The Baroque Era of music history brought us composers who wrote music for keyboard instruments such as the clavichord, harpsichord and fortepiano.
The term Baroque means rough pearl. During this time in history you would find fancy designs ornamentation on everything, not only in music but in art, architecture, and even in clothing that had ruffles. It was the style, if you were a man living during this time, to have your hair covered by a white powdered wig that had curls. How do you think it felt to wear your wig all the time you were in public? It even carried into the next era of history.
Let's imagine living during the time of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), and George Friedrich Handel (1685-1759). Your decorated harpsichord with squiggles and swirls is in your living room next to your brand new klavier (term given to keyboard instruments of this era), the fortepiano, later called the pianoforte and now called the piano.
Writing Style During the Baroque Era
The style of writing used during the Baroque Era is called counterpoint. In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm but that sound well with each other when they are played at the same time. There are very strict rules to follow when composing in this style. From two to many parts that are played at the same time as another is known as a form called polyphony.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach's life was filled with music. He was a master composer, organist, and harpsichordist who wrote so much music that his pieces were cataloged in a book called Systematic Thematic Index of the Musical Works of J.S. Bach by the musicologist, Wolfgang Schmieder.
In the example below, listen for different melodic lines of music played at the same time. Later in your Baroque music experiences you will encounter pieces with many parts playing at the same time in each hand. They are so much fun to figure out. I think of them as music puzzles. Mastering a melody one hand at a time is necessary before you can play several melodies at once.
It is one of Mr. Bach's famous types of pieces for the klavier (keyboard instruments) that is now played on our modern day piano.
In much of Bach's music there are indications on the music by the little squiggly lines. These squiggly lines are an ornament known as a mordent. To play them the fingers make a little back and forth motion from one note to a note just below it beginning on the note that is written where the ornament is located.
Another ornament in this example is called trill. It begins on the note just above the written note. Your fingers play four quick notes ending on the written note before going on in the music. See how the left hand imitates the right hand except it is played an octave (8 notes) lower.
Mr. Bach is happy to see you are using the harpsichord style fingering technique (using very rounded fingers) to play those 16th notes evenly.
KLAVIER SAMPLE COMPOSED BY J.S. BACH played by Glenn Gould, a very accomplished pianist.
Domenico Scarlatti, another composer of the Baroque Era, was born in Naples, Italy and who lived in Madrid, Spain from 1728 until the end of his life.
George Frederic Handel
Mr. Handel lived during the Baroque Era in Germany at just about the same time as J. S. Bach. He was an accomplished organist and wrote many types of music. Most of his keyboard pieces, although not as elaborate as Bach's, were written during his early lifetime. He was also known as a master of choral and orchestral music. Are you thinking, "Was this the same Handel who wrote the Messiah?" Yes, he was.
You will be surprised when you go from the Baroque Era to the next period of time in history, the Classic Era. From your historical perspective be ready to meet Musio Clementi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn.