The Baroque period of western music lasted from 1600 to 1750 and brought a number of exciting new changes to the music world. This was the era in which the concept of tonality (writing songs in a specific key, such as G# major or A minor) entered into the mainstream, as well as the era when composers really started to break free from the established norms and dared to experiment. Baroque music also featured widely expanded musical roles for orchestras in general, and marked the birth of the concerto, the sonata, and the oratorio. Expect to hear a wide variety of instruments when listening to Baroque music, including the harpsichord and the lute alongside the standard strings, woodwinds, and brass.
Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, and Purcell are names that often come to mind when thinking of Baroque composers, but here are other exceptional talents worth investigating.
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), opens a new window was a contemporary and good friend of Bach and, at the time, he was actually the more popular composer in the public eye. One of the most prolific composers of all time, Telemann wrote over 3,000 individual works during his lifetime, though most of these have sadly been lost. Needless to say, Bach’s reputation has long since eclipsed his friend's, but Telemann remains a fantastic composer whose warm, rich compositions are well worth a listen.
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643), opens a new window was an Italian master of the late Renaissance and early Baroque period. Widely considered to be one of the greatest composers of keyboard music in his day, his work directly inspired other great composers such as Bach and Purcell and was used as a teaching model up until the 19th century. His works, which also include lovely vocal pieces and intricate lute compositions, are remarkable not only for their beauty but also for their complexity.
William Lawes (1602-1645), opens a new window was an English composer of the early Baroque period. He and his brother/fellow composer Henry were favorites of Charles I, and Lawes composed a number of sacred and secular works especially for the king’s enjoyment. Lawes was a shockingly revolutionary composer for his day, using fugue and counterpoint to create bizarre musical themes that seemed to clash with each other. Unfortunately, the world was not yet ready for this sort of daring experimentation, and after his death Lawes was all but forgotten until modern times.
Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672), opens a new window was a major contributor to the Baroque scene and one of its most influential composers. He composed the first German opera as well as a large catalog of sacred and secular works, and is considered to be the most important pre-Bach German composer. Most of Schütz’s musical output has tragically been lost to time, but a number of his sacred works have survived to give testimony to his talent.
Marin Marais (1656-1728), opens a new window was a French composer who wrote primarily for the viol (a stringed instrument resembling a cello). His overwhelming success made the viol a beloved instrument among patrons of the arts for many years until the eventual rise of the louder and more-effective violin family. Marais was also among the first composers to utilize the concept of program music, attempting to convey a narrative in a method highly reminiscent of the symphonic poems of the Classical and Romantic periods.
You can find these and many more Baroque composers in our catalog, opens a new window!