Compare and Contrast the Baroque Period to the Classical Term Paper

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Classical Baroque

Comparing and Contrasting Baroque and Classical Music

Do you like Classical music?" If you are asked this question, colloquially, usually the speaker means: do you like to listen to symphonic or orchestral music by composers of the past like Handel, Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven? However, this understanding and use of the term 'Classical' music is really in error, at least from the point-of-view of a historian of music. In fact, Classical music was a distinct style and period in musical history, and is distinguishable both in its tone and ideological orientation from the period that existed before it, the Baroque.

The Baroque period derives its unique name "from a Portuguese word meaning a pearl of irregular shape; initially it was used to imply strangeness, irregularity and extravagance" (Sadie 1996). The Baroque period is usually cited as beginning as early as 1570 in Italy and as ending during the second half of the 18th century. It spanned in its influence from countries as diverse as England and Spain. Its defining stylistic markers are the use of the basso continuo, or creating harmony from an "accompaniment from a composed bass part by playing the bass notes and improvising harmony" above those notes (Posner 1994).

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Arrangements of Baroque compositions reflect "the belief in the doctrine of the affections" or the need for purity and distinction between unlike systems (Sadie, "Baroque," 1996). Simply put in musical terms, this means that different 'movements' are quite evident in Baroque compositions. There may be a pause or an extreme, even jarring change of mood, tempo, or melody. "The emphasis on contrast (of texture, pace, volume etc.) in the music of the earlier Baroque, as compared with that of the late Renaissance, is also a distinguishing characteristic," (Sadie, "Baroque," 1994). This can be seen in such works as George Frederic Handel's "Messiah," for example, as the "Halleluiah" chorus bursts in a triumphant blast to proclaim the birth of Christ, while the song "He was despised" has a doleful, funeral-like tone, even though it is included in the same piece within a relatively short span of time.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Compare and Contrast the Baroque Period to the Classical Period Assignment

In contrast to the era that preceded it, the Renaissance, Baroque musicians seemed intent to honor the idea that music could move the listener in a real, individualistic, fashion, rather than simply move them to worship more ardently. The period also saw greater attention to new forms, such as the narrative blend of music and drama in the form of the opera and oratorio. The contrasting characters and songs of operas and oratorios like the "Messiah" were ideal for the Baroque periodization of the style, and these forms allowed composers to focus on creating impressive stage effects and impressive, ornate sounding music. Music and stagecraft became one, and even the music used in religious services became more ornate, such as Johann Sebastian Bach's elaborate cantatas and his "Passion of St. Matthew." Socially, the greater wealth of the era enabled patrons to sponsor musicians, both inside and outside of the court, and going to the theater became a new form of entertainment for the emerging middle class. Leisure was now possible for a larger segment of society outside of a purely religious context ("Baroque: Musical Context," the Essentials of Music, 2008).

The different musical styles of the nations of Italy, France and Germany became more marked, and traditional folkloric styles were often elevate to high art during this period -- many orchestral pieces have their origins dance rhythms and songs. The greater nationalization of music also corresponded with a greater sense of national identity and competition between nations. A French composer, for example, might label his or her piece 'in the Italian style' or an Englishman might decry the influence of Italian opera on his nation's music. "The question of the superiority of various styles was often the subject of heated debate" ("Baroque: Musical Context," the Essentials of Music, 2008).

New instrumental forms also developed during this period, like the sonata which was to gain even more popularity during the Classical era. And new instruments developed, giving musical sounds greater richness and tone. All instruments gained new importance, particularly the violin in the orchestra. Musical instruments would often engage in 'dialogues' with singers to reinforce the emotions of the singer or the storyline. Voices and instruments freely intermingled ("Baroque: Style," the Essentials of Music, 2008).

The term "Classical" does not mean instrumental or distinct from popular music, as often is assumed today. In fact, Classical music was once very much the 'popular' music of its era. But the "Viennese Classical idiom which flourished in the late 18th century and the early 19th, above all in the hands of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven," marked a distinct shift from the Baroque style because of its more subtle use of dynamics coloring of tone, rather than its juxtapositions of moods. There was less stress on creating harmony from dissonance and major and minor tonality as in the Baroque period, and fewer ornate melodies with death-defying leaps of tone and tempo.

During the Classical era, musical structures became more complex, and less dependent upon simple repetitions and stark contrasts of those repetitions. The Classical era used periodic structure and harmonic rhythm, "to give definition to large-scale forms, along with the use of modulation to build longer spans of tension and release" (Sadie, "Classic," 1994). With Beethoven, the birth of the symphony reached its fullest flower in his "Erotica" or Third Symphony, as well as the powerful "Ode to Joy" in the "Ninth Symphony." Classical music, particularly the works of Beethoven, was distinguished by its innovative use of the sonata form and often witty and urbane use of comic and serious melodies. It derived its name from the increased interest in ancient classical culture and music, such as the art and architecture of Rome and Greece and the emphasis on form and perfection (Sadie, "Classic," 1994).

Although this may sound a bit unfair, a Classicist might say the "unnatural" Baroque style was replaced with "natural" simplicity and balance ("Classical: Musical Context" the Essentials of Music, 2008). The Classical style to the ear seems simpler and more refined than the Baroque, with less stress upon contrapunctual texture. During this era there was a shift to homophonic styles with a single melody and accompaniment. Melodies and all forms became simpler and more "rational" -- Classical melodies had even more phrases with "symmetrical question and answer" structures between singers and instruments ("Classical: Style" the Essentials of Music, 2008).

New instruments came to the forefront of the orchestra. The piano rather than the harpsichord, violin, and other stringed instruments distinguish the sound of the Classical style ("Classical: Style" the Essentials of Music, 2008). One of the reasons that Mozart is (sometimes) controversially classified as a Classical rather than Baroque artist is his innovative use of the piano, and using the piano in a different way is described as his great 'breakthrough' as an artist. "Mozart's approach to composition changed as well through the vehicle of the piano concerto...The brilliance and exquisiteness that are such striking features of Mozart's piano concerti have often been compared to great, sublime poetry.... The former [Baroque] 'gallant' virtuosic contest between soloist and orchestra of the earlier, pre-Vienna works is resolved by Mozart, transforming it instead into a stark, dramatic contrast. The unusually austere, almost severe quality of the opening bars of the initial orchestral themes are contrasted with the soloists flexible, expressive melodies, which can be taken as nearly speech-like in nature. This is perhaps the most striking opera technique drawn on to enhance purely orchestral music" (Smith 2003).

It should be noted that of the two greatest pioneers of their respective epochs, Beethoven as well as Mozart, might be said to straddle two different eras. Beethoven is often seen as straddling the Romantic and the Classical. In fact, the Columbia Encyclopedia entry on Beethoven simply states: "Beethoven's work crowned the Classical period and also effectively initiated the Romantic era in music. He is one of the few artists who genuinely may be considered revolutionary" ("Ludwig van Beethoven," 2007). His first symphonies are very similar in musical conception to that of Mozart and Hayden, the latter of whom he briefly studied under as a child. However, his later pieces in the style of what we think of as distinctly 'Beethoven," poured the composer's tragic and tormented personal life, including his romantic frustrations and deafness into the works in a way that heralded the more emotional Romantic era in music.

Both Beethoven and Mozart's career show that strict classification of musical styles, particularly in the works of the greatest musicians of any era, is difficult. What makes these musicians so great is the fact that they thought outside of the confining definitions of their respective ages. The sounds of their works are as uniquely their own as they are Baroque or Classical, Classical or Romantic. But despite the artificiality of musical categories, it is still possible to hear a difference between music of the two eras… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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