Last Updated 10 Mar 2020

How Music Reflects Society

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During the baroque period, music had certain characteristics that are specific to the time period. For example, Contrast is an important characteristic in a baroque drama. The differences between loud and soft, solo and ensemble, different instruments and timbres all play an important role in many baroque compositions. In previous musical eras, a piece of music tended to consist of a single melody, perhaps with several melodies played simultaneously. Not until the baroque period did the concept of “melody” and “harmony” truly begin to be used in music.

The practice of basso continuo also came into the focus of music during the baroque. The harpsichord was a very prominent instrument in the music during the baroque, and was featured in many of the pieces. Opera was a new creation during the baroque, and many composers began to write opera pieces. An opera is a drama that is primarily sung, accompanied by instruments, and presented on stage. Operas typically alternate between recitative, speech-like song that advances the plot, and arias, songs in which characters express feelings at particular points in the action.

Choruses and dances are also frequently included. Many of the operas are based on Greek mythology, and many are religious. Many of the most famous baroque compositions were performed in churches for a service, or as part of a private concert or celebration in the home of a wealthy patron. During the course of the baroque, however, public performances became more common, particularly in the genres of opera and oratorio. John Sebastian Bach was one of the baroque’s most famous composers. He was born in Eisenach, Germany, into a family of working musicians.

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In 1695, when he was just nine years old, his parents died and he was sent to live with his brother, Johann Christoph, an organist. While the lived with his brother he learned to play the keyboard and studied composition on his own. Bach's style is baroque, characterized by a lot of notes, simple motoric rhythms, and steady shifts of underlying harmony, he music was described by some people as 'sewing-machine music'. But he explored harmony much more deeply than other composers of the time: compared to say Handel or Vivaldi, Bach's music can contain extraordinarily 'jazzy' chords and will jump off to many different harmonic areas.

Bach’s song Jesus bleibet meine Freude is a perfect example of the music of the baroque era. It features the basso continuo much like many of the other pieces of the baroque. It has a very light feel to it, which was popular of the music during the baroque. Also, a choir, much like a church choir, sings it. The beat is steady, and the contrast of loud and soft is noticed in this piece. The notes go from low, to high, back to low. Strings are the dominant instrument in this song, and there is not much to the actual music other than voice and one instrument, the violin.

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