The Baroque period, which shaped Europe artistically for over 150 years, had such an important effect on society. It was an era that extolled the virtues of incredible ornamentation, of artistic liberty, and of richness in colour and expression. The grand palaces that pepper the German landscape, the opulence of Italian churches and cathedrals, and the ultimate baroque achievement, Paris and the Palais de Versailles (a building ripped off by Edward VII’s interior designers), stand as testaments to an age that had moved past religious oppression: an epoch that secured the importance of the Temporal over the Ecclesiastic.
These buildings, which are inextinguishable beacons of our past, shine far more brightly than others: the music of the Baroque, wrongly belittled and mocked by Classical, Romantic and Modern works, is mostly forgotten. So, to put this right, here are my top 5 Baroque composers (excluding Bach, Handel and Vivaldi!) with samples of their work; hopefully you’ll be a convert!
This Italian composer, organist, choirmaster and teacher is seen as a precursor to the likes of Haydn and Mozart: particularly in terms of his use of thematic development and stylizations.
Like many Baroque composers he had quite an effect on the music of the time, he is praised for his innovations in the development of the symphony, but he was mostly forgotten until the early decades of the last century. Here is his Sinfonia in sol maggiore.
I’d expect many today to call Orlando Gibbons’s work “sweet and haunting” because of its simplicity and its lack of modern climax. Perhaps better known than other composers in musical circles today, he is part of a very small group of English composers whose works aren’t paraded as national anthems, but as musical masterpieces. Here is his Lord of Salisbury performed by self-confessed admirer, Glenn Gould.
Vilified in a cruel, vicious, yet in a stunningly passionate way in Amadeus (the Tony award winning play and Oscar winning film), Antonio Salieri’s music loved by the Royal courts of Europe is simply masterful, intriguing and emotional. It pre-dates an open emotional spectacle felt in works by Mozart or, more strongly, in Beethoven, yet its grandeur is more noticeable: it is powerful without being eccentric. Here, his Les Danaides is performed.
Too often we consider the past two centuries with having created the most moving, complex and stunning works for keyboard. It’s easy to think that with age things progress, but when hearing Scarlatti’s works, it’s impossible to rate them as inferior or backward to Classical or Romantic works: there is the passion, the skill, the dynamics, yet in a style that is refined, collected and educated. Scarlatti is a master of sound and colour, and, unlike other works for keyboard, his music crosses from harpsichord to piano very well. Here, Scarlatti’s sonata in D minor K141 is performed by Martha Argerich.
Before a standardisation of musical instruments, the musical landscape of the Baroque era is markedly different to today. The number of different instruments and the inability to reproduce the sounds of instruments that are now extinct made it difficult for musicians of the 19th and 20th centuries to do older works justice. It has taken substantial time, effort and patience for the works of the Italian composer, Arcangelo Corelli, to have new life breathed into them; his works are majestic, passionate and display a beautiful counterpoint that is stunningly rational and human. Here is his Concerto Grosso op. VI; enjoy the authentic feel of a real Baroque orchestra.