Timeline: Rococo, Between Baroque and Classical

Nov 23, 2015

The death of J.S. Bach in 1750 has traditionally been regarded as the end of the Baroque Period. The well-known Classical era of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven is said to have begun in 1775.  The transitional, 25 year period between is known as Rococo.

Here’s why that term is useful.

The word Baroque is actually a derogatory term from the world of jewelry, where it’s used to describe an irregular, oblong-ish pearl.

In music, the Baroque is known for over ornamentation, something gaudy or irregular.

The term, Rococo comes from French architecture. It’s used to describe a simpler method of decoration, a relaxation of the rules. 

Even at the time of his death, J.S. Bach’s music was considered old-fashioned.

The musical tastes of Europe had shifted to simpler styles; singable melodies, with supporting accompaniment and regular phrase lengths.

The Imperial Empress Crown of the Farah of Iran is surrounded by oblong pearls, the source of the term "Baroque."
Credit U.S. Public Domain

In France, this was called the style Galant, music which “aims to please," as Voltaire described it.

It freed composers like Johann Christian Bach from the confines of counterpoint, allowing for the Bel Canto instrumental style of Johann David Heinichen and the late keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti.

In Germany, this turn toward simplicity was expressed in the music of the "Empfindsamer Stil,"or the sensitive style. Its champion, Carl Philippe Emanuel Bach stated that the goal of all music is to touch the heart and stir the emotions. Music meant to make you cry.

One of the most striking developments in the music of this transitional period was the emphasis on emotional contrast. The Baroque was focused on the expression of one emotional state at a time. C.P.E. Bach desired to express multiple affects, one after another.

Another term used to describe this desire for contrast is "Sturm and Drang," or Storm and Stress. The term actually comes from the American theater. This is music to frighten, or stun or get a reaction. You can hear it in the operas of Carl Maria von Weber and Meyerbeer as well as the early works of Joseph Haydn.

The early works of Franz Joseph Haydn are an example of Sturm and Drang (storm and stress), music of contrast.
Credit U.S Public Domain

In the 1770’s, Haydn began to take the sensibilities of the "Empfindsamer Stil," "Galant and Sturm" and "Drang" and unite them with the rigor and contrapuntal techniques of the Baroque.

It is this marriage of the mind and the emotions that we call the Classical style.

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music. Take a journey into the events, characters and concepts that shaped our Western musical tradition.