Characteristics of an Era

Hoffer’s application of generalization to characterize music eras tends to omit some crucial information relating to these periods. It is worth noting that Hoffer’s general descriptions do not hold up well for the Baroque music era. The description tends to give a superficial view of the era leaving out crucial information relating to specific pieces and composers and other key characteristics of that period. Specifically, the Baroque music era existed from approximately 1600 to 1750, and was characterized with great pieces, composers and instruments that made the music more appealing. Some of the greatest composers during this period include Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi, Alessandro Scarlatti, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, Arcangelo Corelli, Jean-Phellipe Rameau, Henry Purcell and Tomaso Albinoni. The Baroque music era was significantly divided into the early Baroque music (1580-1630), the middle Baroque music (1630-1680) and the late Baroque music (1680-1730). The Baroque music era operated in tandem with two significant philosophies including the belief in music as a crucial tool for communication and the realities of patronage. The musical forms that existed during this period include Opera, Oratorio, and Cantata. Instrumental music pieces included Sonata, Concerto and Suite. The most significant characteristics of this period involved the use of contrast as a dramatic element and monody and the emergence of the basso continuo. Baroque era instruments included different types of strings, woodwinks, brasses, keyboards and percussions.

This essay explicates specific characteristics of the Baroque music era citing specific works and composers that existed during this period.

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The Baroque Music Era and Composers of that Period

The Early Baroque Era (1600-1630)

The early Baroque era came with rejection of the use of instrumental music and the polyphony that had been widely used in the late Renaissance era. It involved adoption of ancient Greek musical devices such as the monody that was aimed at revolutionizing the music. Jacopo Peri was one of the opera founders with pieces such as Dafne and L’Euridice. These pieces played an instrumental role in catalyzing the maturity of the Baroque era. There was also increased use of the figured bass, which represented significance of harmony as a crucial part of polyphony. During the early Baroque era of music composers tended to focus harmonic progressions mixed with tritone, which helped in creation of dissonance. For instance, Claudio Monteverdi embraced the new aspects of composition including polyphony and the basso continuo technique to promote the Baroque period. The most memorable opera of that period is written by Monteverdi included L’incoronazzione and L’Orfeo.

The Middle Baroque Era (1630-1680)

The middle Baroque music era was characterized with emergence of diverse music styles including oratorio, cantata and opera. All these were categorized as the bel-canto style and played role in boosting development of music in this period. The bel-canto style employed the new concept of harmony and melody that were vital in elevating the quality of music in this stage of the Baroque era . The melodies were simplified to ensure the music would reach the listeners. Simplification of harmony and melodies played a helping role in leading to a new formal device commonly referred to as the aria and the recitative. Some of the vital composers included Giacomo Carissimi and Luigi Rossi who were responsible for composition of the oratorios and cantatas respectively. Opera composers included Francesco Cavalli, Alessandro Stradella, Giovanni Legrenzi, and Antonio Cesti. Johann Fux was also an instrumental composer with his Gradus ad Paranassum musical piece. Notably, Jean-Baptiste Lully was a composer of the court style that has picked up significantly during the middle Baroque era of music. The middle Baroque era was graced by Arcangello Corelli who is remembered for excellent violin techniques, hence, coming up with pedagogy and the violin technique that revolutionized this period. He was responsible for development of concerto grosso and promotion of wide musical performances all over Europe.

The Late Baroque Music Era (1680-1750)

The late Baroque music era was not characterized by many events as the middle Baroque era where everyone was focused on enhancing the quality of music. Work of Johann Fux was important during this period and polyphony was made the center of study of composition. Other composers such as Handel played a vital role in development of pieces such as the famous Messiah that was first sung in 1742.

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Philosophies of the Baroque Era

Philosophies of the Baroque era characterized the beliefs of the people and their love of music. Ono of the key philosophies was the high belief in music as a key tool of communication. Romans and Greeks believed that music was a vital tool of communication that could pass important messages to listeners. Everyone has the capacity of being influenced by pieces of music composed and performed in the appropriate manner. This motivated composers of the Baroque era, and they were able to compose pieces that elicited emotions among listeners. For instance, Claudio Monteverdi was focused on ensuring that everyone benefits from his compositions with the appropriate effects on listeners.

Another philosophy of music in the Baroque era was the massive belief in realities of patronage among most Romans and Greeks. They believed that a baroque artist should be tempered in some ways to the reality of their individual lives. Music composers were only able to earn a living from their music in instances where they received finances from political or representatives of the upper-class society. For example, Bach, one the greatest composers of that time, had to write numerous cantatas due to liturgical requirements from the Leizipig’s church which was his employer.

Music Forms that Defined the Baroque Era

The most common forms of music that defined the Baroque music era included opera, cantata and oratorio. There was also instrumental music made up of sonata, suite and concerto. These were brought about by the rising notion of contrast and desire during the Baroque era.

Opera is mainly defined as drama that entails singing and instrumental accompaniment. It was commonly performed on the stage. Opera was mainly characterized by recitative performances that helped pass relevant messages as desired by composers. As noted earlier, the opera music form was important in catalyzing the growth of the Baroque music era. Dafne, by Jacopo Peri was one of the earliest operas performed in 1598 in Florence. Monteverdi’s piece, Orfeo, is still performed in different European countries. There was also two subgenres of opera including the opera buffa that was mainly lighter and comic during its presentation. The second subgenre was the opera seria that had a serious emphasis on the subject matter. Great composers such as Phillippe Quinault and Jean-Baptiste Lully came up with a new form of French opera commonly referred to as tragedie-lyrique. Overall, opera was the turning point of this period and played an effective role in its success.

Another form of music during this period was the oratorio. This was music mainly based on religious matters. The word oratorio was commonly used to refer to prayer halls by communities during this era. Oratorios were mainly performed in palaces and other public places that the public was able to enjoy the diverse pieces of music. It exhibited some similarities with the opera, but it was not performed on the stage. Some of the key composers associated with this form of music included Antonio Vivaldi, Alessandro Scarllati and Giocomo Carissimi. Music was composed for different religions. The most common pieces under this style of music include Juda Maccabeus, Israel in Egypt and Messiah.

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Cantata was also a significant form of music that characterized the Baroque music era. This was made up of several set pieces such as choruses, duetsand arias. During its early stages, cantata was composed for basso continuo and solo voice with the aim of performing in private places with lesser people or only invited guests. Cantatas were written by both professional and amateur European composers Cantatas were advanced in the 17th century as the composers began accommodating da capo aria with diverse orchestral accompaniments. Major composers of the cantata genre came from Italy and they included Handel, Antonio Cesti, Luigi Rossi and Johann Adolf Hasse.

Sonata was a vital type of instrumental music of the Baroque era. It is worth noting that the sonata instrumental music was made up of several pieces that were mostly performed using violins and basso continuo. Sonatas were classified as sonatas da camera which included several dances and suite. The other category of sonata was the sonatas da chiesa that was primarily performed in churches with slow and fast tempos. Some of the key examples of sonata’s are Bach’s works that were mainly accompanied with the violin and cello.

Concerto was also a vital form of instrumental music during the Baroque music era. A concerto was a simple composition that brought together a myriad of ensembles including instruments and voices. Heinrich Schutz came up with the Kleine geistliche Concerte, which formed one of the key pieces of this form of instrumental music. Solo concerto was mostly dominant in the 18th century and they entailed the use of a single instrument backed up with an ensemble. Most of the concertos were written for violin and trumpets that made them more appealing to most individuals.

The last category was the suite that was founded on the dance arrangements of the Renaissance music era. Some of the most common forms of the suite included sarabande, allemande, courante and gigue that were mainly emulated as the standard dance movements of the Baroque music era. Suites were characterized with musical introductions such as fantasia and prelude. Johann Matterson, one of the key composers, embraced the form of suite in his piece Der volkommene Capellmeister. He used several suites such as the courante to represent hope, gigue to represent different emotions, and sarabande to represent ambition among individuals. The dance movements used by composers in their music have been vital in ensuring that the message is passed to all individuals in the most desired manner possible.

Characteristics of the Baroque Music Era

The Baroque era had distinguishing characteristics that made it more outstanding compared to other music era periods. The first characteristics of this period was the use of contrast as an element of drama. Contrast was mainly used as part of the drama in baroque compositions. For instance, there was an agreement for differences between loud and soft, diverse instruments and timbres, as well as solo and ensembles that ensured success of music in the Baroque music era. Composers were becoming more focused on instrumentation with the emphasis that all composers must use these instruments to make the music more understandable. This stipulated the use of instruments such as the violin and the trumpet.

The second characteristics of the Baroque era of music was the monody and emergence of the basso continuo. The Baroque music era was characterized with emergence of harmony and melody. Composers placed less focus on complicated polyphony that has been common in the preceding music era. Monteverdi’s piece, Combattimento de Tancredi e Clorinda, targeted the use of this simplified harmony and melody to enhance the quality of music. These were vital in bringing out the emotions of individuals including anger, humility and equanimity. The basso continuo came alongside the harmony and the melody that was adopted during this period. The presence of the basso continuo was instrumental in leading a standard mode of practice during the Baroque period.

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The last distinguishing characteristics of the Baroque era was the use of different instrumental sounds. The Baroque era was identified with its own musical instruments that made the form of music simpler for listeners. It was also more enjoyable among individuals to whom it was performed. Some of the music instrumental sounds during this era included pitch that was varied in nature. The baroque ensemble moved away from the low pitch that has been common in the previous era. The varied pitch boosted the quality of music. Timbre was another crucial instrumental sound that existed during this period. The harpsichord was embraced as the primary keyboard for use during this era. However, there was also continuous use of the violin and lute. Performance technique also formed part of the instrumental sound during this era. The performance technique used during this period ensured that the musical was different from that one that had been experienced in the previous era.


In conclusion, the Baroque music is a significant period in the history of music. However, Hoffer’s general presentations did not get to the bottom of the specific details relating to this period. Some of the most common composers that made the Baroque era a success included Claudio Monteverdi, Arcangelo Corelli, Jean-Phellipe Rameau, Henry Purcell, Tomaso Albinoni, Antonio Vivaldi, Alessandro Scarlatti, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel. Music compositions were divided into three main categories such as opera, cantata and oratorio. They represent the forms of ensembles and dance formations that were key to the message of the music Greeks and Romans believed that music was a way of communicating vital messages to members of the society. Composers were to earn their revenues through their performances to kings of religious bodies in the society. Some of the key characteristics of this music era are monody and the emergence of basso continuo, the use of contrast as part of the drama and instrumental sounds that were different from those used in the previous eras.

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