The baroque, or classic period can be defined as an artistic movement developed during the 17th and 18th centuries; it is also an artistic style that uses extravagance and neat details for inducing its works with drama, tension, euphoria and greatness.
The baroque comprehends the whole disciplines of sculpture, dance, painting, literature and music, and the works from this particular period of time were known because of the artists’ effort into making the message of each piece, independently from which form of art it was, easy and outstanding for the public to understand.
The term “baroque” comes from an ancient name given to a certain type of pearl, which shape wasn’t rounded, but instead it was unpredictable, elaborated and luxurious. That for, in its colloquial form, the word “baroque” can have such a simple meaning as something that is “elaborated” or complicated, flattered with lots of details. In this line of thinking, the word “baroque” might as well not make reference to the different styles of the 17th and 18th century.
The origin of the baroque period remounts itself to the year 1600, in Rome, Italy, and it spread itself to most part of the European continent; this particular time transformed itself in the final moments of the domination of the limiting counterpoint in the era’s music style. For explaining better, the limiting counterpoint referred to the different voices and instruments making echo between themselves in diverse tonalities; as well, it also meant reverting the echo sometimes and some others it even reverted the thematic material.
Characteristics of the Baroque Period
In matters of music, one of the traits that define the music from the baroque period is the connection and expression of the liturgical themes. Since plenty of the most well-known musicians of the time were at the service of the European church, the dominating music style was the sacred music, designed for special religious occasions, named by the church itself only. Due to this devotion and dedication towards the church, the prime inspiration of many of the composers was to honor God and spread His word among the public.
There are several thoughts, ideas and philosophies that surround the baroque period, made by ancient and contemporary musicians, composers, critics and artists. Many of this views were directed to the baroque music, one of the most popular disciplines back at the time and that has persisted until our days; each composer appeared to have his or her own opinion about what music was or should be and how they planned to express this feelings on their very own pieces.
Many believed music’s only goal was to praise God and also create a devotional movement, uniting musicians and listeners alike for them to form a devotional net with which the souls would be delivered to God more easily. Johann Sebastian Bach himself once declared: “The only aim for the figurate bass shall not be other than the greatness of God and the recreation of the mind. When this objective is not at sight, there can’t be any real music, only infernal screams and scratches”.
This point of view has been repeated and shared by many ever since by plenty great minds from the baroque period to our current days. Needless to say that most of composers of that time felt that way, the other most prominent character that quoted this philosophy was the great Martin Luther King who agreed, many years later, with Bach’s idea, when Luther King affirmed that the music emanates from the divine spirit, just like God, and it has omnipresence:
“In first and second place, looking at the music itself, you can see that it has been implanted and instructed to all creatures, individually and collectively, since the beginning of the times. It can’t exist without sound or harmony”.
Luther King believed that “the praise through the word and the music is a lecture in the sound”.
Following this line of thought, the composers and philosophers of the baroque period firmly believed that the music, science and math possessed cosmic relations. There was a popular concept going around about a celestial harmony divinely accommodated that became the main goal for the baroque musicians to reach with their own work. This idea came from Greek philosophy and the texts written by the Christian philosophers, especially the ones by Severnius Boecio who was very popular during this era. This principles regarding the cosmic and the divine were believed to come directly from God and, because of that, they had profound religious and spiritual relationships so they became almost an obligated concept to learn for musicians and artists alike.
Back at the time, Pythagoras’ discovering of the series of harmonics with its mathematical properties was perhaps the most influential discovery of the era and it directly affected the definition of the theoretical aspects of the occidental music. Parting from this moment, the music from the baroque period started to evolve with a high speed, shifting its codes and technical traits transforming itself towards the shape of baroque music that we know nowadays.
The baroque music forms a significant part of the classic music, that for it is associated with some of the most famous classic composers like Henry Purcell, Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Friedrich Händel, Johann Sebastian Bach, Claudio Monteverdi, Ludwig Van Beethoven, and several more.
It is needless to say that the most prominent ones were, for excellence, Bach, Vivaldi, Händel and Beethoven; all of whom composed, developed and performed some of the most beautiful and famous pieces, not only for the 17th and 18th century, but also for our current days. Apart from their music, several of their philosophies were used to teach to the amateur musicians and promote the whole art around the high societies. Some baroques composers, like Antonio Vivaldi, had plenty members of the aristocracy as their most devoted fans; like the emperor Carlos the 6th, who became Vivaldi’s greatest sponsor and who publically honored the famous composer by naming him a knight of the court.
Inspirations in the baroque period
One of the main principles that guided the overall baroque art style was the exuberance; idea was to make elaborated and dazzling works, filling them with details, making them shine above all and impossible to ignore. During the baroque period, the fame and success of the “extravagance” was supported by the Roman Catholic Church. Also, during the defeat of the Trento Council, the church thought that the arts should retell the religious tales with a direct and emotional participation so this also became one of the baroque period’s main inspirations for the art.
The baroque architecture also gained some attention during this day and it also served as a way to express the religious message, which only made it to increase in popularity. Resulting from this newfound admiration, there were started to be build plenty of structures with the baroque inspirations of extravagance and religiousness.
The aristocracy saw the theatrical language of the baroque house and its wit as a nice way to astonish the visitors and declare the courage and the tenderness with which the religious tribute was made. With this in mind, there were constructed the baroque palaces around the sequence of the entrances to the courts, with beautiful lobbies, great stairs, reception rooms and more and more displays of magnificence.
In a similar display of greatness, the music, architecture, art and literature served as an inspiration for one another during the baroque period. This mutual stimulation was later recognized as a cultural movement where the artists could explore what they wanted to create coming from varied and repetitive patrons.
Despite all the beauty that seems to emanate from the baroque period, the German art historian, Erwin Panofsky, made a little harsh comment over the baroque movement itself to be a “stately racket”, parting from the disadvantages of the confusing style from the time.
Evolution of the baroque period
Starting approximately in 1600, during the final moments of the movement known as the mannerism, the memorial of the new art gave birth to what is now known as the baroque period.
For speaking about the differences between each movement, among the paintings the baroque gestures were wider than the mannerism ones. The overall art was less ambiguous, secretive and mysterious than what it had been during the mannerism, due to the baroque’s inclination for luxury, this was mostly proved in the gestures of the opera, one of the most important forms of art of the baroque period. Sculpture-wise, the baroque postures depended on the counterweight and the tension inside of the ciphers that move the plane of the shoulders and hips in their respective directions. Which means, the sculptures were made as if they were just about to move.
Finally, the baroque period was witness of the development of the diatonic tonality, it expanded the size, variety, and complexity of the instrumental performing and it also settled the opera as a music genre. The composers and singers of the time established new techniques for the performing as well and plenty of the musical terms and concepts from this era are still in use nowadays.