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Styles of Baroque singing
A monody is a single voice line supported by an instrumental bass line, upon which chords were constructed. The voice line followed the natural speech rhythms of the words. This style of writing for the voice (half singing and half reciting) became known as recitative. All the composer wrote down beneath the melody was a bass line to be played by a low stringed instrument, such as a cello. This was called the 'basso continuo', but the composer expected another continuo player on harpsichord, organ or lute, to build up chords upon the bass line. As these chords had to be improvised, the player had to be very skilful. Figures below the notes indicated which chords to play. This is called a figured bass.
The first opera was written in 1597, called 'Dafne', and was composed by Peri. It had choruses, dances and instrumental pieces, all done by a small orchestra. It contained music and drama (i.e. Music-Drama). The first truly great opera was composed by Monteverdi in 1607, and was called 'Orfeo'. The music heightens the dramatic impact. The music and drama blend together well. There was a lot of instrumental ritomello (Italian for return, and means when a section returns). Before each verse of the aria (song), we hear an instrumental ritornello. An aria was typically a fully orchestrated set piece for a solo singer. It was typically a very simply text and repeated numerous times to reflect upon an idea or a mood.
The Italian Overture
Scarlatti's operas often began with an overture in three sections: quick, slow, quick. This was the Italian Overture. Scarlatti designed the arias in his operas in da capo form, i.e. ABA. Another name for this is ternary form.
The French Overture
Lully's operas began with a French Overture.. slow, quick, slow. This is the other way round to an Italian Overture.
Baroque Opera in England
The one great English opera of the 17th Century is 'Dido and Aeneas', and was composed by Purcell.
'Serious Opera' was noted for its spectacular sets, costumes and singers. It usually revolved around mythological or historical plots.
Also known by its Italian name 'recitativo,' is a style of delivery where a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech. Thus, it resembles sung ordinary speech more than formal musical composition.
The first use of recitative in opera was preceded by the monodies of the Florentine Camerata in which Vincenzo Galilei, father of Galileo played an important role. He pioneered the use of a single melodic line to tell the story of ancient Greeks, accompanied by a simple chords from a harpsichord or lute. They were typically rehearsed on their own by the stage director, the singers frequently supplied their own favourite arias which could be from a different composer.
There were two forms of recitative: Secco, 'dry': involved voice and continuo only and the pitches follow vocal inflections rather than being melodic. Handels 'Rodelinda' is an example of this. Recitativo accompagnato 'using orchestra': is more melodic and driven by the music.
Born about the same time as opera, this vocal music was at first very similar to operas. Oratorio's typically had the arias, choruses and recitatives of the Opera but they were typically on biblical topics. They were acted out without scenery, staging and costumes. Eventually oratorios ceased to acted out, and were given musical presentation only. Handel's biblical oratorios were Judas Maccabeus, Deborah, Esther and Solomon. His non-biblical oratorios were Hercules, Semele, The Triumph of Time and Truth, Acis and Galatea and The Choice of Hercules. Handel's Messiah was an unusual oratorio as it contemplated upon prophecies of a Messiah, rather than a musical reenactment of a biblical story.
A passion is a special oratorio telling the story of Christ's crucifixion. Besides recitatives, arias and choruses, Bach also included settings of chorales (Gerinan hymn tunes.)
While cantata means sung and sonata means played, Baroque cantatas were works for both voices and instruments. The earliest examples came from Italy. Usually, cantatas were secular and short, lightweight entertainment. However, Bach composed more than 200 church cantatas. These are for soloists and choruses, accompanied by orchestra and continuo, and are like miniature oratorios. A fine example is Number 140, by Bach, based upon the chorale, 'Sleepers, Wake'.
A fugue is a contrapuntal piece, based upon the idea of imitation. It is usually written in 3 or 4 parts, called 'voices', and these are referred to as Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. The detailed structure of a fugue can be rather complicated. The entire piece grows mainly from a single brief tune of strong musical character. This is called the subject. Then it is added by the other voices in turn each at it's appropriate pitch. The most famous collect is the 48 preludes and fugues by Bach.