Lisztomania: If it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it

One of the most interesting things about music is that it is a vein of history that, when followed closely, can tell the story of human progress. Different centuries are characterized by different ideals such as nationalism, sanctity and progressivism, and in the same way these values are represented in politics, technology and societal norms, they are also expressed in music and art. The first distinct period of music on which I will be focusing is the Baroque, which lasted from around 1600 until 1750 and includes music that can often be heard in the background of scenes depicting the homes of the mega-rich in movies. Today, Baroque music is often associated with the highest socioeconomic classes, but during the period itself, this was far from the truth. A rise of the middle class during the Baroque lead to more people with a disposable income, which was often spent on goods and services that were once restricted to the wealthy, such as concert attendance and music lessons. Additionally, the increasing leniency of the church, which had previously monopolized composition and musical performance, made music more accessible to the general public and gave composers and performers an open platform onto which they could project new ideas without the fear of being accused of heresy. The ideal of progression in the Baroque era is also seen in science and technology, with such technologies as the telescope and scientific discoveries such as Newtonian physics. Similarly, the discipline of music was also progressing, seeing the introduction of new musical styles including the concerto and the sonata.

The concerto, which is characterized by music for a virtuosic soloist and an orchestra accompaniment, is most closely associated with composer Antonio Vivaldi. A Venetian born in 1678, Vivaldi is most known for his work, “The Four Seasons,” along with hundreds of concertos. Many of his concertos were written for students due to the increasing demand for children’s music lessons, and many of these student works are still very widely practiced and performed today.

The sonata, like the concerto, was written for a solo instrument, but instead of an orchestral accompaniment, a keyboard part supported the soloist. The first true piano was not invented until around the year 1700, and was not widely used until the time of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born in 1756. Instead, Baroque sonatas were often written with a harpsichord or clavier part to support the soloist. The harpsichord, as the name implies, is very closely related to the harp; rather than the keys activating hammers that strike the strings of a piano, the keys of a harpsichord pluck the strings to generate sound. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), perhaps the most celebrated composer of alltime, frequently wrote for keyboard instruments and pioneered ideas of harmonic direction and tonality in music, both of which are still compositional techniques used today.

Suggested works:

Tomaso Antonio Vitali: “Chaconne in G minor”

Arcangelo Corelli: “Concerto Grosso No. 8 in G minor”

Antonio Vivaldi: “Violin Concerto in A minor”

George Philipp Telemann: “Trumpet Concerto in D Major”

J.S. Bach: “The Well Tempered Clavier No. 1 in C Major — Prelude”