Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pearls of Baroque

Our Beauty of Baroque concert on March 30 includes some of the most sublime pearls from an era rich in choral glory.

Baroque music was written from about 1600 to approximately 1750, and coincided with a great growth of wealth and trade in Europe. The growth of trade led to an unprecedented sharing of ideas in science and the arts. As a result, music flourished, particularly in the great cathedrals and with a new wealthy audience of traders and tradesmen.

This era saw the birth of the industrial revolution and the chaotic growth of city states. Perhaps in reaction to the grime, ugliness and poverty of life in the burgeoning cities, the art and music of the Baroque era is of exaggerated beauty compared with the stark beauty of early Renaissance music.

The term Baroque is thought to have originated from a Portuguese word meaning an irregular shaped pearl. The new music forms were certainly radically different from earlier forms – with so much more artifice and decoration, each phrase perfumed with ornate turns and curlicues.

The term Baroque initially implied strangeness and extravagance in art. It was only applied to music of that era in the 20th century.

Opera and the orchestra were both creations of the era as were many musical forms which shaped all the European music which followed – particularly polyphonic (many voiced) forms such as the fugue and canon. Baroque music was considered as much an intellectual challenge as it was an artistic and spiritual feat.

Bach’s Magnificat (BWV 243), written in 1733, is an intellectual masterpiece, for sure, but it also a musical gem of breathtaking beauty. Handel’s Utrecht Te Deum (1713) was his first major choral work in English, and his first commission for the English Royal family, which established his career in London. And Charpentier was a prolific French composer of the late 1600s, often associated with the author Moliere, but now less well known outside France than Bach and Handel.

By Scott Blackwell

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