The Baroque Period
Music before Mozart & Beethoven
How do you know all these guys?” My nephew asked the question one day
as he scrolled through my iPod, not without some regret, I suspect, at having picked it up in the first place.
Abraham Bosse, Baroque Musicians; ca. 1635
(Wikimedia Commons) “I’m old,” I replied, “I met a lot of them.”
The Baroque period was a fascinating and in many ways formative one in the history of music. The vast bulk of musical
symbols and terms like andante (“walking, at a walking pace”) or
mezzo forte (“moderately loud”) written in Italian were first widely used during
the period. The ‘discovery’ of chords and the habit of indicating them using some sort of shorthand,
whether capital letters, numeric figures, or tablature, coincided with the inception of the period, and in more ways
Flute Concert of Frederick the Great
(Wikimedia Commons) than one truly defined it. And the real or imagined distinctions in various kinds of music — sacred vs. secular, serious vs. popular, dance vs. performance — hardened into practice during the Baroque where they were only vaguely applied before.
Stretching across such a huge span of time — the century and a half or so beginning in 1600 — and covering a period of religious and political turmoil, Baroque music is a vast field with its own specializations. Happily it has grown from a relatively esoteric, in some ways discountenanced pursuit (at least in my humble experience) not readily available to an average music lover, to bewildering popularity. Entire performing ensembles are devoted solely to Baroque music in period style on period instruments, and books and publications proliferate.
Hopefully my meagre efforts here will stimulate one or two in an interest that has provided me with a lifetime of fascination.