Baroque

In the beginning.

My interest in Baroque music goes back to the mid 1980s when I was an undergraduate.I had a particular interest in Restoration and Augustan lit. (i.e., the Age of Dryden and Pope), and the music followed as a con­sequence. I still liked contemporary music for a time, but I increasingly found that the style didn’t suit my tastes and by around 1985 or 1986, I’d ceased to listen to music off the radio.

What attracted me to Baroque music was that it sounded different from Classical, being older and, therefore, more exotic. I’ve continued to like this sort of music for so long because it suits me temperamentally. Sub­con­sciously, it’s also suited my circumstances in that I’ve lived a life where the most optimal music tends to be chamber music; although I don’t believe my preference would’ve shifted towards Classical music if my life had followed a different path. Perhaps Baroque music also appeals to me at some intellectual or psychological level as well.

I once knew a cellist, also in the mid 80s, who seemed to think that my interest in Baroque music was very narrow, but that, I think, revealed her ignorance of the field, which is quite vast enough for the idea of “narrow” to be a misnomer. I also observed that the history of music before the 19th century is still longer than its history since 1800.

I don’t just like Baroque, either. I have some Renaissance and Medieval music as well, and I even have a small amount of Classical. I also still have some contemporary music (albeit from the early to mid 1980s).

Instrumental and vocal.

While the greater part of my music is Baroque, the great part of that is instrumental. I do have some vocal music, but that tends to be Renaissance or Medieval (masses and other Latin church music). Opera mostly doesn’t interest me, although I do have Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and The Fairy Queen.

Since I wrote that, I’ve now added Handel’s Messiah, and Bach’s B minor Mass and Johannes Passion.

Dates and styles.

The Baroque era is traditionally 1600 to 1750, but like much else in life, there are no clear boundaries since some composers of the 16th century are still knocking about after 1600, and their students will still have been influenced by their masters and musical fashions.

This became apparent when I started adding 17th-century English music to my collection. I’d already owned a copy of Lawes’ Royal Consort Suites for some time, and a copy of keyboard works by the very Elizabethan Peter Philips. Can Lawes’ music be defined as Baroque? From an acoustic perspective, the music is still rather vocal in quality, belonging to that period when composers may have started writing for instruments, but could not do so without producing something that could’ve been sung.

Thus, I’d say that the Baroque period in England begins closer to the end of the 17th century, and even Purcell’s instrumental music (the sonatas of three and four parts) sounds dated in comparison with what was being done in Italy. Corelli was six years older than Purcell, survived him by almost twenty years, and produced more up-to-date music. It’s interesting to compare Purcell’s music with that of Christopher Simpson, who died in 1669, ten years after Purcell was born, and note the high degree of similarity between them.

Music in France was also similarly con­serv­at­ive, and it’s not until the 18th century that French composers shake off Lully’s dead hand. (Just look at Couperin writing the Apothéoses [1724 and 1725]; at about the same time, Bach had been writing sonatas for violin and harpsichord, violin and viola da gamba; Handel was knocking out violin sonatas and operas; and Telemann was flavouring his music with French and Italian; not to mention Polish folk music.)

At best, the Baroque period arises in Italy and gradually spreads across Europe to become the style of the early to mid 18th century.

Classical vs. Baroque.

In the grand scheme of things, Baroque is classified as a form of Classical music, although I prefer to keep them separate. Mozart, Haydn, and the Bach boys are Classical composers even if Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel are unceremoniously lumped together with them.

In fact, you can tell how few people are aware of such a distinction from lists of music genres, where there are dozens upon dozens of contemporary genres, but the music I enjoy has a single label – classical. When I’m editing the metadata of new albums, I try to give more precise labels.

The same issue also affects the individual tracks themselves because the people who created iTunes, for example, would appear to have little or no experience of Classical music in that every track is a song. That’s true of Ultravox or Duran Duran, but it’s rare in most Baroque music where three or four movements make a concerto, or four or more movements a suite or sonata. An allegro movement from a concerto is not a song, and I can’t imagine any Baroque composer authorising individual movements to be played on the radio as standalone pieces.

Since I wrote the preceding paragraph, Apple have introduced tags to account for the different structure of classical music. By right clicking on the album art and going to Get info, a tick box will appear for Use work and movement. Going through the tracks individually will allow the user to have something like Concertos from Op. 10 and, say, I. No. 1 – Allegro, which is to be read as Op. 10, No. 1 – Allegro.

The question is whether this sort of pattern will be added to the usual set of tags, and the last I read about it was that this new system was somewhat limited in application and a bit buggy.

In addition, I discovered in mp3tag how to create custom tags for the period and type of work (e.g. Baroque > violin sonata) by going to Options dialogue (the spanner on the right-hand side of the toolbar) > Genres, and there select Show user-defined genres to get rid of the copious list of useless genres.

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Life and whatever in the imperium sericum.

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