Dramatic expression was an important part of the baroque

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1. The camerata was a group of scholars and musicians (many of them amateurs) that met in individual homes. As with any club or civic organization, its membership was fluid and changed over the course of a number of years. They were meeting as early as 1575 to 1580. They also exchanged correspondence with a Greek scholar in Rome. Their main interest was a revival of Greek drama. 

2. Monteverdi is a very significant composer. He has already been mentioned as a composer of Renaissance madrigals. His fourth book of madrigals, however, departed from Renaissance style. In the preface to his fifth book of madrigals, he indicated that his compositional approach was based on a new second practice that superdeded the first practice. This new practice involved his treatment of dissonance. He explained that he was attempting to make the text the “mistress of the harmony” (Claude V. Palisca. Baroque Music, 3rd ed. [Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1991], p. 11).  This focus on making the music fit the meaning of the text led to the doctrine of the affections, a true baroque outlook.

3. The castrato became an important phenomenon during this period. Although no one would openly admit to the practice, many castrati were quite successful and idolized much as movie stars are today. Farinelli  (Carlo Broschi) was one of the most significant. Unfortunately it is impossible to recreate the vocal timbre of the castrato. The vocal range of the castrato was quite large--over three and a half octaves.  Because of their masculine build, these singers had rich and powerful voices. The last known castrato, Alessandro Moreschi, died in 1922 (the procedure was officially banned in 1870). Moreschi recorded only a few examples on wax cylinders in the early part of the century. 

4. Because of the interest in Greek tragedy, most of the early operas were stories from Greek mythology or Greek history. The tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice was an especially popular subject. As an additional assignment, you might want to suggest some readings in Greek mythology, or take a look at a couple of versions of the Orpheus story.

5. The presence of the continuo, so important to the monodic style, was a primary feature of baroque music. This ensemble consists of a keyboard player (usually on the harpsichord) and a bass instrument (viol or cello or bassoon). The continuo plays from the figured bass, which is a bass line with numbers written above or below indicating intervals above the bass to fill in the harmony. The keyboard player was therefore required to be able to realize--that is, improvise--the harmony at sight!

6. Dramatic expression was an important part of the baroque style. You might want to spend some time discussing Caravaggio’s dramatic portrayal of  the conversion of Saint Paul and then listen for ways Monteverdi used dramatic effects in the excerpt from Orfeo.

Reference no: EM13540104

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