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Personal Styles of Baroque Composers

Palestrina: He is the greatest composer of the church music of Renaissance. The Palestrinian style is the standard for polyphonic church music (stile antico). His style is diatonic. He avoids chromaticism. The individual voice parts have an almost plainsong-like quality. The motion is mostly stepwise with infrequent and short leaps. Purity of line is matched by purity of harmony. The gentle diatonic lines and the discreet handling of dissonance give Palestrina's music a consistent serenity and transparency. Another beauty of his counterpoint lies in the management of sonority, the grouping, spacing, and doubling of voices in vertical combination. By varying the voice grouping, a large number of subtly different shadings and sonorities can be obtained from the same chord. The gently marked regularity of rhythm is characteristic of the Palestrina style. The rhythm is supported by alternation of strong 'prepared' dissonance on the downbeat (tension) and sweet consonance on the upbeat (relaxation).

Corelli: His style represents the late Baroque Italian national style. Stabilised tonal language, achieved by the extensive use of sequences following the circle-of-fifths, melodic simplicity and emphasis on the upper part, conjunct (usually descending) series of first inversion chords are characteristics. He stereotyped the walking or running bass. His Op. 6 concerti grosso represent a high point at classical balance and dignity (smooth and patterned melodic line over a steadily moving bass). This was a style which was very original to his contemporaries but appears predictable and simple to us. Behind this simplicity, one can easily see the gracious expression of a Baroque composer. The first eight of the concerti grosso are concerti da chiesa (multimovement, with fugal first movement) and the last four are concerti da camera (with movements in dance rhythms). His concerti have five (or more) movements. He did not write in three movements nor in ritornello form. There is no solo part for the violin. The peak of Corellian concerto grosso is represented by Handel's Op. 6 concerti grosso. He established four movements as a norm in both church and chamber 'sonatas'. Corelli's violin writing was characterized by avoidance of extremes of the register and broken-chord figurations. A feature of Corelli's counterpoint is the leap-frogging of the two violins. Each part rises in turn by a fourth, having just fallen by step to resolve a suspension (a rising sequence in which the suspensions still resolve downwards).

Vivaldi: Most of his concertos are in the usual pattern of three movements (first used by Torelli): an Allegro, a slow movement in the same or closely related key (relative minor, dominant, subdominant), and a final Allegro. Though a few movements are found in the older fugal style, the texture is typically more homophonic than contrapuntal. Continuo homophony describes the texture of most of his concertos, i.e., melody is the gloss on the underlying chord progressions of the continuo (his priority is the chord progressions in the underlying bass line). The formal scheme of the individual movements of Vivaldi's concertos are the same as Torelli's works: ritornellos for the full orchestra, alternating with episodes for the soloist. Unlike Torelli's concertos, the ritornellos are transposed to other keys in a movement, modulations confined to the soloist's episodes. To avoid monotony, he rearranges or shortens ritornellos in later uses in the movement. He established between solo and tutti a certain dramatic tension, the soloist became a dominating musical personality against the ensemble. His dramatic conception of the role of the soloist was accepted and developed in the Classical concerto. Qualities so characteristic of Vivaldi are: Concise themes, clarity of form, rhythmic vitality, impelling logical continuity in the flow of musical ideas. He thinks instrumentally and likes repeated patterns (usually of broken chords) with slow harmonic change. Thus, his instrumental thinking differs from Corelli's lyrical melodies and Torelli's angular lines. He was the first composer to give the slow movement of a concerto equal importance with the two allegros. As in Corellian bel canto style, simple triple metre frequently occurs. Siciliano rhythm (12/8) is also used. The noble simplicity of Vivaldi's slow movements inspired following composers like JS Bach. Bach's Brandenburg concertos are the peak of Vivaldian type Baroque concerto grosso.

Scarlatti, Domenico: Sonata form can be seen in its embryonic form in his music. All of the 555 sonatas of Scarlatti are organised by means of tonal relationships into the standard late Baroque and early Classical binary pattern used for dance pieces and other compositions: two sections, each repeated, the first closing in the dominant or relative major (rarely another key), the second modulating further and returning to the tonic. The closing part of the first section invariably return, but in the tonic key, at the end of the second section.

Rameau: According to his theory of harmony, all melody is rooted in harmony. His melodic phrases are usually triadic. Orderly relationships within the major-minor tonal system of dominants, subdominants and all secondary chords and modulations govern the harmony. His overtures frequently become a symphonic poem and he usually introduces a theme to re-appear later in the opera. The French valued music especially for its depicting powers, and Rameau was their leading tone painter. In the heroic, grand style of his early operas and opera-ballets (Rococo style), he is a representative figure of the late Baroque period, comparable to Bach and Handel.

Telemann: He was an admirer of French music. In his concertos he followed the French suit model rather than the Venetian model. His music represents the North German counterpart of French Rococo style (elegant, pleasing and ornamented).

M.Tevfik Dorak, B.A. (Hons)

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