Chapter 11: Instrumental Music in the Seventeenth Century
Prelude. (CHWM 216–17)
The Baroque era saw the cultivation of new instruments, new roles for instrumental music, new genres, and new styles, as well as more music written for instruments alone. Instrumental composers borrowed many elements from new vocal idioms. The two most prevalent types of instrumental music in the seventeenth century were music for ensembles and music for solo lute or keyboard. This was a golden age of instrument making and composition, for the church organ in Germany, for the harpsichord (clavecin) in France, and for string instruments in Italy.
Types of Instrumental Music (CHWM 217) There were several broad types of instrumental music in the Baroque era, including variations, abstract music, and dance music.
Variations include pieces that vary a given melody (variations or partita) or bass line (partita, chaconne, and passacaglia).
Abstract types of music include: (1) pieces in an improvisatory style for solo keyboard or lute (toccata, fantasia, and prelude); (2) fugal works in continuous imitative counterpoint (ricercare, fantasia, capriccio, and fugue); (3) pieces with contrasting sections (canzona and sonata).
Dances were composed as independent pieces or linked together in a suite.
Variations (CHWM 217–18) Composers wrote numerous pieces involving variations, sometimes called partite.
Chaconne and passacaglia
The chaconne and passacaglia consisted of variations over a ground bass, or repeated progression, usually in triple meter.
Abstract Instrumental Works (CHWM 218–22, NAWM 79–81)
- Improvisatory Genres
Toccatas and other improvisatory pieces were played on harpsichord or organ.
The toccatas of Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643) typically feature several brief sections, each focused on a different figure.
Music: NAWM 79
Biography: Girolamo Frescobaldi
Frescobaldi was one of the first composers to focus primarily on instrumental music. As organist at St. Peter’s, he composed keyboard works and had many wealthy and prestigious patrons. His music was known across France, Flanders, and Germany even after his death, and he influenced later composers, including J. S. and C. P. E. Bach.
Frescobaldi used toccatas as service music in three organ masses that appear in a collection titled Fiori musicali (Musical Flowers, 1635).
Johann Jacob Froberger
Johann Jacob Froberger (1616–1667) studied with Frescobaldi and wrote toccatas that alternate improvisatory passages with sections in imitative counterpoint.
- Continuous Genres
- Riceracare and fugue
The seventeenth-century ricercare was a serious work for organ or harpsichord in which one subject was continuously developed in imitation. In the early seventeenth century, the term fugue described such pieces. Music: NAWM 80
The keyboard fantasia was on a larger scale and had a more complex formal organization than the ricercare.
- English consort fantasias
The leading genre for viol consort in England was the imitative fantasia, or fancy, which could treat one or more subjects.
- Sectional Genres
In the seventeenth century, sonata came to refer to a work for one or two melody instruments with basso continuo. The solo writing was often idiomatic and imitated vocal style.
- Ensemble sonatas
In Venice, a sonata resembled a canzona, consisting of several sections based on different subjects.
- Biagio Marini
Biagio Marini (1594–1663) worked at St. Mark’s in Venice and held other posts in Italy and Germany. His solo violin sonatas resemble instrumental monody, with many idiomatic gestures. Music: NAWM 81
Music for Organ (CHWM 222–25, NAWM 92)
Organ music enjoyed a golden age in the Lutheran areas of Germany between about 1650 and 1750. Dieterich Buxtehude
(ca.1637–1707) was one of the best-known Lutheran composers of the late seventeenth century.
- Functions of organ music
Most Protestant organ music served as a prelude to a part of the liturgy.
- Toccatas and preludes
Seventeenth-century toccatas were composed of a series of short sections in free style that alternated with longer ones in imitative counterpoint. Music: NAWM 92
In the eighteenth century, fugal and nonfugal sections became separate movements, creating a toccata (or prelude) and fugue. A fugue opens with an exposition, in which the subject in the tonic is imitated by the answer in the dominant. The other voices alternate subject and answer. Some fugues have episodes.
- Chorale compositions
Organ compositions based on chorales included organ chorales, chorale variations (also called chorale partite), and chorale fantasias.
- Chorale prelude
Another type of chorale setting is the chorale prelude, in which an entire melody is presented just once in a readily recognizable form.
Music for Lute and Harpsichord (CHWM 225–30, NAWM 84–85)
During the seventeenth century, the clavecin
(French for "harpsichord") displaced the lute as the main solo instrument, and clavecinists,
such as Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre
(1665–1729) and Francois Couperin
(1668–1733, see Chapter 13), marketed their music collections to an amateur public.
Lutenists systematically developed the use of agréments, ornaments that became a fundamental element of French music.
- Style brisé
The lute style, often called style brisé (broken style), was imitated by harpsichord composers and became an idiomatic part of French harpsichord style.
- Dance Music
Biography: Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre
Jacquet de La Guerre was recognized by her contemporaries as one of the greatest talents of her time. As a child prodigy, she performed at King Louis XIV’s court from the age of five. Best known for her harpsichord pieces and cantatas, she was the first French woman to write a ballet and an opera.
- Lute dances
Stylized dances formed the core of the lute and keyboard repertory.
- Binary form
Most seventeenth-century dances were in binary form, a form used for dances and other instrumental genres over the next two centuries.
- Denis Gaultier
Typical of the style brisé and Denis Gaultier’s (1603–1672) own personal style is his courante La Coquette virtuose (The Virtuous Coquette) from La Rhétorique des dieux (The Rhetoric of the Gods, ca. 1650). Music: NAWM 84
French composers grouped dances into suites. Typically, a suite began with a prelude, often an unmeasured prelude, and continued with dances like the allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue, gavotte, and minuet. Music: NAWM 85
Ensemble Music (CHWM 231–40, NAWM 91)
Italian composers continued to dominate instrumental chamber music during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, as they did operas and cantatas.
- Chamber Music: The Sonata
After 1630, the terms sonata and sinfonia were used more and more to designate independent instrumental compositions.
- Development of the sonata
By the later seventeenth century, the sonata became a multimovement work with contrasts between movements. By about 1660, two main types of sonata had emerged: the sonata da camera (or chamber sonata), a suite of stylized dances often opening with a prelude, and the sonata da chiesa (or church sonata), containing mostly abstract movements.
- Trio sonatas
A trio sonata is played by two treble instruments with basso continuo.
- Solo and ensemble sonatas
Solo sonatas gained in popularity after 1700. Ensemble sonatas featured up to eight instrumental parts with continuo.
- Arcangelo Corelli’s Sonatas
Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) composed only instrumental music, and his works served as models for later composers.
In Context: The Violin Workshop of Antonio Stradivari
Violin makers in Cremona, Italy, developed their art to a level that has never been surpassed. Antonio Stradivari (ca. 1644–1737) was the most prominent member of his renowned family of instrument makers, and today’s leading string players use his instruments. Scientists have been unable to determine what makes these instruments sound superior to others.
- Trio sonatas
In his trio sonatas, Corelli treated the two violins alike, focusing on lyricism rather than virtuosity. Typical traits of Corelli’s style include a walking bass, chains of suspensions, sequences, and a dialogue between the violins. Music: NAWM 91
- Church sonatas
Corelli’s church sonatas most often include four movements in the pattern slow-fast-slow-fast. They usually consist of a majestic first movement, a fugue, a slow duet in triple meter, and a fast dance.
Biography: Arcangelo Corelli
Corelli studied violin and composition in Bologna. By 1675, he was living in Rome and enjoying the support of rich patrons. He raised performance standards, and his teaching was the foundation of most eighteenth-century schools of violin playing. He composed only instrumental works, and they made him famous across Europe.
- Chamber sonatas
Corelli’s chamber sonatas typically begin with a prelude and include two or three dance movements.
- Solo sonatas
Corelli’s violin sonatas use the same format as his trio sonatas but demand more virtuosity.
- Thematic organization
In Corelli’s sonatas, movements are based on a single subject stated at the outset and then expanded through sequences, variations, and modulations.
- Tonal organization
Corelli’s music is tonal, and he used suspensions and sequences to achieve the sense of forward harmonic motion on which tonality depends.
In Performance: Baroque Ornamentation
Ornaments originated in improvisation and were intended to make a performance more expressive. A number of treatises were published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to help performers make interpretive decisions. Sometimes, composers published instructions for decoding their symbols. Skilled performers were expected to add even more extensive embellishments when none were indicated. Many treatises, including The Art of Playing on the Violin (1751) by Francesco Geminiani (1687–1762), have been reprinted for modern performers.
- Influence and reputation
Corelli’s sonatas served as models that composers followed for the next half century, and his compositions have become classics.
- Music for orchestra
In the late seventeenth century, musicians began to distinguish between chamber music, for one player on a part, and orchestral music, for more than one player on a part.
In Context: Queen Christina of Sweden and Her Circle
Queen Christina of Sweden (1626–1689) abdicated her throne, settled in Rome in 1655, and became a patron of intellectual life and the arts. Corelli dedicated his first publication to her and later served her as a musician.
- Ensemble music in Germany
The ensemble sonata and the instrumental suite were popular in Germany, where musical traditions frequently became part of everyday life. Many cities employed Stadtpfeifer (townpipers) and had a collegium musicum, a group of amateurs who performed for their own pleasure.