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  • Writer's pictureNaomi Leila🌸

Middle Baroque Composers

The Middle Baroque Period spanned from 1640-1680. During this time a new style was spread from Italy to all over Europe where instrumental music (especially violin) became more prominent and church modes were replaced by major and minor scales.

The main composers from this period are listed below

Johann Palchelbel: 1653-17056 German composer, organist, and teacher

Brief History: Palchelbel was born in Nuremberg to a wine dealer. He showed a very early passion for learning and aside from regular school he was assigned two music teachers, one for theory and the other for learning how to play the organ and compose. At 16 he went to Altdorf University but couldn't afford to stay longer than a year. After having left, a year later he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Gymnasium Poeticum in Regensburg which allowed him to have special music lessons. There he received his first job as court organist which began his prestigious career as a musician and respected organist across Germany & Vienna. In 1681 he married Barbara Gabler and had a child with her. He sadly lost both his wife and child to a plague which propelled him to write a series of chorales called, 'Musical thought of death'. He remarried in 1684 to Judith Drommer and had 7 children with her.

Musical Style: Pachelbel was vastly popular when he was alive. He was the last great composer of the Nuremberg practice and is considered as the last true Southern German composers, bringing them to their peak. He composed over 500 pieces, most of which were music for Catholic & Protestant worship, including masses, motets, magnificats and chorale prelude's (which he excelled at). He was a true virtuoso organist, his skills were completely unrivalled. Palchelbel was fond of embellishing chorale tunes to make them more exciting and had a unique & innovative style,

Fun Facts:

  • When Pachelbel was alive he was very popular

  • Most of his chamber works did not survive

  • Pachelbel influenced Dietrich Buxtehude & JS Bach with his musical style and artwork

  • The Bach family and Pachelbel were very close. Pachelbel even taught Christophe Bach. Christophe then passed down what he was taught to his younger brother JS Bach.

  • Wilhelm Hieronymus, one of Pachelbel's 7 children, became an organist, harpsichordist and composer.

Music Recommendation:

Pachelbel's most famous pieces: Canon in D major & Hexachordum Apollinis

Arcangelo Corelli: 1653-1713 Italian composer, violinist and teacher

Brief History: Corelli was born in Fusignano to a wealthy family and a widowed mother. In 1666 he went to study in Bologna (a musical centre of Italy) with Giovanni Benvenuti. He then travelled to Rome in the 1670s and by 1679 he entered the service of the exiled Queen Christina of Sweden. In 1681 he became the first violinist at the chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi. From 1687-1690 he performed and conducted as the musical director of the Palazzo Pamphili (Rome). In 1689 until he died he went into Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni's (Great Patron of music and art) service. Although he still engaged in other musical activities including occupying the post as first violinist and conductor for the concerts of the Palazzo della Cancelleria (Rome) and together with Scarlatti and Posquini joining the Arcadia Academy. He was and remains a european musical phenomenon.

Musical Style: Corelli was legendary in his musical pursuits and history has cast him in a golden light of great titles such as, "Founder of Modern violin technique" as he was the first person to organise the basic elements of violin technique, the “World’s First Great Violinist” due to his virtuosic ability creating a remarkable and beautiful tone and the “Father of the Concerto Grosso” as although he did not invent this form he popularised and enabled it to be in a prominent place in Baroque music. Corelli was massively popular during his time and people came from all over to hear him play and be taught by him. But despite this popularity he did not compose many pieces, only 6 Opus numbers. His last composition Opus 6 got published after his death although he began writing it in his twenties. Opus 6 is his finest work and his years of devoted diligence over it really shows. It should also be noted that Corelli was a skilled conductor and is one of the pioneers of modern orchestral direction.

Fun Facts:

  • He was named Arcangelo after his father who died 5 weeks before he was born

  • His first major musical success happened in Paris when he was 19.

  • He was a great and well sought-out teacher and famously taught Geminiani and Vivaldi

  • Throughout his life he collaborated with many composers including Handel and Scarlatti.

  • Many composers have tried to emulate Corelli and been inspired by him including Couperin and Tippett and Rachmaninov. Tippett composed Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli and Rachmaninov composed Variations on a theme of Corelli based on his works.

  • By the grace of all his patrons, royalty and the church he had a comfortable, luxurious lifestyle.

  • One of the greatest of Corelli's work was a piece that he conducted for an orchestra of 150 strings, that was sponsored by Queen Christina, for the British Ambassador.

  • He was buried near Raphael (the painter) in the Pantheon. By his tomb yearly recitals of his music used to be performed in honour of him.

Henry Purcell: 1659-1695 English Composer and organist

Brief History: Purcell was born in London, England. He was educated first at the Chapel Royal as a chorister, as

his father was a gentlemen there. When Purcell turned 14 his voice broke and he became the assistant keeper of the king's instruments, 10 years later he became the main keeper. He attended the Westminster School and from the age of 15-19 he was entrusted with tuning the organ at Westminster abbey and was appointed copyist of organ anthems at 16. At 18, whilst still working as organist, he became the composer of Charles II's string orchestra. And at only 20 yers old he was appointed as organist of Westminster Abbey (one of the biggest jobs in music - someone who held that position was seen as somewhat of a pop-star). A year later he married and had 6 children, 4 of whom died in infancy. In 1682 he was appointed as one of the three organists of the Chapel Royal. He held all his positions throughout the reigns of James II, William III and Mary.

Musical Style: Purcell is considered to be England's greatest and most original Baroque composer, composing with a respect to the past and adapting to the present, learning from contemporary Italian composers. He was called the 'Orpheus Britannicus' because he was able to combine English counterpoint with dramatic word settings. He composed more than 100 songs, in many genres including church, stage, court and private settings. His most famous works were the tragic opera based on book IV of Virgil's Aeneid, 'Dido and Aeneas' and 'The fairy Queen' a version of Shakespeare's a midsummer night's dream. A device he often used in his secular music was the ground bass (a short melodic phrase repeated over and over again as a bass line, with varying music for the upper parts).

Fun Facts:

  • Little of Purcell's music was published during his lifetime. In 1876 the Purcell Society was founded and they tried to publish all of his works, producing one volume in 1878 and a second in 1882.

  • It is believed that Purcell might have been composing well since the age of 9.

  • His composed his earliest work at the age of 11, an ode for King Charles' birthday

  • Purcell played at William and Mary's coronation in 1689. Spectators who were watching from the loft passed him cash, which created tension between Purcell and the Dean and Chapter of Westminster.

  • His son Edward was also a musician, as was Edward’s son Edward Henry

  • There are a few possibilities for how Purcell died from chocolate poisoning, to catching a chill from being locked out of his house by his wife, to the most likely Tuberculosis.

  • Between Purcell's death and the birth of Elgar there was a notable gap of classical music being composed from England for 200 years. This led people to call England, 'The land without music' during that time.

  • Purcell's music has inspired many musicians from Benjamin Britten, who arranged many of Purcell's vocal works to Pete Townsend from the Who, who was influenced by Purcell's harmonies and was inspired by his work to write, 'Pinball Wizard' and 'I can see for miles'.

Alessandro Scarlatti: 1660-1725 Italian Baroque composer

Brief History: Scarlatti was born in Palermo (part of Sicily at that time) Not much is known about Scarlatti's early years except that at 12 he went to a relative in Rome to train. At 19 he was employed by the exiled Queen of Sweden as her Maestro di Cappella. Five years later he married and then became Maestro di Cappella to the Viceroy of Naples, at the same time his brother became first violinist for him. There he composed many operas and music for state occasions. At 42 he left Naples for Florence where he was employed by Prince Ferdinando de Medici & Cardinal Ottoboni. From there he travelled to Rome, Venice and Urbino for several years before returning back to Naples in 1708 where he remained for the rest of his life. Unfortunately when he returned people were no longer interested in listening to his music as they deemed it too serious.

Musical Style: Scarlatti was known mostly for his operas of which he wrote over 100, each being 3/4 hours long and for his more than 600 chamber cantatas. He is considered to be the founder and most important representative of the Neapolitan school of opera which cherished florid melodies. He also was the first composer to introduce the idea of using an orchestral ritornello(which he used in his his opera Teodora)and using horns in the orchestra. Scarlatti's music is often considered a bridge between the early 17th century Baroque Italian vocal styles and the 18th century classical styles.

Fun Facts:

  • He was the father of two other composers, Domenico Scarlatti and Pietro Filippo Scarlatti.

  • He had ten children but half died in infancy

Music Recommendation:

Most famous piece (also seen as his greatest work): Mitridate Eupatore

François Couperin (Le Grand): 1668-1733 French composer, organist and harpsichordist

Brief History : Born in Paris to an incredibly musically talented family, he showed musical genius from a very early age and became known as Couperin le Grand, as he was the most famous amongst his family. He was taught by Jacques Thomelin (organist of The Chapelle Royale) and his father (who died when François was 10). At the age of 18 he inherited his father's position as organist at St Gervais in Paris. Seven years later he became one of four court organists (organiste du roi to Louis XIV, the Sun King) in the Chapelle Royale, in Paris. Then from 1700-17 he held the position as harpsichordist at Versailles so had to divide his time between Paris and Versailles. In both cities he held teaching positions, including teaching the royal children harpsichord. He married in 1689 and had 3 children, his two daughters survived and his son died in infancy. Couperin died in Paris.

Musical Style:

François is mostly known for his harpsichord music. He published four books of suites (ordres) for harpsichord (about 230 pieces). These suites have very ornamented melodies and frequent dialogues between treble and bass. He also composed motets, chamber music, church music, sonatas and the Concerts royaux, composed for King Louis the fourteenth's Sunday evening entertainment.

He also wrote 2 books on technique to ensure that his pieces were played properly, 'L'art de toucher le clavecin' which contains suggestions such as fingerings, touch, ornamentation and 'Règle pour l'accompagnement' which showed how to realise figured bass and dissonances. He also offered ways in which French and Italian styles could be combined.

Fun Facts:

  • Jordi Savall (music expert) describes Couperin as a 'poet musician par excellence' who believed Music could express itself as prose and poetry and that if we entered into music's poetry we could discover that it's, 'plus belle encore que la beauté' (more beautiful than beauty itself)

  • Couperin's daughters both held important musical positions in their lifetimes. Marie-Madeleine became an organist of the Abbey of Montbuisson and Marguerite-Antoinette became the first woman to hold the position of harpsichordist to the king (from 1731-1733).

  • It is possible that Couperin was the first to suggest using the thumb for playing harpsichord as it is debated that late medieval/early renaissance keyboard playing was done without using the thumbs.

  • Couperin inspired many musicians including: Strauss who orchestrated some of Couperin's pieces, Brahms whose piano music was influenced by Couperin's keyboard music and performed Couperin's music in public, Ravel who wrote le Tombeau de Couperin (a memorial to Couperin) and also Bach who loved Couperin's harpsichord suites and adopted Couperin's fingering technique.

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi: 1678-1741 Italian composer, virtuoso violinist, teacher, impresario (person who finances and organises concerts), and Roman Catholic priest.

Brief History: Vivaldi was born in Venice with an illness called 'strettezza di petto' (tightness of the chest) which lasted all his life, it inhibited his speech and made him weak and dizzy when he spoke. Due to his ill health he was baptised at home. His father was a baker and a violinist, who taught Vivaldi how to play the violin. Vivaldi being the eldest of 6 children in a wealthy family was trained for priesthood and ordained in 1703. He took his role seriously, earning a reputation as a religious bigot, but due to his ill health(possibly developed bronchial asthma) he gave up celebrating mass and withdrew from his priestly duties. In 1703 he also was appointed as violin master at an orphanage the, 'Ospedale della Pietà' which taught boys trades and girls music. The Pietà's choir and orchestra gained international attention and respect under Vivaldi's 37 years of instruction. Vivaldi composed, conducted and taught there and was appointed musical director in 1716. Near the end of Vivaldi's life his music was viewed as unfashionable which caused him to fall into poverty. He left Venice in the hopes of finding a position in the imperial court in Vienna. He did not succeed in finding a patron and died there in 1741.

Musical Style: Vivaldi composed more than 800 pieces of music, including 500 Concertos and nearly 50 Operas. His most famous work is the Four Seasons ( Spring Allegro possibly being the most famous piece within it). Vivaldi perfected the concerto form establishing the 3 movements within it as fast, slow and very fast and was the first within his Concerti to regularly use the ritornello form (where a refrain is alternated with episodic solo passages). Vivaldi wrote virtuosic compositions for Violin which reflected his renowned technical command of the instrument. Vivaldi's concertos show a great command of counterpoint and are very melodic. His fast movements often have bold themes and a strong rhythmic drive whereas his slower movements often present the character of the aria.

Fun Facts:

  • On the day of Vivaldi's birth an Earthquake shook Venice.

  • Vivaldi was nicknamed, 'il Prete Rosso' - the Red Priest due to his curly, red hair. His portraits are misleading as he wears a white wig in them.

  • When Vivaldi's music was popular he had many fans and patrons including European royal families.

  • He wrote the cantata, 'Gloria e Imeneo' for King Louis XV's wedding

  • He was publicly named as a knight by the Emperor Charles VI

  • Vivaldi and Mozart were buried in the same spot in Vienna. Although due to Vienna's Technical university being built over the graveyard we can't identify exactly where.

  • Vivaldi's music has been featured in many films including, Indecent Proposal, Pretty Woman and Shine.

  • Many composers copied the form of Vivaldi's concerti and Bach transcribed 10 of them for keyboard.

  • Due to his music being deemed unfashionable towards and after his death his music was hidden, shunned and attributed to other composers. His music is gradually being rediscovered to this day. In Scotland in 2010 his flute concerto, Il Gran Mogol was found and in 2012 his opera Orlando Furioso was discovered.

Vivaldi wrote fragments of poetry on the manuscript for his 'The Four Seasons', and no one's sure who wrote them. They may have been written by Vivaldi himself, who also provided instructions such as "The barking dog" in Spring, "Languor caused by the heat" in Summer, and "the drunkards have fallen asleep" in Autumn.

Music Recommendation: The whole of the 4 seasons is great to listen to but it is 40minutes so if you're looking for a great glimpse into it I would recommend L'inverno Largo II which is only 2 minutes long.

I hope you enjoyed this post and feel more acquainted with the Middle Baroque period.

Much Love

Naomi Leila Xx

P.s. Watch out for my next blog instalment on Late Baroque composers.

P.p.s. This work is mainly from a lot of research I've done on the internet. If anything is inaccurate please let me know and I will update it.

P.p.p.s If you are looking to delve more into the characteristics of the Baroque period this is an amazing resource on it:

P.p.p.p.s If you liked this please press the heart button :)

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