The aesthetic I have chosen to explore is that of Baroque musical composition, a period of European musicianship lasting from 1600 to 1750. Well known within this period are composers such as Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751), Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), and George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) among others. Audio samples of these composers are included below with additional details to follow.
Georg Philipp Telemann
Johann Sebastian Bach
George Frideric Handel
The word, baroque, is derived from the Portuguese word, barraco, meaning “oddly-shaped pearl.” While this phrase has little meaning today, in the 1600s and 1700s, it described baroque music in terms of its fierce ornamentation and exuberance. After all, Baroque music was written mostly as a luxurious form of royal entertainment. The most common musical forms emerging within the Baroque era were operas, oratorios, cantatas, sonatas, concertos, and suites performed only for high-class citizens.
Characteristics of this aesthetic are endless but I will start by naming just a few. First of all, Baroque music places great emphasis on contrast. Pay close attention to the difference between loud versus soft dynamics, string versus wind instruments, fast versus slow tempos, and solo versus ensemble passages. Secondly, Baroque music features a unique set of instruments. During this time, the use of violin and trumpet in musical composition grew immensely and instruments such as the viol, harpsichord, and lute became telltale signifiers of the era. Overall, more detailed and demanding specifications were made denoting which instruments were meant to play which parts. Lastly, the Baroque aesthetic is highly formulated, most always following patterns and utilizing multiple repeats. This makes for a less freely expressive sound, especially when compared to periods of musical composition such as that within the Romantic era by composers like Beethoven.
Most interesting to me, in terms of aesthetics, is the fact that Baroque composers wrote music with one overarching purpose: communication of a single emotion. Perhaps Plato’s suggestion that art is merely mimicry of truth can be reinforced by the way composers like Bach wrote pieces of music simply to convey a universal truth (an emotion) like happiness or sadness. Usually, it is not difficult to tell which emotion is being expressed.
As a violinist, I deeply enjoy the exploration of aesthetics in regards to music. Not only do I find myself listening to various pieces and guessing the eras to which they belong, but I also apply specific aesthetics to the music I, myself, then choose to play. For instance, when I play a piece by Bach, it sounds completely different than if I were to play the same notes and rhythms as a piece by Mozart. How incredible that the study of aesthetics has already become so personally applicable!