Baroque’ probably comes from a Portuguese word, barocco, meaning an irregularly shaped pearl or piece of jewellery. It was first used in connection with the highly ornamented style of architecture and art of the l7th century. Later on, musicians came to use the word ‘Baroque’ to describe the period of musical history from the birth of opera and oratorio to the death of J.S. Bach.

It was during the l7th century that the system of modes finally crumbled away. Composers had grown accustomed to sharpening a note here and flattening a note there, with the result that modes lost their individual characters and came to sound like two modes only- the Ionian and Acolian. From these grew the major-minor key system upon which harmony was based for the next two centuries.

The l7th century also saw the invention of several new forms and designs, including opera, oratorio, fugue, the suite, sonata and concerto.

The violin family replaced the viols. And the orchestra gradually started to take shape, with a strong section of strings as its foundation – though the other sections were as yet not standardised.


All these experiments and changes prepared the musical ground for the two giants of later Baroque music: Bach and Handel.



The Baroque Musical Style

1. TONALITY Diatonic keys replace the older modal keys.

2. HARMONY a. Chords and their inversions were established.

     b. Basic cadences replaced older modal cadences.

                  c. Chromatic notes are freely used.

3. MELODY       a. A melody (theme) usually appears in sequence.

                               b. These reappearances could also be modified though the style remains the same.

                               c. The melodic lines can be quite chromatic at times.

4. TEXTURE Basically polyphonic (contrapuntal).

5. DYNAMIC The range in dynamic is narrow.



DIATONIC - Notes belonging to the scale of a key


CHROMATIC -Notes NOT belonging to the scale of key.


SEQUENCE - Repetition of a theme at a higher or lower fixed interval.

POLYHONIC -A style in writing where two or more melodies sound at the same time.



The more outstanding Baroque composers in chronological order are:

Monteverdi (Italian)
Schutz (German)
Lully (Italian)
Corelli (Italian)
Purcell (English)
Couperin (French)
Vivaldi (Italian)
Telemann (German)
D. Scarlartti (Italian)
J.S. Bach (German)
Handel (German)



Opera Monteverdi, Lully and Handel
Church Music Schutz, J.S. Bach and Handel
Orchestral Music Corelli, Vivaldi and Handel
Harpsichord Music Couperin, Rameau and D. Scarlatti







Corelli Concerto Grosso Christmas Concerto
Purcell Opera The Fairy Queen

The Indian Queen

J.S. Bach Concerto Grosso

Church Music

Keyboard Work

Six Brandenburg Concertos

St. John’s Passion

French Suite

Handel Oratorio

Concerto Grosso

Orchestral Work


Hornpipe Concerto

Water Music

Vivaldi Concerto The Four Seasons