Late Baroque Period
The period of history that Patricia Veryan's Georgian novels are set fall during the
height of what is known in the music world as the Late Baroque Period.
Before Mozart genius, before Rossini's magic (even before Beaumarchais' plays which so
inspired their works), the Baroque period embraced such composers as Henry Purcell,
Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, Francois Couperin,
Johann Sebastian Bach, and George Frideric Handel.
The music of these years can be most easily described as an era of compositions that focused
on the continuo practice. In the direct aftermath of this musical era, the term was one of
denigration and practically confined to art history. In the late 19th century, however,
the art-historian Heinrich Wûlfflin demonstrated positive uses for the word (1888) and
it was adopted for its current musical use.
"The greatest legacy handed down by the Late Baroque period was its enormous wealth of
operas (such as Handel's Serse) and oratorios, (two of the greatest being the
St. Matthew's Passion by J.S. Bach and Handel's magnificent Messiah). It is
perhaps the two oratorios which typify the sense of opulence and splendor associated
with the period. Other major musical contributions of the Late Baroque era were various
dance forms, such as the minuet, gigue, courante, allemande, and sarabande. These
dances reflected movements that were ornamental, which was another key feature of this
particular time in the history of music.
Solos in the Late Baroque period were played on a wide range of instruments. The bass
and harmonic accompaniment was usually provided by a harpsichord.
The concerto grosso, the key instrumental form of the Late Baroque period,
reflected the contrast between two groups of instruments: one was a small body of
string soloists, known as concertino, concertato, or concertante; the
other group, known as the ripieno, formed the larger string section. The
two groups would either alternate with one another or, at times, play together. Some of
the greatest concerti grossi are those by Corelli, J.S. Bach, and Handel. It was
from this early concerto form that the later Classical and Romantic concertos developed."
-In Classical Mood
(Giuseppe) Domenico Scarlatti
Born in Naples on the 26th of October, Domenico was brother to organist Pietro Filippo
Scarlatti and son to the famous composer Alessandro Scarlatti. Domenico himself was a
harpsichordist and composer. He was a pupil of his father and in 1701 was appointed organist
and composer to the court at Naples, where his operas L'Ottavia restituita al trono and
Il Giustino were produced in 1703. Sent by his father to Venice in 1705, he travelled
by way to Florence, where he presented himself to Alessandro's patron, Ferdinando de'Medici.
In Venice he met Gasparini, and probably studied with him. Moving to Rome, he is said to have
engaged with Handel in a contest in harpsichord and organ playing, arranged by Cardinal Ottoboni.
He was maestro di cappella to Queen Maria Casimira of Poland in Rome 1709-14, and of the
Capella Giulia 1714-19, but the next year went to the Portugese court in Lisbon. Back in Italy
from 1724-9, he then went to Seville (later Madrid) in the service of the Spanish court, where he
remained until his death on July 23.
His works include oratorios, church music, cantatas, around 600 harpsichord pieces (sonatas) and
the following operas:
Tolomeo ed Alessandro
Tetide in Sciro, Ifigenia in Aulide
Ifigenia in Tauride
Amor d'un' ombra
Johann Sebastian Bach
Born in Eisenach on March 21, the most famous Bach of all was an organist and composer born
into a German family of musicians that spanned two centuries. Studying first with his father and
then with his older brother Johann Christoph in Ohrdruf. At 15 he became a chorister in LÄneburg,
where he may have had organ lessons from Bûhm. Appointed violinist in the court orchestra of
the Duke of Weimar in 1703, but left the same year to become organist in Arnstadt, from where
in 1705 he took leave to travel to LÄbeck, to hear Buxtehude play. In 1707 he moved to MÄhlhausen,
where he married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. A year later he returned to Weimar as court
organist, remaining there for nine years. In 1717, he was appointed Kapellmeister to the
court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cûthen. His wife died in 1720, and he married Anna Magdalena
Wilcke in 1721. At Cûthen Bach had little opportunity for church music and there he wrote mainly
instrumental works, but in 1723 he returned to church work when he succeeded KÄhnau as Cantor
of St. Thomas's in Leipzig, where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1747, with his eldest
son, Wilhelm Friedemann, he visited the court of Frederick the Great at Potsdam, where his second
son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, was court harpsichordist. Two years later his eyesight failed; an
operation in 1750 was unsuccessful, and he spent his last months totally blind until he died on
the 28th of July in Leipzig.
For a list of Bach's complete works, go to the J.S. Bach Page.
George Frideric Handel
Born in Halle on the 23rd of February, this German-English composer was born to a barber-surgeon
who initially opposed his son's entrance into the musical profession. Handel studied with Zachow
in Halle and in 1702 matriculated at the university there to read law, at the same time holding
the probationary post of organist at the Domkirche. The next year he left for Hamburg, where he
played violin, later harpsichord, at the opera under Keiser, and had the operas Almira and
Nero produced in 1705. Travelled in Italy 1706-9, visiting the principal cities and
meeting the leading composers. Agrippina was successfully produced at Venice in 1709, and
he also made a great reputation as a harpsichordist. Other works composed in Italy included
the oratorios La resurrezione and Il trionfo del tempo, solo cantatas, chamber
duets, etc. With the support of Steffani he was appointed to succeed the latter as
Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover in 1710, but left almost immediately on leave of
absence for London, where Rinaldo was produced with great success the next year. Again
in London on leave in 1712, he settled there, never returning to his post in Hanover. Between
1712 and 1715 he produced 4 operas, and in 1713 composed a Te Deum and Jubilate to
celebrate the Peace of Utrecht, receiving a life pension of £200 from
Queen Anne. On her death in 1714 the Elector of Hanover succeeded to the throne as
George I, but apparently took a lenient view of his former
Kapellmeister's truancy, for Handel's pension was soon doubled. As music director to the
Earl of Carnavon (later Duke of Chandos) 1717-20, he wrote the Chandos Anthems, Acis and
Galatea and the masque Haman and Mordecai.
With the founding of the RAM in 1720 began Handel's most prolific period as an opera composer,
and over the next 20 years he wrote more than 30 works. Difficulties arose from the formation
of partisan factions round himself and his rival Bononcini, and were aggravated by the internal
strife between his 2 leading ladies, Faustina and Cuzzoni. The popular success of The Beggar's
Opera in 1728 made matters worse, and in that year the RAM went bankrupt. Handel continued
to produce operas, acting as his own impresario in partnership with Heidegger, but rival
factions, now of a political nature, again undermined his success, and in the 1730s he increasingly
turned to oratorio. Esther (a revision of the masque Haman and Mordecai), 1732,
was followed by Deborah, Saul and Israel in Egypt. His last opera was
produced in 1741, after which he devoted his time chiefly to oratorio, Messiah being
produced in Dublin in 1742, followed by 12 more. He continued to appear in public as a conductor
and organist, playing concertos between the parts of his oratorios, but his health declined and
he spent his last years, like Bach, in blindness.
For a complete list of his works, go to the Handel HWV Page.
To see more information about the minuet, gigue and other dances of the time,
go to Parties.
Blom, Eric. The New Everyman Dictionary of Music. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988.
"In Classical Mood" compact discs.