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The Birth of Baroque Music

Updated: May 2, 2021

St. Mark's Basilica, Venice.

The birth of baroque music took place in Italy around the year 1600. The most well known composer at the time was Claudio Monteverdi - you heard his fanfare in the introduction to Early Music Monday. He lived in Venice, where he composed instrumental music, opera, and also music for St. Mark's Basilica. This is a section of Monteverdi's 'Vespers', composed for performance by choir and orchestra in St. Mark's. The music consists of sections for orchestra with and without voices, and vocal solos accompanied by just the continuo section.

Monteverdi Vespers, 1610: Marco Uccellini, La Bergamasca, mid 17thc. Baroque violins, viola da gamba, baroque guitar, and harpsichord: Torelli, Trumpet concerto, late 17thc. Baroque trumpet, strings, harpsichord, and archlute:

The Continuo Section

Harpsichord, strings, woodwind, and brass players,18thc.

The core of an the orchestra from the start of the baroque period was the continuo section. Its role was to provide a strong bass line, with the harpsichord, and any other plucked instruments, also improvising chords above the bass line to fill in the harmony. The musical score consisted of the bass line with added figures indicating the chords to be played, with the treble/solo part included above. Only players who played the bass part were included in the continuo section. In the painting above, the continuo section consists of harpsichord, cello, and bassoon. The continuo section was used in both chamber music and orchestral music. This is a video of a piece by J S Bach played by solo baroque flute accompanied by a large continuo section consisting of: harpsichord, baroque cello, baroque bassoon, two baroque guitars, and a very lively bass player. They are all playing the bass line, and the keyboard and guitars are also improvising chords, even the bassoon player improvises at one point. Emi Ferguson and Ruckus: Next week - 17th Century France

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