Chapter 13: Baroque Music in the Early Eighteenth Century
Prelude. (CHWM 263)
Between 1720 and 1750, Baroque music competed with a simpler, more songful style. Antonio Vivaldi, Francois Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Johann Sebastian Bach, and George Frideric Handel synthesize Baroque trends in Italy, France, Germany, and England.
I. Italy: Antonio Vivaldi and the Concerto (CHWM 263–70, NAWM 93)
Although Venice was declining in power at the beginning of the eighteenth century, it still had a lively musical culture.
Venice was home to all types of professional and amateur music-making, including public festivals, opera, church music, and chamber music.
Venice nurtured institutions like the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, a home and school for orphaned and abandoned girls, which became a famous musical center.
- Instrumental concerto
The instrumental concerto was a new genre that emerged in the 1680s and 1690s and became the most important type of Baroque instrumental music.
- Types of concerto
In the orchestral concerto, the first violin part and bass dominated, and the texture was less contrapuntal than in the sonata. More important were the concerto grosso, which contrasted a small ensemble (or concertino) with a large ensemble (or concerto grosso, ripieno, or tutti), and the solo concerto, in which a solo instrument contrasted with the orchestra.
- Giuseppe Torelli
Giuseppe Torelli (1658–1709) was a leading composer in the Bologna school.
- Three-movement structure
Torelli helped to codify the concerto as a work in three movements in the pattern fast–slow–fast.
- Ritornello form
For the fast movements of his violin concertos, Torelli often used a form like the A section of a da capo aria, in which two passages for a soloist are framed by a recurring ritornello.
Biography: Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)
Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice and trained for both music and the priesthood. As music teacher (and later a director of concerts) at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, he composed oratorios, sacred music, and concertos. He also received opera commissions from Venice and elsewhere. He earned a great fortune during his career, but spent almost all of it.
- Antonio Vivaldi
Vivaldi was the best-known Italian composer of the early eighteenth century and is known today primarily for his concertos.
- The Pietà
Between 1703 and 1740, Vivaldi worked at the Pietà, where he taught, composed, conducted, and maintained instruments.
- Vivaldi’s concertos
In his concertos, Vivaldi used a simple but flexible plan that allowed him to achieve variety through ever-changing combinations of a few basic elements.
- Vivaldi’s orchestra
Vivaldi used different groupings of solo and orchestral instruments to achieve a wide range of colors and sonorities in his concertos.
- Instrumentation of the concertos
Most of Vivaldi’s concertos feature opposition between soloist(s) and orchestra.
- Expanded ritornello form
Vivaldi used ritornello form for the fast movements in his concertos. In this form, the full orchestra plays the ritornellos, and the soloist(s) play the episodes. The opening ritornello is composed of several small units, and later ritornellos usually include only a few of those units. The opening and closing ritornellos are in the tonic, and the others confirm the keys to which the music modulates during the virtuosic and idiomatic solo episodes. Music: NAWM 93
- Slow movement
Vivaldi was the first concerto composer to make slow movements as important as fast ones.
- Economy and variety
Although Vivaldi created long movements from a small amount of musical material, his concertos exhibit great variety and range of expression.
- Publications, titles, and programs
Vivaldi wrote some concertos on commission and earned money through publications. To attract buyers, many concertos were printed with fanciful titles and programs.
- Range of styles
Vivaldi’s music reflects a variety of styles of the early eighteenth century.
II. France: Couperin and Rameau (CHWM 270–75, NAWM 94–95)
Paris was the musical capital of France, with public concerts, private patrons, and institutions supporting musicians and composers.
- Reconciling French and Italian styles
In the early eighteenth century, the relative merits of French and Italian music were constantly debated, and some composers blended the two styles.
- François Couperin
Although he worked for royalty, Francois Couperin (1668–1733) earned most of his money teaching aristocrats and composing.
Couperin wrote harpsichord suites (ordres) for amateur performers. Music: NAWM 94
- Chamber works
Couperin blended French and Italian styles in his chamber music.
- Jean-Philippe Rameau
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764) was both a theorist who founded the theory of tonal music and a composer who was Lully’s most important successor.
Biography: Jean-Philippe Rameau
Rameau was forty years old when he earned his first fame with his theoretical treatise on harmony (Traité de l’harmonie, 1722). His compositions took longer to be recognized, and in the 1730s, he wrote his first opera. Wealthy and influential patrons supported Rameau, who despite his late start composed more ballets and operas than any other French composer of the eighteenth century.
- La Pouplinière
Rameau achieved his greatest fame after being hired as organist, conductor, and composer-in-residence to Alexandre-Jean-Joseph le Riche de la Pouplinière.
Rameau attained his greatest fame from his operas, including Hippolyte et Aricie (1733) and Castor et Pollux (1737).
- Lullistes versus Ramistes
Lully’s supporters, known as the Lullistes, criticized Rameau’s early operas for their difficulty. Rameau was defended by the Ramistes.
- Comparison with Lully
Rameau’s theater works resembled Lully’s in several ways, but they also introduced many changes.
- Melodic and harmonic style
Rameau’s melodies are often triadic, outlining harmonies, which he drew from a rich palette of chords.
- Instrumental music
The instrumental passages of Rameau’s operas were especially original, with tone painting, novel orchestration, and independent woodwind parts.
A Closer Look: Rameau’s Theories
Because he derived the basic principles of harmony from the laws of acoustics, Rameau considered the chord the primal element in music. He asserted that the fundamental bass defined the harmony of a passage. He also coined the terms tonic, dominant, and subdominant and formulated the hierarchies of functional tonality. He recognized a modulation as the change in function of a chord.
- Airs and choruses
Rameau moved smoothly between recitative and aria styles and frequently included choruses.
- Hippolyte et Aricie
The conclusion of Act IV from Hippolyte et Aricie illustrates the high drama Rameau could achieve. Music: NAWM 95
- Rameau as theorist
Rameau’s Traité de l’harmonie was one of the most influential theoretical works ever written, and it became the primary tool for teaching harmony.
III. Germany: Johann Sebastian Bach (CHWM 275–89, NAWM 96–98)
In the eighteenth century, composers from German-speaking lands rose to prominence by combining the best traits of music from several nations, including Italy, France, and Germany.
- German patrons
States, principalities, and independent cities in German-speaking central Europe supported music. As a working musician in Lutheran Germany, Bach composed to meet the demands of the positions he held, to satisfy patrons, to please and edify fellow citizens, and to glorify God.
Biography: Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was born in Eisenach and came from a large family of musicians. He was a virtuoso organist and keyboard player, and his first positions were as church organist at Arnstadt and Mühlhausen, where he also taught private students in performance and composition. Bach worked his way up the career ladder, serving as organist and then concertmaster in Weimar and later as music director at Cöthen. At Leipzig, he held one of the most prestigious positions in Germany as cantor of the Saint Thomas School and civic music director.
- Cities where Bach worked
Bach composed in every genre of his time, except opera, to meet the demands of his patrons in different cities throughout Germany.
- Bach at Arnstadt, Mühlhausen, and Weimar: The Organ Works
Most of Bach’s earliest works were for organ, and as church organist, Bach focused on genres employed in Lutheran services.
- Preludes and fugues
Like other composers in this period, Bach frequently prefaced fugues with separate preludes, toccatas, or fantasias.
- Vivaldi’s influence
At Weimar, Bach arranged Vivaldi’s concertos for keyboard and adopted ritornello form and other traits of Vivaldi’s music in his own works. The form of his fugues resembles ritornello form, with the fugue subject functioning like a ritornello. Music: NAWM 96
- Chorale settings
In Bach’s Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book), compiled in Weimar, each chorale is stated once, accompanied with counterpoint or embellished through a variety of compositional techniques. In some preludes, images in the chorale texts are suggested through the use of musical figures. Music: NAWM 97
- Bach at Cóthen and Leipzig: The Harpsichord Music
Bach wrote harpsichord music in every contemporary genre.
- The Well-Tempered Clavier
Each of the two books of The Well-Tempered Clavier (1722 and ca. 1740) consists of twenty-four prelude and fugue pairs, one in each major and minor key.
A Closer Look: The Well-Tempered Clavier
The pieces in Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier could be played on different types of keyboard instruments, and Bach left the choice of instrument to the performer. The term "well tempered" refers to the keyboard’s tuning, in which all semitones are nearly equal in size, making it possible to move from one key to another without sounding out of tune.
- Pedagogical aims
Each prelude assigns the player a specific technical task and illustrates different types of keyboard performance conventions and compositional practices, while the fugues use an array of fugal writing techniques.
Bach’s harpsichord suites show French, Italian, and German influences.
- Goldberg Variations
In his Goldberg Variations, Bach used a variety of techniques, such as canon, fugue, and quodlibet.
- Bach at the Princely Court of Cöthen: Solo and Ensemble Music
At Cöthen, Bach wrote works for unaccompanied violin, cello, and flute in which he created the illusion of a harmonic and contrapuntal texture.
- The orchestral suite
Between about 1690 and 1740, German composers wrote a new type of orchestral suite with dances patterned on those from Lully’s ballets and operas.
- Brandenburg Concertos
Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos, dedicated to the margrave of Brandenburg in 1721, follow Italian models but expand upon Italian forms.
- Collegium musicum
Most of Bach’s other orchestral music, including concertos and suites, was written in the 1730s for the Leipzig collegium musicum.
- Other instrumental works
A Musical Offering contains a collection of pieces on a theme by Frederick the Great of Prussia, and The Art of Fugue systematically demonstrates all types of fugal writing.
- Bach at Leipzig: The Vocal Music
In Leipzig, Bach had multiple duties, including teaching Latin and music at the school and composing and rehearsing music for services in the main churches. Lutheran services contained many types of music.
- Church cantatas
The church cantata was performed during the Lutheran service after the Gospel reading and acted as a type of musical sermon or as an interpretation of the reading. Bach composed at least four complete annual cantata cycles, often reworking his earlier works for new uses.
- Chorale cantatas
Bach’s cantata, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BMV 62, is typical of Bach’s cantatas with its opening and closing choruses and middle movements for soloists. Music: NAWM 98
- Opening chorus
The opening chorus of Bach’s cantata Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland mixes the genres of concerto and chorale motet.
- Solo movements
The four solo movements of Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland employ operatic idioms.
For the St. John Passion and the St. Matthew Passion, Bach drew on elements from opera, cantata, and oratorio to recount the story of Jesus’s death. These works were performed at Good Friday services, most likely with a small chorus and instrumental ensemble.
- Mass in B Minor
Bach assembled his Mass in B Minor from existing works and newly composed movements. He employed contrasting styles and demonstrated different current approaches to writing church music.
- Reception History
Only a few of Bach’s works were published during his life.
- Changing tastes
By the middle of the eighteenth century, some people considered Bach’s music old-fashioned and difficult.
- Bach’s influence
Musicians and connoisseurs kept Bach’s music alive through their study of his works. In the nineteenth century, his life and works were rediscovered and became widely known, his reputation soared, and today he is considered one of the central composers of Western music.
IV. England: George Frideric Handel (CHWM 289–300, NAWM 99–100)
George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) won international renown and success with the public during his lifetime, and his music has been performed ever since.
Handel’s popularity stemmed from his adaptability while working for the public.
Biography: George Frideric Handel [Georg Friedrich Händel]
Handel was born in Germany where he studied the music of German and Italian composers. In 1703, he moved to Hamburg, played in an opera orchestra, and composed his first opera. He traveled to Italy where he associated with the leading patrons and musicians. Handel’s greatest successes came in London, where he served aristocratic and royal patrons, as well as the public. Although he wrote many instrumental works, Handel is best known for his Italian operas and English oratorios.
Handel enjoyed generous support from patrons, particularly British monarchs who granted him sizable pensions. Most of his musical activities, however, were for public audiences.
- The Operas
Handel composed and directed operas for most of his career.
- International style
In his operas, Handel combined French overtures and dances, Italian recitatives and arias, and German counterpoint and orchestration.
- London operas
Handel’s Rinaldo (1711) was the first Italian opera he composed for London and established his reputation there.
- Royal Academy of Music
Handel was music director of the Royal Academy of Music, formed in 1718–19 by wealthy gentlemen with the support of the king.
- Recitative styles
Simple recitative (with continuo) and accompanied recitative (with orchestra) were two types of recitative that emerged in Italian opera in the early eighteenth century.
Handel wrote a wide variety of types of arias arias, including some with coloratura (florid ornamentation), for specific singers. The best music was saved for the prima donna.
- Scene complexes
Handel moves the plot forward in his operas by freely combining recitative, arias, ariosos, and orchestral passages.
- National elements
Handel’s construction of scene complexes and his characteristic combination of national elements are apparent in his opera Giulio Cesare. Music: NAWM 99
In Context: The Voice of Farinelli
The castrato Farinelli was legendary for his range (more than three octaves) and breath control (he was able to sustain a note for one full minute). He reached stardom on the operatic stage by his early thirties, then served Spanish kings for two decades.
- Handel as impresario
Handel and a partner formed a new opera company in 1729, and although he continued writing operas until 1741, he never achieved the same success with opera that he had with his earlier works.
- The Oratorios
In the 1730s, Handel devised the English oratorio, a new genre. His oratorios were performed in theaters, usually during Lent.
- Prominent choruses
In his oratorios, Handel gave the chorus a more active role in the story. His choral style is dramatic but simpler and less consistently contrapuntal than Bach’s.
Handel’s oratorio Saul (1738) exemplifies the blending of genres in his oratorios. Music: NAWM 100
Handel’s cosmopolitan style is exemplified in his most famous work, Messiah (1741).
- Performing oratorios
Oratorios were less expensive to present than operas, and they were popular with audiences.
Oratorios were meant for the concert hall. Most of Handel’s oratorios were based on the Hebrew Scriptures.
Handel, like his contemporaries, borrowed and reworked existing music, using material that was well suited to its new purpose.
- Instrumental Works
Handel wrote a great deal of instrumental music, much of which was published in London and used in home music-making.
- Ensemble suites
Handel’s two most popular instrumental works, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks, are suites for orchestra or winds that he composed for the king.
Although Handel mixed tradition and innovation in his concertos, they tend toward a retrospective style.
- Handel’s reputation
Handel became a national institution for the English and has remained so since his death.