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What is Baroque Music?

June 29, 2022

Baroque music is a style of music that was widely used from 1500 to 1750. The term ''Baroque'' is a French word. It is a translation of the Portuguese word for ''broken pearl,'' which is ''Barocco'' Some interpret the French word as meaning ''irregularly shaped,'' or ''flawed.'' The Baroque period of music lasted from 1600 to 1750. While the characteristics mentioned below were spread throughout the Baroque Era, they manifested themselves in different ways depending on cultural and regional context.

The result of the formation of Baroque music was an increased formality in the separation between secular and sacred music. The audience for secular music also increased, and as secular and political cultures affected the produced music, the musical expression of baroque pieces began to vary across Europe. Still, baroque pieces shared the same characteristics, which were all meant to create grandiose, elaborate musical mosaics. One of these characteristics was ornamentation, which can be seen in many musical forms from the Baroque Era.

Baroque Music Characteristics

One critic of Baroque music near the end of the Baroque era stated that Baroque music ''aims to surprise by the boldness of its sounds and passes for the song while pulsating with speed and noise.''

Baroque music characteristics include:

  • High levels of ornamentation
  • Intricate and complex details
  • Heavily contrasting elements
  • High movement, especially compared to the music of other periods
  • Sonorous, continuous bass line, which allowed the higher voices of the music to be as expressive as the composer wished
  • Comparably frequent transitions back and forth between keys, especially keys which were near each other on the tonal scale

The presence of these characteristics required playing and writing music in certain ways:

  • Recitative, such as in operas or oratorios, in which multiple words were sung on the same note repeated many times, with notes near it on the tonal scale interspersed.
  • Dissonance, or playing notes that sound discordant at the same time.
  • Chromaticism, or inclusion of lines of the chromatic scale for artistic effect, deliberately departing from the tonal mode of the piece

Various performance style tactics were used to further enhance the expressiveness of the music: Flautists used flattened, or ''finger vibrato,'' Oftentimes performers, especially vocal performers, used prolongation to lengthen certain sections of pieces. Another practice was to play notes of equal-length notation for different lengths. This was called notes inegale.


Common instruments in baroque music include:

  • Violin
  • Viola
  • Cello
  • Pianoforte
  • Harpsichord
  • Organ



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