Baroque Music: Musical Period of the 17th and 18th Centuries

Posted on November 28, 2022

The different periods of Western classical music can be difficult to keep track of as they may feel distant from the popular music we’re accustomed to today. In addition to the Classical and Renaissance periods of music history, an important one to know is the Baroque era. Let’s take a detailed look at this musical style from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

When was the Baroque period of music?

Most often the Baroque period is considered to have lasted from 1600 to 1750. It was preceded by the Renaissance period (1400-1600) and followed by the Classical period (1750-1820). The so-called galant style was prevalent during the transition from the Baroque style of music to the Classical period. The Baroque period had its origins in Rome around the beginning of the 1600s. From there it spread to the entire European continent and beyond.

What are the characteristics of the Baroque era?

The word Baroque comes up in a number of different contexts, as it does not refer to a musical style alone. Many other art forms, such as painting, had their own masters of the Baroque period, most notably Caravaggio, Vermeer, and Rembrandt. Characteristic of the baroque period was its grandiosity and use of sophisticated details to create a sense of drama and contrast.

Some new musical forms of the Baroque period include opera, oratorio, cantata, concerto, and sonata. One important idea of the Baroque era was seeing music as a tool for communication, and the period put emphasis on instrumental music. The use of sophisticated details and ornamentation used widely in Baroque visual arts can be heard in the music of the period as well — for example, in the use of different techniques to add finer details to the music.

Another prevalent characteristic of Baroque music is the so-called basso continuo. The composition had a separate basso continuo group that could be seen as the rhythm section of the Baroque era. The purpose of the basso continuo was to provide a chord progression and a bassline that played throughout the entire musical piece. The number and variety of instruments in the continuo group could vary.

Well-known Baroque composers

There are a number of famous and influential composers of the Baroque period, most notably from Italy. Here are just three major Baroque composers.

  • Johann Sebastian Bach. The German composer Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most notable composers of the Baroque period and classical music overall. Born in 1685, Bach was not only a masterful composer but also a skilled organ player. His well-known compositions include Goldberg Variations, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Brandenburg Concertos, and Toccata and Fugue in D minor.
  • Antonio Vivaldi. Like many central Baroque composers, Antonio Vivaldi was Italian. As a contemporary of Bach, Vivaldi was born in 1678. Vivaldi is best known for his composition Four Seasons and the tens of operas he composed during his lifetime.
  • Henry Purcell. Although most notable Baroque composers were from countries such as Italy, Germany, and France, Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was English.Henry Purcell took many influences from Italian and French Baroque music, but he was able to create a distinctive style of his own.

What is galant music?

The galant musical style became popular during the transition from the Baroque period to the Classical period between the 1720s and the 1770s. It can be seen as a response to the complexity that often characterized Baroque music, as the galant style favored simpler melodies, shorter compositions, and less use of polyphony. Galant music corresponds with Rococo, a style that began around the same time period in France.

Learn more about music history, terminology, and other musical terms

To expand your knowledge of different musical styles, periods of music history, and other useful terminology, check out Yousician’s full Musician’s Glossary and other blog posts.

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