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By Amy Cassaniti

Baroque is a term used to describe the art, music, and architecture of the period 1600-1750. The term “baroque” comes from the Portuguese word barroco which means “misshapen pearl.” These were the pearls with irregular shapes, in other words, the ugly pieces. Why would a period of great creativity in all areas of artistic endeavors have such a negative name? The Baroque period did not get its name until it was over. And by that time, critics no longer appreciated what Baroque had been. Today, however, many features of the Baroque period are admired and celebrated. So, what exactly did the critics hate but its fans appreciate?

Beginning in Italy and spreading quickly to the rest of Europe, Baroque was a reaction against the simplicity and starkness of the Protestant ideals during the Reformation. Protestantism had stripped down experience of the world to its essentials. As often happens, people get tired of what’s current and want something different. When you think of Baroque think lively energy, excitement; think EXUBERANT! The visual arts – painting, sculpture, architecture – are full of shapes, bright colors, diagonals, curved lines, ornamentation and embellishments of all kinds. The attention to detail was designed to create a sense of movement and vitality. In the following example of a Baroque Cathedral, notice how every bit of space is painted, carved, and decorated.

But what about music? How did the musicians of the Baroque period create energy and excitement? Composers of the Baroque period wrote long flowing melodic lines using musical ornamentation of trills and turns. Often pieces featured multiple, independent melody lines and basso continuo groups (chord-playing instruments improvising chords from a featured bass part).

Composers further experimented with finding a fuller sound for each instrumental part which led to the creation of the orchestra. Baroque music expanded the size, range, and complexity of instrumental performance. Overall, Baroque music contrasted loud and soft, solo and ensemble in order to make music as embellished as any visual artifact. To hear the combination of these Baroque qualities, click on the link below to enjoy Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major.”

It’s unfortunate that the period was named by its critics who found Baroque art uselessly complicated and complex. Critics of Baroque art have completely missed the exuberance, energy, and sheer joy of the music and artwork. Once judged ugly, today Baroque art is appreciated for its magic, complexity, and excess. Hardly misshapen – Baroque is magnificent!


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