Term 1 Perspective Lessons & Assignments

4 Assignment 1.3 - Baroque Characteristics

Scales and Modes

Throughout the Medieval and Renaissance periods, many different musical scales were used. These were based on ancient Greek scales. Eventually these modes became less popular until only 2 remained. The major scale that we know today (do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do) was was also known as the Ionian mode. The minor scale is based on the Aeolian mode. We still use these two modes for almost all Western music, classical or pop, that is written today.

Complex Textures

Baroque music was often polyphonic and included many musical lines playing at once. Some of these textures were:

  • Basso continuo - a bass line played on harpsichord, cello, bass, or bassoon
  • Melody - the main musical line in a piece
  • Countermelody - a complimentary melody that goes along with the main melody

A musical form can also create many musical lines. A canon is a form of music where the main melody is repeated and performed together, but at different times. (i.e. Row, Row, Row Your Boat) A fugue is a more complicated form where the main melody is repeated and changed throughout the piece. These are called imitative forms because the main melody is repeated and "imitated" as the piece goes along.

Watch this video to see an example of imitative polyphony

"Little Fugue in G Minor" by Johann Sebastian Bach

Dance Forms

Baroque art was highly ornamental. Music, architecture, dress, and dance were very decorative and elaborate. The French Noble Style brought dance forms like the minuet, gavotte, gigue, allemande, and boureé. Baroque composers wrote music for dancing. This music included a lot of repetition within the musical sections. This made it easy to create dance steps. The Baroque Suite was a collection of popular dance pieces that contained about five movements. One of the most famous Baroque composers, Johann Sebastian Bach, wrote several suites for different instruments. The sonata and concerto were introduced in the Baroque period and eventually replaced the suite as a major type of music for instrumentalists.

Dynamics and Ornamentation

Baroque musicians had to "step up" their technique to meet the demands of the musical style. Although there was still music written for amateur musicians and students, a new style of virtuoso playing came into fashion. These professional musicians pushed the limits of difficulty and skill.

Musicians were given the opportunity to bring their own style to the music, rather than simply playing the notes that the composer wrote on the page. Composers often left out the markings to give the performer a choice on:

  • Dynamics
  • Articulation
  • Ornaments (trill, mordent, turn, etc.)
  • Improvision on cadenza (free section where a performer can show-off their technique with a solo)

There was some freedom for musicians, but their choices weren't entirely random. There were still some expectations about which type of ornamentation or musical decorations a musician should use. This performance practice is studied by musicians today who want to try and perform pieces from the Baroque era just like they would have been heard in Bach's day.

Assignment 1.3 - Baroque Characteristics

The violin has been one of the most popular instruments of Western music since the Baroque period.

Based on what you have learned about the Baroque era, why do you think this instrument was well-suited to the demands of the music? Think about its size, pitch capabilities, technical advantages, and tone. Explain your reasoning in a well-developed paragraph.

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