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In Western music, the period that extends from 1600 to 1750 is known as the Baroque era. Characteristics of Baroque music are complexity, emotional, overly ornamented and embellished. Usually Baroque music was homophonic in texture, one melody with a single high voice or instrument, combined with bass chords or accompaniment. This basso continuo is a notable feature of this period. The bass lines are performed by bass voices or instruments such as cellos or bassoons. In Baroque music, the continuo is also performed by an organ or harpsichord.
Composers of this era developed the method of writing music in clearly defined major and minor modes. Rhythm became fixed and continual. There was a distinction between free, improvisatory style and order, control and system. There was an emphasis on emotional expression. By acting on emotion they believed that music should move the listener. Word painting without words became one of the most basic emotional elements of Baroque music.
Opera was developed to meet this general desire for personal emotions. Introduced in Florence, Italy around 1600, opera quickly expanded all over Europe. It became the most glamorous and probably the most adventurous and influential artistic genre of the Baroque era (Listen pg154). The opera is drama presented in music, with characters singing instead of speaking. It is a combination of several arts, including music, poetry, drama, acting, scene design, set and costume design and choreography.
Opera seria, or serious opera, was the predominant type of Italian Baroque opera. Opera seria plots were based on ancient Greek history and tragic historical events. They were designed to stir up powerful emotions, such as passion, rage, grief, and triumph (Listen pg155). This style allowed virtuoso singers to express their thoughts and feelings through their singing. Opera seria singers were solo soprano or mezzo-soprano, which included castrati, young boys who were castrated to preserve their voices in the soprano range.
The acts of an opera seria consist primarily of alternating recitatives and arias. Recitative comes from the Italian word “reciting” and is a type of vocal music that is tailored to the rhythms of speech. The primary purpose is to present information and advance the plot. Most accompaniments in a recitative are kept to a minimum, usually just the cello and harpsichord playing a basso continuo. The second form, accompanied recitative, used a full orchestra for tense dramatic situations. An aria is a melodic or lyrical piece for a solo voice with an instrumental accompaniment. Arias are usually very complex, vocally demanding and are one of the most powerful ingredients in opera. Here the singer-actor expresses their thoughts and feelings instead of reacting moment by moment as in a recitative.
The most frequently used form for the Baroque Italian opera was the da capo form, A B A. The aria begins with composition A, moves through B, and repeats the words and music of A in a da capo or “from the head” form. The composers wrote part A and B, but allowed the singers to improvise and enhance the music with runs and cadences to create an powerful enhanced effect the second time around (Listen pg157).
At the height of the Baroque period, the most successful opera composer was George Frederic
Handel. Handel was born in Germany in 1685. Unlike other musicians of the time, Handel was not born into a family of musicians, his father was a barber-surgeon. Handel began his career studying law, but soon realized his talent for music and joined the orchestra at Hamburg, Germany. He became an accomplished organist and violinist. He briefly held a position as a court musician with the elector of Hanover, but longed for a career in London. After leaving Hanover, Handel arrived in London and found his passion for Italian operas. For thirty-one years, he wrote and produced 40 Italian operas including Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar).
Fisher, Burton D. A History of Opera: Milestones and Metamorphoses. Coral Gables, FL: Opera Journeys Publishing, 2003. Print.
Kerman, Joseph, and Gary Tomlinson and Vivian Kerman. Listen. 6th ed. Boston, New York: Bedford / St. Martin’s, 2008. Print.
Discuss the Classical Era symphony genre and the composer Franz Joseph Haydn and his Symphony No. 95 in C Minor. (Suggested minimum length 750 words) Use Chapter 12 as a guide for formulating
The musical style that followed the Baroque era is known today as the Classical style. The eighteenth- century movement known as the Enlightenment brought about challenges and changes in thought and behavior. During this period, the Age of Enlightenment created a widespread love of music among the middle class. This growing interest affected the manner of presentation with public concerts becoming the focus of compositions. This period gave rise to a new musical style, symphonies that enabled composers to tell musical stories.
A symphony is a large body of work with four sections called movements. The movements are opening, slow, minuet (with trio), and closing. This classical style of music emphasizes melody and harmony over polyphony. The first movement of a symphony has a structure called sonata form. It is the “emotional core of the whole work” (Listen pg 183). The sonata form is based on themes presented in a three-part structure. Exposition, the first part, “exposes” the listener to the two melodies of the symphony. Then a new section is presented, development, which develops the two themes, varying them, making intriguing musical associations. Finally, in the recapitulation, the first theme is reintroduced in the same order as the beginning, but with minor changes.
The second movement is a contrast to the first. No standardized form for slow movements.
Minuet or classical dance form was used to compose a third movement in a symphony. The classical era focused on a single stylized dance and introduced it into many different genres. It also carried over some of the Baroque musical forms within it, especially dances such as the minuets.
Franz Joseph Haydn was born in Austria in 1732. Unlike other musicians, Haydn did not come from a family of professional musicians. His father was an Austrian village wheelwright and amateur musician. Haydn had a spectacular singing voice, and at the age of eight, was selected to go to Vienna and join the choir of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. After years as a freelance musician, Haydn was given the job of Kapellmeister by Prince Paul Anton Esterházy. The prince was a passonate lover of music and gave him daily access to a small orchestra. Haydn composed 104 symphonies, 83 string quartets, and over 20 operas. Later in life, Haydn wrote twelve symphonies for concerts performed in London, named the “London Symphonies”. Haydn’s Symphony No. 95 in C minor(1791) is the third of this famous twelve and the only one written in a minor key.
Symphony No. 95 in C Minor has the standard four movement musical form. The opening movement is the classic fast tempo sonata form. The movement begins with a somber exposition of theme one in the minor mode, then moves on to theme two in the major mode. The lively and sizable development alternates from theme one, theme two and back to one. The recapitulation returns to theme one in the minor mode, but changes to the major mode for theme two.
In the second movement, Haydn uses his favorite variation form of |: a :||: b :|, in a lyrical, lighthearted tune of only strings. Variation one begins with cello solo, then violins, followed by variation two, in the minor mode, which end with the wind instruments playing forte. This transitions to variation three in the major mode using the strings and winds. The second movement ends with the coda of strings and wind solos.
Haydn’s Symphony No. 95 in C Minor third movement is in minuet (with trio) form. The movement is energetic and teeming with musical humor. It is in the A B A theme pattern: minuet, trio, minuet. Then phrase a’ begins quietly in the minor mode, then repeats in the major mode, followed by b. Phrase a’ is repeated back in the minor mode, with an abrupt pause and fermata, (longer than the usual note length). Then a return to the minor mode, repeating b, a’ ending the first minuet. The contrasting trio begins in the major key introducing phrase c, with a cello solo at a slower tempo throughout. It continues repeating phrases c, then d, c’, d and c’. The minuet returns quietly, formal and unchanged.
Haydn closes the symphony on a bright note by setting the Finale in C major.
Haydn is the composer who did more than any other to create the Classical style of music, which emphasizes melody and harmony over polyphony.
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