
Bach’s music has been prominent in film scores almost from the first “talking” movies. In 1931 his music was featured in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” This movie included Bach’s famous Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, a work that has been used countless times in movies and on television. In 2019 alone, Bach’s music appeared in over 20 movies and television shows.
THESE BACH WORKS ARE NOT REQUIRED, UNLESS YOUR INSTRUCTOR ASSIGNS ANY OF THEM.
Some of his most famous works that students will hear in various settings include:
EXAMPLE CHORALE: Jesus bleibet meine Freude (Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring)
EXAMPLE CANTATA: Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd! (includes 'Sheep May Safely Graze'), BWV208 Note: this is an instrumental version.
EXAMPLE FUGUE: Toccata and Fugue in D-, BWV565
EXAMPLE INSTRUMENTAL SUITE: Cello Suite No.1 in G, BWV1007 Menuet I & II
Bach’s music has also been adapted for popular music. The following songs can be found on YouTube. Your instructor may use them for assignments as well.
Procol Harum: 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' (1967)
Sky: 'Toccata and Fugue in D minor' (1980)
Apollo 100: 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' (1972)
The Toys: 'A Lover's Concerto' (1965)
Muse - Plug in Baby / Bach - Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (2001)
Lady Gaga - Bad Romance / Bach - The Well-Tempered Clavier (2009)
The Beach Boys - Lady Lynda / Bach - Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring (1979)
VOCAL MUSIC IN THE BAROQUE
The dramatic and expressive capabilities shown in the Renaissance madrigal, especially in Italy, paved the way for the birth of opera, stage works that are entirely sung. Through their interest in how Greek and Roman civilizations presented dramatic works and how music was used to enhance those productions, composers in seventeenth-century Italy sought to incorporate ideas from ancient sources into their own creations. The Camerata, a group consisting of Italian businessmen who supported music, has been credited with coming up with the idea of opera. This group included Vincenzo Galilei, father of the astronomer, Galileo. In the works of two notable Italian composers, true opera was born. Jacopo Peri (1561-1633) and Giulio Caccini (1551-1618) are generally credited with giving opera its unique style in two respects: recitative and aria, two techniques to convey dramatic action and feeling in the course of a sung play. Operas included acting, dancing, singing, and scenery and always told a story.
Operas are usually the result of a collaboration of two people: the composer, who writes the music, and the librettist, who writes the text. There are some notable exceptions where the composer was also the librettist, but this was not the norm. When we study Richard Wagner in the Romantic Era, we will find one such exception. Please note that in any of the three main vocal genres we are about to examine, there is never spoken dialogue. Everything is sung. This posed a problem for the composer. If all of the dialogue was to be sung, the opera would be one aria (song) after another. The audience might lose interest in such a performance. So, in order to put narration into music, a new style or writing was created. This style is called recitative.
Recitative (narrative song) was developed to convey the dialogue of the story, and aria (meaning “air” or expressive melody) was designed to convey intensity of emotion in the characters using aspects of melody derived from the madrigal. The arias were usually written in a song form (many times A-B-A) for one of the main characters. When the entire cast of singers sang, the form was known as a chorus. These techniques made opera distinct from earlier plays that used music to a greater or lesser extent. In addition to developing these two types of vocal declamation, Peri and Caccini were convinced that ancient Greek plays were sung throughout, with no spoken dialogue, and sought to emulate this technique in their new genre. Thus, everything was set to music meant to convey the emotions of the characters. The combination of these techniques in one package gave birth to the new form of music called opera.
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) was the first master of opera to uncover and point the way to the rich possibilities inherent in the genre. In his early career, Monteverdi published madrigals in the older style of Renaissance polyphony. In 1605 and thereafter, his published books of madrigals also contained songs in homophonic style, a break from the past.
Homophony is music that has a melody with chordal accompaniment. Almost all modern popular songs, for instance, are homophonic. Putting the focus on one melody allowed composers to convey the meaning of words in clearly defined ways. Polyphonic texture often made if difficult to understand the text. Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo was the first opera of significance utilizing the new techniques of aria and recitative. This opera is considered Late Renaissance/Early Baroque in the context of history. Listen to about one minute of each of these pieces from L’Orfeo. Pay particular attention to the recitative, which replaces the spoken words.
EXAMPLE CHORUS: “Lasciate i monti”
EXAMPLE ARIA: “Vi ricorda, o boschi ombrosi”
EXAMPLE RECITATIVE: “Tu Sei Morta”
Story of Orfeo: Orfeo is based on Greek mythology and tells the story of a talented musician whose wife dies on their wedding day. Overcome with grief, Orfeo (or Orpheus) journeys into the underworld to beg Hades (the Greek god of death and hell) to give allow his wife to live. Orfeo is able to get by all of the demons of the underworld by lulling them into submission with his music. Hades grants Orfeos' request on the condition that Orfeo not look back as he leaves the underworld. He must trust that his wife is behind him. Orfeo makes is almost all the way our, but, before he steps back to the world, he looks back and his wife is transformed into a pillar of salt. (Some translations say that she vanishes into the sky and becomes the stars of a constellation.)
The recitative, “Tu Sei Morta,” essentially means “you are dead.” In this recitative, Orpheus is expressing his lament over the death of his wife. The basic translation of the words are as follows:
You are dead
You are dead my love
And I breath
You have left me
You have left me forever more
Never to return and I remain
No, no, if my words have any power
I will go with assurance
To the deepest abysses
And having melted the heart of the king of shadows
I will return with you
To the stars
How do you think the music fits the words and the emotion felt by Orpheus after losing his love to death?
Operas were grand presentations, complete with singers and an orchestra. The staging of even some of earliest opera houses included very advanced staging. Often a curtain would close and the workers would lower one stage and replace it with another. Because there was action on the stage, Monteverdi invented new ways of using instruments in dramatic ways. The bowed tremolo, and pizzicato string technique were used by the composer to match the mood and/or actions on stage. These techniques are still used today in film and television. If you ever watched cartoons where one character was sneaking up to another on tip toe, you may have heard pizzicato strings played on each step. Watch the first 10 seconds of the video in this link. With each step Elmer Fudd takes, you will hear a plucked string performed on a low string instrument (most likely the double bass). This technique was invented by Monteverdi 400 years ago!
EXAMPLE: Looney Tunes/Best of Bugs Bunny
Over his lifetime, Monteverdi continued to advance Italian opera. The principle centers of growth and experimentation of opera were the Italian cities of Venice, Milan, and Florence, but use of operatic elements in other dramatic situations continued in these places and elsewhere in Italian society. Vocal chamber music, on a smaller scale than the opulent productions of opera, nonetheless reflected the developments in dramatic expressiveness, recitative text declamation, and especially in the composition of arias. In the church, composers continued to use the old polyphonic contrapuntal style but increasingly incorporated the use of basso continuo, recitative, and aria. Public opera houses began to open up all over Europe, making opera available to everyone.
CANTATA AND ORATORIO
In addition to the creation of opera, the eighteenth century saw the rise of two other types of compositions for chorus, soloists, and orchestra. These two are the cantata and the oratorio. These two forms incorporate all of the aspects of opera with one major exception – there is no acting, or dancing, and there is no real staging. All three forms tell stories, include soloists, ensembles and choruses and include recitative, which means there is no spoken dialogue in any of them. The cantatas are the shortest
in length with most of them written for church services in the Lutheran Church. At the time, church services were known to go for as long as 4 hours on any given Sunday, so the cantatas were not limited in time as they would be today. (There were no sporting events, and no televisions!)
The cantata is a vocal piece in several movements usually based on a single melody. It typically begins with an opening piece for full chorus and orchestra then continues with alternating solos, duets, small ensembles, and other choruses, ending with a statement of the melody. Cantatas are classified as either secular or sacred depending on the text used. Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Domenico Scarlatti, Johann Sebastian Bach, and others composed cantatas during the Baroque era. Bach’s cantatas are among the most famous and continue to be used today. Bach’s cantatas were generally sacred and written for use in the services of the Lutheran Church. His cantatas were written to reinforce the Scripture readings for specific Sundays. Bach wrote many chorales (hymn tunes) for the church that he used as the basis for many of his cantatas. Chorales were the hymns of the Lutheran Church. Unlike the Catholic Mass, where only male clergy were allowed to sing, the chorales
were written in the four voice parts to be sung by the congregation.
The oratorio is also a vocal work of music, written in movements with soloists, chorus, and orchestra. The texts were taken from Biblical Scripture, mainly from the Old Testament, and based on sacred themes. Oratorios incorporate the operatic devices of recitative, aria, and chorus to convey the action contained in the text. Though they are sacred in nature, they are not necessarily performed in church nor are they designed to be included in liturgy like cantatas sometimes were. Italian and German oratorios predominated with Handel in England synthesizing elements of various styles in his unique blend. Perhaps the most famous of all oratorios is Handel’s Messiah.
Handel received the libretto to the Messiah from Charles Jennings, a librettist with whom Handel had previously worked. Jennings used the text from the King James version of the Bible. What Handel did with the text was nothing short of amazing. The act of composition itself is one of creativity that most people do not possess, and most people have to be trained in order to compose. People often marvel at the relative ease at which composers create great works. In the case of Handel’s Messiah, even other composers have been amazed at the fact that Handel wrote 259 pages of music, nearly 3 hours of music, in just 24 days. Although he spent many years revising this work, it still remains today as the most famous oratorio ever written.
ORATORIO: THE ARIA
The first work we will examine from this work is the aria “Ev’ry Valley Shall be Exalted.” This is an aria that requires a virtuoso tenor singer. The aria requires great breath control in order to complete long “runs” throughout. The aria also contains examples of word painting. Please listen to at least 1:30.
EXAMPLE: Aria – “Ev’ry Valley Shall Be Exalted”
“EV’RY VALLEY SHALL BE EXALTED” from THE MESSIAH
George Frederick Handel (1685‐1759)
FOCUS: Virtuoso singing, word painting
|0:20||Ev’ry valley shall be exalted|
|0:33||Exalted||virtuoso run on the word exalted|
|0:48||Exalted||second virtuoso run|
|0:55||And ev’ry mountain and hill laid low||word painting – on the word “low” the pitch is the lowest in the phrase.|
|1:01||The crooked straight||word painting – on the word “crooked” the pitches waver to emulate a crooked line.|
|1:21||And the rough places plain||The word plain is held for quite a long time.|
|1:42||Ev’ry valley, Ev’ry valley shall be exalted||Virtuoso run on exalted again|
|2:02||Ev’ry valley, Ev’ry valley shall be exalted||Another virtuoso run on exalted|
|2:17||Repeat of the other phrases to end|
ORATORIO: THE CHORUS
The word “chorus” has two meanings when it comes to vocal music of the Baroque. The most familiar meaning for the word chorus is a large group of vocalists, usually in 4-parts, that sings vocal music. The other meaning of the word has to do with a musical selection in an opera, or oratorio, or cantata, that utilizes all of the singers in the opera. Within an opera, there can be songs that feature one of the main characters and these are called arias. When a selection features only two people, it is called a duet. When three people sing together it is a trio, and so on. Finally, when all of the people in the production sing together, the selection that they are singing is a “chorus.” Therefore, you can have a chorus (group of people) sing a “chorus” (a work from an opera, oratorio or cantata where everyone sings).
The “Hallelujah Chorus” is the culmination of the second section of the three-section oratorio. It is scored for Baroque orchestra and four-part chorus: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. The words (the libretto) are taken from the Bible. In Handel’s oratorios, operatic show of solo voices generally predominates, with the chorus adding portions here and there. In Messiah, however, the chorus work gives impetus to the dramatic response of human beings to the message of divine intervention in the affairs of humans and has much more of an even status with the arias of the soloists. Of all the choruses in the work, the “Hallelujah” chorus remains a favorite, with amateur choirs all over the world attempting to render the piece at Christmas and Easter. And there is no reason to wonder why, as the wedding of text and music has never been more consummate in any other choral work ever written. The words are a jubilant expression of joy to the Savior. The music is exuberant, reflecting the intense emotions of an awakening realization of the importance of what the Divine has done. Rhythmic punctuations are enhanced with running passages of strings, marching bass lines, and trumpet calls that ring clearly over all, summoning the faithful to a more intense awareness. The ending climaxes on a rhythmic elongation of the word hallelujah, which is repeated throughout. As you listen to the “Hallelujah Chorus” with the listening guide, note that all three textures are present: monophonic, homophonic and polyphonic.
The “Hallelujah Chorus” is based on only a few lines of text that are repeated in various ways. This shows even more of the genius of Handel as he took only a few lines and created a work that never seems to get old and has stood the test of time. The entire text of this work is written below. As you listen to the work, you will hear these lines performed in many different ways. There will be times when the music is strictly monophonic with singers and performers performing the same pitches. There will be times when the music is homophonic and the voices and instruments are supporting one melody. There will also be times when two or more of these phrases will be sung together in a polyphonic manner. Even with the polyphonic texture, every word is clearly heard and fits together magnificently.
For the Lord God, omnipotent reigneth!
The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ.
And He shall reign forever and ever!
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords
EXAMPLE: Chorus – “The Hallelujah Chorus”
THE HALLELUJAH CHORUS from THE MESSIAH
By George Frederick Handel
FOCUS: changing textures.
|0:07||All: Hallelujah!||homophonic texture|
|0:17||All: Hallelujah! Begins on higher pitch||homophonic texture|
|0:26||All: For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth||with low strings – monophonic texture|
|0:33||All: Hallelujah!||homophonic texture|
|0:37||All: For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth||with low strings – monophonic texture|
|0:44||All: Hallelujah!||homophonic texture|
|0:49||Sopranos: For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth Other voices, staggered: Hallelujah!||Polyphonic texture|
Tenors & Basses: For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
Sopranos and altos staggered: Hallelujah
Tenors and Altos: For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
Basses and sopranos staggered: Hallelujah!
|1:15||All: The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ||Homophonic texture|
|1:34||Basses start: And He shall reign forever and ever Followed by the other voices entering at staggered intervals||Monophonic until tenors enter, then polyphonic|
Sopranos: King of Kings!
answered by other voices: forever and ever Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
|Monophonic followed by homophonic|
|2:03||Sopranos: and Lord of Lords! answered by other voices: forever and ever Hallelujah, Hallelujah!||Monophonic followed by homophonic|
|2:10||Sopranos (on higher pitch): King of Kings! answered by other voices: forever and ever Hallelujah, Hallelujah!||Monophonic followed by homophonic|
|2:17||Sopranos (even higher pitch): and Lord of Lords! answered by other voices: forever and ever Hallelujah, Hallelujah!||Monophonic followed by homophonic|
|2:24||Sopranos (even higher pitch): King of Kings! answered by other voices: forever and ever Hallelujah, Hallelujah!||Monophonic followed by homophonic|
|2:30||Sopranos (even higher pitch): and Lord of Lords! answered by other voices: forever and ever Hallelujah, Hallelujah!||Monophonic followed by homophonic|
|2:33||All: King of Kings and Lord of Lords!||homophonic|
|2:39||All (staggered) And He shall reign forever and ever!||polyphonic|
|2:50||King of Kings!||monophonic|
|2:51||Forever and ever||homophonic|
|2:53||And Lord of Lords!||monophonic|
|2:58||And He shall reign forever and ever||polyphonic|
|3:06||King of Kings and Lord of Lords (repeats)||homophonic|
|3:14||And He shall reign forever and ever||polyphonic|
Sopranos: King of Kings
Other voices: forever and ever
|3:25||Hallelujah!||Homophonic to end.|
THE STORY BEHIND WRITING THE MESSIAH AND THE HALLELUJAH CHORUS
Have you ever heard one of your favorite popular music artists talk about a special song that he or she believed was inspired by something? They may say that the song just “came to them” without effort. The story of Handel’s Messiah is just like that. I believe I once hear the Beatles claim this for some of their songs. Handel had previously worked with Charles Jennings on other projects. Jennings was a librettist and a devout Christian. Jennings believed that too many composers had misrepresented the Scriptures from the Bible by changing words to fit music. Jennings approached Handel with the libretto for the Messiah. At this point in his life, Handel was having financial problems and was more than a little depressed. He believed a new project would give him something to do and possibly help with his financial problems. Handel began sketching the music, as well as incorporating some of his older works in the new work. He found himself writing feverishly and, in 24 days, the work was complete. On one occasion during the writing of the music, Handel’s maid saw him come out of his study weeping uncontrollably. Handel tried to explain that he was moved by the work he had just completed, but did not even understand how he created it – it just seemed to write itself. That one work was the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
Although this next story has been questioned, for many years it has been accepted as having happened. The Messiah was not well received at first, so Handle spent years revising it. Finally, he brought it back to London. On the night of one of the performances it was learned that the king would attend. Before the oratorio began, the king entered. It was the custom of the people to rise out of their seats when the king came into the room, so the people stood and, after the king sat down, the other patrons also sat down. When the oratorio was in the third act, the “Hallelujah Chorus” began. As the king listened to the work, he was moved. When he heard the lines “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords” the king stood up, which caused the rest of the audience to rise, as was the custom. Through this gesture, the king of England was indicating that there was a King greater than he. This is why, even today and even in America, when this piece is performed, people usually stand up.
DISCUSSION: Post and add 1 reply to the following question on “musical inspiration.” Question: Have you ever heard a musician state that he wrote something that just “came to him” almost effortlessly and what do you think about inspiration? Is it something that is “inside us” and, given the right set of circumstances just “comes out,” or do you believe there may be some other kind of explanation, perhaps even supernatural?
GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL
George Frideric Handel (sometimes spelled Georg Friedrich Händel, among other ways) (1685-1759) was born the same year as Domenico Scarlatti and J.S.Bach. He was born in the town of Halle in Saxony. His mother nurtured his musical gifts, but his father hoped that he would study law. The attraction of music was greater than law for Handel and he traveled to Hamburg when he was eighteen, playing in the orchestra there and teaching violin. In 1706, Handel traveled to cities in Italy where he studied with the most renowned Italian composer of the period, Arcangelo Corelli. During his youthful three-year stay in Italy, Handel absorbed Italian vocal and instrumental compositional styles, including a flair for the dramatic.
In 1709, Handel became the Kapellmeister (master of music) for the elector of Hanover but soon after moved to England. There he stayed for the rest of his life, with only brief returns to his native Germany, even though he had obligations as the elector’s music director. This fact proved embarrassing to Handel, as the elector became King George I of Great Britain in 1714. Handel was reunited with his patron when he composed the Water Music suites after a mediator begged them to reconcile. The work was played on a barge on the river Thames for an evening festival thrown by the king, who had it
repeated twice because he loved it so much.
Though Handel was a composer of Italian opera in London during this time, he also forayed into the realm of oratorio. Composing more than forty operas in the Italian style, stopping when the public tired of them. He then turned exclusively to oratorio. As he wrote opera, he increasingly wrote choruses for oratorios, improving his technique with more chorus work in each succeeding oratorio; double choruses, which are his signature; and balance of chorus movements with solo arias and orchestral preludes and interludes. This experience in writing oratorios led Handel in 1742 to compose his famous Messiah, which premiered on April 13, 1742, in Dublin, Ireland. For the next ten years, Handel composed one oratorio per year on average. His sight began to fail as early as 1750, with complete loss by 1752. Handel spent his final years supervising performances of his works, writing new material for some of them, and rewriting parts of others. He is buried in Westminster Abbey in London.
The following is an example of Handel’s prodigious output, which fills one hundred volumes and is almost equal to that of both Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven, both prolific composers, put together. The example is from Water Suite No 1 in F, HWV 348, from the famous Water Music suites. The example is called “Hornpipe” and is the eighth movement of the suite. This is a great example of repetition and contrast in a work. The work is in a type of A-B-A form. The first 12 second melody is played with the complete orchestra, then the melody is repeated, but only with strings. The next melody is played with the full orchestra, then that melody is repeated with strings only. The music goes back to both melodies, but this time only with the woodwinds. After that both melodies are repeated with the entire orchestra. The big contrast here is with the change in timbre. Please use the listening guide as you listen to this short work.
EXAMPLE: “Hornpipe” from Water Music Suite No.1 in F, HWV348
“HORNPIPE” from WATER MUSIC SUITE #1 IN F
George Frederic Handel
FOCUS: Thematic usage, timbre changes
|Strings and woodwinds|
|0:12||Theme 1 repeated||Strings only|
|0:23||Theme 2||Strings and woodwinds|
|0:35||Theme 2 repeated||Strings only|
|0:58||Theme 2||Woodwinds only|
|Strings and woodwinds|
|1:20||Theme 2||Strings and woodwinds|
Like Bach, Handel’s music is performed today and has found its way into many films and television shows. In 1928 his Hallelujah chorus was used in a newsreel and played as a ragtime song on piano (not something Handel might have liked!). Since then 580 other movies or television shows have featured his music, included 7 in 2019 alone.
In instrumental music in the second half of the seventeenth century, Italians retained their preeminence as they did in opera. Great violin makers such as Nicoló Amati (1596-1684), Antonio Stradivari (Stradivarius, 1644-1737), and Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri (1698-1744) made instruments of unrivaled expressive capability and technical reliability.
A pair of Baroque trumpets
A Stradivarius violin
These instruments went hand in hand with the development of the sonata (a work for solo instrument with keyboard accompaniment) and the instrumental concerto (a work for solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment). Composers such as Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) composed works called sonata da camera (chamber sonata) and sonata da chiesa (church sonata), which were set in a form that came to be known as the trio sonata. The name explained that the works were for three players, a harpsichord, and a violin, with a cello. Set in groups of movements, these sonatas featured contrasting styles between movements, florid melodies, ornamentation, double stops, and flourishes that displayed virtuosity and wealth of invention. The music was increasingly marked by a tonal center emphasizing the major and minor tonalities over the older use of modes.
THE CONCERTO GROSSO
The instrumental concerto also achieved growing use in Italy and spread to other countries throughout this period. The concerto grosso, written for a larger ensemble known as the Baroque orchestra, contained music for a small group within the larger ensemble, thus creating the terraced dynamics of the time. This shift in dynamics was not gradual; it was made in an instant between the larger and smaller ensembles and gave rise to the technique of terraced dynamics (levels of loudness). In addition, the concerto grosso was set in a form that is termed ritornello form (return), which meant a return to the full orchestra (the tutti) from flights, called episodes, of the smaller ensemble, often with the same tutti music upon each return.
The ritornello form was developed by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) and incorporates all of the elements of form that we learned previously. Repetition, variation and contrast are all present in the form and are pointed out in the listening guide. To help remember what the ritornello form is about, remember that the main theme, called the ritornello theme, “returns” many times. Another aspect of this work that is found in Baroque music is that of terraced dynamics. Remember that dynamics has to do with “loud and soft.” In Baroque instrumental music, a harpsichord was used. The harpsichord has two dynamic levels, based on the use of a pedal. These two levels are used for loud and soft playing. Therefore, in Baroque instrumental music, the use of crescendos or decrescendos are almost never heard. Instead the music goes from loud to soft instantly, making the dynamics “terraced.” In Vivaldi’s “Spring” this is noticeable throughout the work.
Another aspect of the ritornello form has to do with contrast. The form features sections where the entire orchestra, called the “tutti,” trades sections with an individual (solo), or several instruments (soli). Finally, the Four Seasons can be said to be an early example of program music. We will discuss this further in the Romantic Era. Program music is music that tells a story, or represents an idea, place, event, etc. In other words, the music is not simply music for music’s sake, which is called “absolute music.” In Vivaldi’s Spring we can hear a section that emulates birdsong, another that emulates a babbling brook, a storm section, and finally it returns to birdsong after the storm.
“SPRING” from THE FOUR SEASONS
By Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
FOCUS: Tutti vs Soli, ritornello theme, terraced dynamics
|0:00||Ritornello theme part a is performed loudly|
|0:08||Ritornello theme part a repeated at softer dynamic level||Terraced dynamics|
|0:15||Ritornello theme part b is performed loudly|
|0:24||Ritornello theme part b is performed softer||Terraced dynamics|
|0:31||Soli section begins|
Small group creates “bird
|1:04||Ritornello theme is played once|
|1:12||Soft strings||Terraced dynamics emulates “babbling brook”|
|1:35||Ritornello theme is played once|
|1:42||Furious string tremolos are punctuated with string “runs”|
This section is emulating a
|2:09||Ritornello theme returns in minor key|
|2:27||Soli section returns||The “birds” are reawakening after the storm|
|2:32||A variation on the ritornello theme enters|
|2:43||Solo string has short interlude|
|2:58||Ritornello theme returns played loudly|
|3:05||Ritornello theme is repeated on a softer level||Terraced dynamics|
According to IMDB.com (Internet Movie Database) Vivaldi’s “Spring” has been used no less than 112 times in movies and television shows dating back to 1957, and as recently as 2009. “Winter” from the same concerto grosso, was used in 2019 in the movie John Wick 3.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was born in Venice, Italy, spending a great deal of his life there. He was ordained as a priest in the Catholic Church and spent the greater part of his career as a teacher, composer, conductor, and superintendent of musical instruments at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà. He became known as the “Red Priest” for his red hair. There were four orphanages in Venice where poor, illegitimate, and orphaned boys and girls were given housing and schooling. Many of the girls at the Pietà, however, were girls who were the illegitimate daughters of nobility. They provided the talent for performing groups, including duos, trios, quartets, and full orchestras. While employed at the Pietà, Vivaldi composed numerous works, including operas, cantatas, sacred music, and concertos, for which he is known today. Vivaldi composed more than four hundred concertos during his lifetime.
While he held the position at the Pietà, Vivaldi was held in high esteem all over Europe and people came from great distances to hear the orchestras at his orphanage. His concerto writing and the broad fame of his concertos helped solidify the concerto form. Vivaldi brought rhythmic vitality and thematic invention to his operas while continuing with advances made by earlier Italian composers. He carried operatic style over to his sacred music.
After Vivaldi retired, he fell out of favor with the Church and the public when he travelled around Europe with two women from the Pietà who were not married. At times, he was denied entrance to some cities because of this. Also, the Catholic Church boxed up his music and hid it away. Only in the middle of the 20th century was it again found and made available to the public.
THE BAROQUE SUITE
The Baroque suite is a collection of instrumental works based on dances that were popular in the Renaissance. Composers in the Baroque era used these dance forms to reflect the general musical tendencies of the Baroque. These tendencies were regularly recurring rhythmic patterns, definite meters, gravitation to major and minor tonalities (moving away from the use of Renaissance modes), and firming up of binary (AB) and ternary (ABA) forms. The suites include in their title a key. For example, we heard one work already when we listened to the “Hornpipe” by Handel from his Water Music Suite #1 in F. This means all of the works in that suite were written in the key of F. The contrast came through the tempi, meter, instrumentation and moods. Remember, each work had its own “mood.” If it began sad, it stayed that way. If it began happy, it remained that way. Music that is still heard today from the Baroques suites includes one from Bach’s Orchestral Suite #3 in D and is entitled “Air.” There is no listening guide for this short work. You should find this very calming.
EXAMPLE: “Air” from Orchestral Suite #3 in D Major J. S. Bach
KEYBOARD MUSIC AND THE FUGUE
Keyboard music holds a place in the canon of Baroque instrumental music. Keyboard instruments include the clavichord, the harpsichord, and the pipe organ. The harpsichord became the predominant keyboard instrument of orchestras and chamber music, and the organ became the principle accompaniment instrument of church services, with solo works of increasing complexity being written for both throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Two principle genres of keyboard music during this era were the Baroque suite and the fugue (an imitative, polyphonic composition). It is important to remember that composers used these two forms in other music as well, including instrumental music, but these forms predominated in keyboard music.
The fugue is an extended piece of polyphonic writing for instruments in which a theme is treated in various ways depending on the composer’s skill and ingenuity. Even though the first few seconds of any fugue starts in monophonic texture, the work is a polyphonic texture and an excellent example of polyphony by imitation. Beginning with a subject (theme), a second statement of the subject is made in another voice, with the first voice accompanying it with a new melody called a countersubject. As voices enter, they play the subject while other voices supply accompanying material, including the countersubject. Various keys are explored via modulation (change of key), and other devices are used to show compositional skill and inspiration, including augmentation, diminution, inversion, and stretto (overlapping of subject). The exposition is the first part of the fugue where all voices make their entrance. Episodes occur between statements of the theme, and pedal point occurs when one note is held (usually in the bass) for a long period, building suspense and usually leading to the close. The Fugue in g minor BW 578, was heard in the first chapter as performed by a brass quintet. Originally, this was written by Bach for the Organ. Please listen to the first minute of the brass version as well as the organ version (may help on test).
EXAMPLE: Fugue in g minor (little) BW 578 J. S. Bach (organ version)
EXAMPLE: Fugue in g minor (little) BW 578 J. S. Bach (brass version)
INTO THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
In all genres of the Baroque era—opera, solo song, sonata, concerto, church cantata, oratorio, suite, and fugue—the music provided the performers with vehicles to show off their abilities. The emphasis on the solo singer in arias of opera and the instrumental soloist in concertos and sonatas paved the way for the development of the virtuoso player/composer and the operatic diva in the Classical era as well as the exploitations of virtuosos in the nineteenth century.
The eighteenth century saw the culmination of Baroque practices and the beginning of the Classical period. Musicians cultivated new genres such as opera buffa, ballad opera, keyboard concerto, symphony, and concerto. Composers birthed new forms, like the rondo, and developed others, like the sonata, and thought in terms of tonality (key centers) in all compositions, replacing church modes almost entirely. Endless arguments regarding musical taste took place in newly invented newspapers, in composers’ journals, in musical treatises, in coffee houses, and in the homes of the populace.
It is important to mention at this point that the tonal system used in the Middle Ages and Renaissance is different from the one used today. The tonal system used during the Middle Ages is called just intonation, which is based on natural harmonics, or the way sound resonates in nature. The major/minor system used today is called equal temperament, which began to be utilized in the Baroque era. Equal temperament is a system of tonality in which all of the pitches are distanced equally apart. Pitches are measured in vibrations per second. Technically it is slightly out of tune in relation to how sound resonates in nature. Some cultures, such as the Chinese, have resisted the change to equal temperament, believing that it creates disharmony in the environment.
In Europe around 1600, developments taking place in society were reflected in music. Specific trends included dramatic declamation, formal organization, and the use of standard metrical patterns grouped into measures. All of the art of the Baroque shared three general characteristics. First, they all worked on grand scales; things were big, ornate and very detailed. Secondly, they all incorporated drama into their works. In music this applied mainly to vocal works; however, instrumental works also strove for the dramatic. Finally, the Baroque Era was a time when artists, including musicians, based much of their work on faith in God.
Among the characteristics of Baroque music was the constant use of the basso continuo. Because of the use of the harpsichord, dynamics in most works used terraced dynamics, which was the instant change from loud to soft, or soft to loud. The music was more structured with the use of standard chord progressions, regular meters, and increased tempi. Instrumental textures tended to favor polyphonic texture while vocal music tended to favor homophonic texture. The Baroque Era witnessed the end of the old scales preferring instead to use only major and minor scales.
The main vocal works in this era included opera, cantata, and oratorio. All these forms told a story and everything was sung. The opera, however, was the only one to have acting. The three main types of works for these three forms were recitative, arias, and choruses. For opera and oratorio, there were two people who were responsible for the final product.: the composer wrote the music and the librettist wrote the words.
For instrumental works, the concerto grosso and the orchestral suite were the large orchestra works. Vivaldi was, in large part, responsible for the ritornello form used in the concerto grosso. Bach became the master of the fugue and, after he died, with a few notable exceptions, composers stopped writing fugues because they believed Bach did all a composer could do with the form.
The Story Behind Handel’s Messiah, from the New Your Times. April 8, 2007.
Introduction to Music Appreciation by Hanse, Whitehouse and Silverman