Sure, Johann Sebastian Bach was a Baroque composer. But what does that mean? Baroque art, whether it is architecture, painting, or music, is highly ornate, detailed, exuberant, and extravagant.
Baroque architecture, like other Baroque arts, began as a result of the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation. As the Protestants moved towards a sparse, even severe style as part of their wish to simplify and solemnize worship, the Catholics decided to use style to evoke powerful emotions that would appeal to the masses. Gorgeously ornate churches and cathedrals were the result, swiftly followed by Baroque palaces as royal and noble men all over Europe decided they wanted their homes to be as amazingly over-the-top as these churches were.
Bach worked and performed in German Baroque churches, playing on Baroque organs like the one shown above, and once visited the summer palace of King Frederick the Great, called Sanssouci. Frederick was inspired by the French palace Versailles, which was upgraded to the Baroque style in the late 1600’s. Another “Great” leader, Peter the Great of Russia, was also inspired by Versailles and built his Baroque Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg.
Many of these palaces and churches were hung with ravishingly beautiful Baroque paintings. Great painters like the Italian Caravaggio, Diego Velazquez in Spain, and the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens were typical of the Baroque style. Baroque painting had intense colors, strong contrast between light and dark, and dramatic scenes, and was meant to give the viewer passionate feelings.
Similarly, Baroque music was intended to move the listener. The highly innovative Baroque period in music included such new concepts as writing a piece in a particular key, which is standard practice to this day; the expectation that professional musicians should be able to improvise; and the establishment of types of song including cantata, oratorio, concerto, and sonata.
Besides Bach, the most famous Baroque composers we think of today are George Frederick Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, and Johann Pachelbel. You probably recognize famous pieces like Pachelbel’s “Canon,” Vivalid’s “The Four Seasons,” and Handel’s “Water Music.” In our upcoming concert event Bach and Forth, we’ll be featuring prime examples of Bach’s Baroque style, including “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” and the first movement from the fifth “Brandenburg Concerto,” which will star Cape Symphony principal flute Zach Sheets, Assistant Concertmaster Rhiannon Banerdt on violin, and special guest Peter Sykes on harpsichord.