George Frideric Handel Music Curriculum Guide
The Baroque period (1600-1750): “Music which is melodious yet so constructed as to reflect the "perfect order" of the universe: that is the essence of the baroque. In the words of baroque composer and theorist Johann Joseph Fux: ‘A composition meets the demands of good taste if it is well constructed, avoids trivialities as well as willful eccentricities, aims at the sublime, but moves in a natural ordered way, combining brilliant ideas with perfect workmanship (BaroqueMusic.org)."
Characteristics of Baroque Music
- well-ordered, proper, royal
- contrasts of dynamics, instrumentation (use of solo and ensemble), and timbre
- the first significant period of organized melody and harmony
There are many Baroque pieces of music that are recognizable to the average listener. Baroque pieces are used in weddings, churches, movies, elevators, etc. See if you recognize any or all of these popular and beautiful works of music (and as you listen, use this listening guide printout to record your observations):
- Bach Air on a G String (with scrolling musical score- pretty neat!)
- A “Random Act of Culture” Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus (an awesome surprise event in the Philadelphia Macy’s!)
- Portrait gallery of Baroque composers, including Handel, Bach and Scarlatti
- Scarlatti- composer page
In recent decades musicians and historians have become interested in discovering the sounds of the music as they were produced in the time period in which they were composed. Thus, many recordings and performances are now done on “period” instruments.
- Listen to this violin blind listening test- old instruments from the Baroque vs. contemporary instruments, judged by famous violinists.
- Look at these pictures of 18th century string instruments made by famous violin makers (Stradivarius violins are valued at up to 5 million dollars each!)
The harpsichord is a keyboard instrument with a very unique sound. Instead of using hammers to hit the strings within, as a modern piano does, it uses small picks to pluck the strings. This was a very popular instrument during the Baroque period, and is still used today in many performances. The piano as we know it today had not yet been invented in the 17th century. Explore these links to hear a harpsichord and learn more about it:
- Here’s the old Addam’s Family theme on harpsichord
Opera began in Italy in the 16th century. Italy was the opera capital of the world during Handel's time and he wrote many operas in Italian. Opera is now written and performed in many different languages, but for a time Italian (being a beautiful and pure language to sing in) was preferred. Giulio Cesare is Handel’s most popular opera. It is an opera seria (or serious opera) and has a tragic story. Listen to these excerpts:
- “Va tacito e nascosto”- The role of Giulio Cesare is sung here by a woman. Since women were not allowed to perform on stage in this time period- it was considered improper- roles were written for men who sang in a woman’s range. These roles are now often sung by mezzo-sopranos, who are female singers with richer, darker and slightly lower voices
- “Da tempeste”- With interesting, humorous, and more modern staging. The fast runs in this aria are called “coloratura” and are very common in Italian opera of this time when music was highly embellished. It takes a lot of energy and breath control to sing these!
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