The Baroque Period

The Baroque Period

The baroque period follows the renaissance. Like the rise of the renaissance, it was a new idea, style and way of thinking which spread across Europe and, consequently, we can’t give a very precise date for its beginning. Like the middle ages, it was given its name by people of a later time. It wasn’t until the late 19th and early 20th century that ‘baroque’ (meaning either ‘bizarre’, ‘exuberant’ or ‘misshapen pearl’) was used to describe European culture from the 1600s until around 1750. It’s not a very precise term and covers a wide range of styles, but they do have one thing in common in architecture, clothing and music: ornate decoration and extravagance. As for decoration, French baroque lute music, for example, deliberately tried to hide the tune by playing the notes of a chord separately instead of together and adding in lots of extra decorative notes. This became more important than the tune itself, on the basis that this would make the music sublime and move the listener in a mysterious, spiritual way. And extravagance? The rise of opera. It was important to build this decoration and extravagance on a solid foundation, so the overall principles of baroque music were structure, order, originality, and skill, arguably most highly developed in the work of Johann Sebastian Bach.

 

Among the well-off in the baroque period, the printed song books of Dowland, Campion, etc. had fallen out of fashion to make way for more florid and histrionic singing styles. But for the ‘common folk’, popular singing remained unchanged: the broadside ballads sold in the renaissance 16th century reached their peak of popularity in the baroque 17th century. Part of The Night Watch’s mission is to sing the broadside ballads of this period, and we are especially interested in those which have escaped the attention of modern folk song collectors and performers.

 

We also have a love of the social dance music of this period. The social dances of the renaissance – pavan, galliard, etc. – were now out of fashion. In their place, the spectacularly popular The English Dancing Master, first published in 1651, went through eight editions and many reprints until 1728. It was compiled by John Playford (1623-1686), a London bookseller, publisher, and the leading light of baroque social dance. The English Dancing Master (later shortened to The Dancing Master) included the melody line to all the tunes and instructions for dancers. One of the most striking things about The Dancing Master is that so many of its tunes had been popular since the renaissance: great tunes which had stood the test of time, many of which remain popular to this day among lovers of traditional music.