The word “baroque” has its roots in the Portuguese language. The root word, barroco, means “oddly shaped pearl.” This term was applied by nineteenth century musicians and critics. They felt it described the music aptly, suggesting it was too ornamented and over the top embellished. Well, of course we all know that Bach used great embellishments and ornaments in his music. These ornaments are are studied, queried and debated to this day. How many times have we questioned, “does this ornament start on the beat or before the beat?” (I always forget). To me, Baroque music is highly organized and I feel like it relaxes me because it calms my brain with its innate patterns and perfect framework and structure. I wonder if studies have been done to see what Baroque music does to the brain of a harried and unorganized person. (I digress). The Baroque music period spans the time period of 1600-1750.
During this time in history, the telescope was invented, Galileo began to explain the physical universe, Shakespeare wrote his plays, and much more. Additionally the growth of a middle class of people began.
Monteverdi, Corelli and Vivaldi, of Italian descent, make up the first part of the Baroque era. You may remember it’s said Turlough Carolan developed a formal style because he was acquainted with Corelli. Emphasis shifted to German composers as the period progressed. Historically, nations embraced musical styles and gave them personality and nationality by way of performance. In this way, one can tell the difference between Italian Baroque and French Baroque, for example.
Italy gave us the cantata, concerto, sonata, oratorio, and opera as well as Monteverdi, Frescobaldi, Corelli, Vivaldi, Domenico and Alessandro Scarlatti. French Baroque composers include Couperin, Lully, Charpentier and Rameau. German Baroque composers include Praetorius, Schein, Scheidt, Schutz, Telemann, Handel and Bach, and the most well known English Baroque composer was Purcell.
The Greeks and Romans believed that music was a powerful tool which by its correct communication could trigger emotions. This philosophy gives composers power and composers began to emulate ancient music. Using music as a powerful communicator became of utmost importance.
Baroque musicians in general were guided by their employers, usually a church or royalty. Despite these limitations and structures, composers focused on timbre and dictated instrumentation.
The single melody became an important focus, and the figured bass developed. In figured bass, melody and bass line are written out and the harmonic filler indicated in a type of shorthand. Figured bass, also called thoroughbass, is a musical tablature where numerals and symbols indicate intervals, chords, and non-chord tones that a musician playing keyboards in general plays in relation to the bass note that these numbers and symbols appear above or below.
For more information on Baroque music, which is the period of time which produced concerts, public performances, see baroque.org.
Most of this article is paraphrased from an article at baroque.org