The Baroque Period
By Nina Pinzarrone
During the baroque period (1600–1750), new forms such as concertos, sonatas, oratorios, operas, and dance suites highlighted the virtuosity of individual performers. The basic string orchestra was augmented by trumpets, oboes, flutes, timpani, and the keyboard instruments, namely the harpsichord or the organ. Advances in instrumental construction allowed for precise tuning so that for the first time all possible tonalities (keys) were available to composers.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) demonstrated this development in his work The Well–Tempered Clavier, which included preludes and fugues in the 12 major and 12 minor keys.
This era also saw the use of clearly established time signatures and repetitive melodic and rhythmic patterns that gave a balanced order to the compositions. Baroque melodies were often complex and decorated with trills and turns, known as ornamentation.
Besides Bach, other famous baroque-era composers included George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, and Henry Purcell.
The concerto grosso is the major type of baroque concerto. It consists of a small group of solo instruments, (typically two string instruments, violin or viola, and a continuo instrument such as the harpsichord), and an orchestra consisting of those same instruments plus additional violins, violas, cellos, and basses. The concerto contains contrasting passages for the solos and the full orchestra (tutti) and usually comprises three movements: Allegro (fast), Adagio (slow), and Allegro.
Many choreographers have used these baroque concertos for their dances. Some great examples are Les Quatre Saisons by Roland Petit and The Four Seasons by Helgi Tomasson, both set to Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (Concertos 1–4 for solo violin, strings, and continuo, Op. 8); and Concerto Barocco by George Balanchine, set to Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins (BWV 1043) by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Nina Pinzarrone, pianist at San Francisco Ballet since 1992, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Illinois and has recorded seven CDs for ballet class.