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It was during the 17th Century that the system of modes finally crumbled away. By adding accidentals the Major/Minor key system developed. The 17th Century also saw the invention of several new forms and designs, such as:
The orchestra started to take shape, mainly in the strings, and the violins became the dominant instrument, and most important in orchestras.
A monody is a single voice line supported by an instrumental bass line, upon which chords were constructed. The voice line followed the natural speech rhythms of the words. This style of writing for the voice (half singing and half reciting) became known as recitative. All the composer wrote down beneath the melody was a bass line to be played by a low stringed instrument, such as a cello. This was called the 'basso continuo', but the composer expected another continuo player on harpsichord, organ or lute, to build up chords upon the bass line. As these chords had to be improvised, the player had to be very skillful. Figures below the notes indicated which chords to play. This is called a figured bass.
The first opera was written in 1597, called 'Dafne', and was composed by Peri. It had choruses, dances and instrumental pieces, all done by a small orchestra. It contained music and drama (i.e. Music-Drama). The first truly great opera was composed by Monteverdi in 1607, and was called 'Orfeo'. The music heightens the dramatic impact. The music and drama blend together well. There was a lot of instrumental ritomello (Italian for return, and means when a section returns). Before each verse of the aria (song), we hear an instrumental ritornello.
Scarlatti's operas often began with an overture in three sections: quick, slow, quick. This was the Italian Overture. Scarlatti designed the arias in his operas in da capo form, i.e. ABA. Another name for this is ternary form.
Lully's operas began with a French Overture.. slow, quick, slow. This is the other way round to an Italian Overture.
The one great English opera of the 17th Century is 'Dido and Aeneas', and was composed by Purcell.
Born about the same time as opera, this vocal music was at first very similar to operas. (They had arias, choruses and recitatives) They were acted out with scenery and costumes. The main difference was that an Oratorio was based on a sacred story. Eventually oratorios ceased to acted out, and were given musical presentation only. Handel's Messiah, Samson, Israel and Egypt are all Oratorios.
A passion is a special oratorio telling the story of Christ's crucifixion. Besides recitatives, arias and choruses, Bach also included settings of chorales (German hymn tunes.)
Bach composed more than 200 church cantatas (cantata means sung, sonata means played). These are for soloists and choruses, accompanied by orchestra and continuo, and are like miniature oratorios. A fine example is Number 140, by Bach, based upon the chorale, 'Sleepers, Wake'.
During the Baroque period, instrumental music became equally as important as vocal music.
A fugue is a contrapuntal piece, based upon the idea of imitation. It is usually written in 3 or 4 parts, called 'voices', and these are referred to as Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. The detailed structure of a fugue can be rather complicated. The entire piece grows mainly from a single brief tune of strong musical character. This is called the subject. Then it is repeated by the other voices in turn each at its appropriate pitch. The most famous collection is the 48 preludes and fugues by Bach.
These are usually for organ, and most of them were composed in Germany. It is based on a chorale, could be in Fugal style, or a set of variations.
A suite is a collection of dances for one or more instruments. Many were written for harpsichord. They contain:
However, before or after the Gigue a composer might introduce dances such as the minuet (in 3 time, a slow and stately waltz), a bourde, a gavotte or a passepied. Sometimes a suite began with a prelude (opening piece).
The pieces were usually in the same key, and in binary form (AB). French composers, however, often wrote in Rondo form (ABACADA etc.)
Sonata means sounded (to be played.) Many Baroque sonatas were for two violins and continuo (usually cello and harpsichord.) Composers called these trio sonatas (There are only three music lines - the harpsichord plays the figured bass.) A violin was sometimes replaced with a flute or an oboe. There were two types:
Purcell, Corelli, Bach, Handel, Scarlatti and Couperin all composed sonatas.
The word concerto means get together. The idea of opposition and contrast led to two contrasting groups of instruments: A small group of soloists (Usually two violins and a cello), called the concertino, and an orchestra of strings called either the ripieno or the tutti (meaning everyone).
This grew out of the Concerto Grosso, and has a single instrument solo, and a string orchestra. There are solo sections and tutti sections. The quick movements were often in ritomello form: Tutti 1, Solo 1, Tutti 2, Solo 2, Tutti 3, etc.
Vivaldi wrote more than 500 concertos, both concerto grossos and solo concertos, his most famous being 'The Four Seasons'.
During the Baroque period, the orchestra started to take shape. The string section became a self-contained unit. To this composers would add other instruments in ones and twos: Flutes, Recorders, Oboes, Bassoons, Horns, and occasionally trumpets and kettle drums.
There was still a continuo. There was a lot of contrast, especially in the dynamics. Sometimes there were also echo effects.