Characteristics of Baroque Music
Unity of Mood:
A baroque piece is famous for its doctrine of mood. What is happy will be happy throughout and what is sad continues to the end. Composers moulded the musical language to fit moods and affections. Some definite rhythms and melodic patterns are used to define certain moods and expressions.
The prime exception of this characteristics is an exception to this baroque principle of the unity of mood. Drastic changes of emotions in the text may inspire corresponding changes in music. But even in such cases, the certain mood continue for quite some time before it changes to another.
Unity of mood in baroque is first conveyed by the continuity of rhythm. Rhythmic patterns heard at the beginning of the piece is reiterated many times throughout the piece. This relentless drive compelled the music to push forward. This forward motion is hardly ever interrupted. The beat are also far more distinct in baroque music.
Baroque music creates a feeling of continuity. An opening melody will be heard over and over again in the course of the piece. Even if the character of the piece is constant, the passage is varied. Many baroque melodies are complex and elaborate. They are not easy to sing or play. Baroque melodies give and impression of dynamic expansion rather than balance and symmetry. It gives a whole feeling of a jumble yet a theme is distinctly heard.
Paralleling the continuity of mood, the dynamics of the piece also stay constant for some period of time before it shifts to another level. When the dynamics shift, it is sudden like physically stepping of a step. Therefore, terraced dynamics are a distinctive quality of baroque music. Gradual changes such as crescendo and decrescendos are unheard of this is partly due to the fact that the manuals of the keyboards instrument then were able to provide only the loud or the soft sound. They were not able to provide the in between sound.
Late baroque music are often and predominantly polyphonic in texture : two more melodic lines compete for the listeners attention. Usually the soprano and the bass line is more important and imitation between various lines is very common. A melodic line that happen in one voice will happen in other voices as well. However, this was not strict during Bachs and Handels time short snatches of homophonic pieces may also occur.
Basso continuo and figure bass:
In any baroque piece, it is common to see figures basses, little numbers at the bottom of the stave, it indicates the chords that the basso continuo player must play.
The basso continuo consists of the cello and the harpsichord.