How to Listen to and Appreciate
Classical Music

  Structures and Forms
  Orchestra Instruments
  The Medieval Period
  The Renaissance Period
  The Baroque Period
  The Classical Period
  The Romantic Period
  The 20th Century and Beyond

The Baroque Period

The Baroque period in Western classical music lasted from around 1600 to 1750 (when Bach died).

According to most authors, the word "Baroque" probably comes from the Portuguese word "barroco," which means "of irregular shape" or "misshapen pearl." It was a negative slang word for things which were considered to be grotesque or in bad taste. Near the end of the Baroque period, the music of this period was being criticized for being noisy, unmelodious, harsh, dissonant, heavily ornamented, and so on. It was branded by critics as being "baroque," and the name stuck.

Baroque music tended to be ornate and flowery, with fancy swirls and intricacy. At the time, it was considered to be wild and experimental. Composers were breaking the traditional rules of composition and exploring the contrasts of different musical elements, such as alternating a small group of instruments with a large group of instruments in order to create a contrast of textures from the sounds of these two groups.

Madrigals became less popular during this period because composers felt that the music didn't adequately express the meanings and the emotions of the poetry in the madrigals. In contrast with madrigals, Baroque music tends to be emotionally extravagant and expressive within highly organized musical structures and forms.

During the earlier Renaissance period, composers weren't concerned about which instruments were used when their pieces were performed, and they weren't concerned about what capabilities and qualities each instrument possessed. Baroque composers, on the other hand, preferred instruments which were able to play both loudly and softly, and were able to play higher notes than the Renaissance instruments could, and allowed performers to express emotions and display their skills.

During the Baroque period, composers experimented with more elaborate music, and enhanced the musical notation, and came up with new techniques for playing various instruments, and created the major and minor key system, and so on. Many of these things are still being used to this day. Instrumental music was popular during this period, including preludes, fugues, overtures, dances, concerti grossi, and concertos (see the Terminology page for definitions of these terms).


These are some of the composers of this period, and a taste of their music. I tried to select well-known pieces, but in many cases I had to pick something at random from what's available in YouTube. Where possible, I chose videos which show live performances of the pieces. The links will take you to the Wikipedia pages for the composers and their works.

The names of many of these pieces are followed by a number which is based on a catalog of the composer's works, such as "Op. 67" or "BWV 1046-1051." See the Terminology page for more on these catalogs.

Modification History

  • June 24, 2014 - New website.

Dave Root

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