Timeline

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Even if you’re not that familiar with classical music you still know the name Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and can probably even hum a few of his tunes. His music has always been popular and his legacy has influenced composers for centuries.

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The word "symphony" is one of the most iconic musical terms, but what makes a piece of music a symphony? The term itself is a compound word with Greek roots meaning “sounding together."

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Franz Joseph Haydn is a towering figure of the Classical era. He didn’t just mimic the changes of the late 18th century, in a large way, his music was the change. He forged new genres. 

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The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century called into question the powers of the monarchy and religious dogma. There was an emphasis on scientific rigor and simplicity. This movement found its start in the writings of philosophers and made it ways into politics and eventually art – even the world of opera through the reforms of Christoph Willibald Gluck.

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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.

Timeline's James Stewart speaks with Natalie Neuert, the manager of the University of Vermont Lane Series about Bach's Brandenburg Concerti and the importance of historically informed performance.


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The Baroque era (1600 to 1750) was a time of blending cultures as the European continent was becoming smaller and more connected. A mixture of influences from Italy, France, England and Germany merged into a cosmopolitan style of music. The champion of this new style was the composer George Frideric Handel.

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Georg Philipp Telemann was unquestionably the most prolific composer of his generation. He wrote over 3,000 individual works ranging from chamber music to opera, from oratorios to cantatas.  

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Antonio Vivaldi is a name that has become synonymous with the Baroque concerto. His style and massive output has influenced composers for almost 300 years.

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The 17th Century, also known as the Age of Reason, saw the birth of the scientific method. The music and writings of French composer Jean Phillippe Rameau sought to understand music, and specifically harmony, in scientific terms.

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Though born the son of a humble miller in Florence, Italy, Jean Baptiste Lully was destined to become the “Father of French Opera.” His work and influence took this Italian art form and imbued it with French opulence and pageantry.

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The Baroque saw many influential musical families as the craft and career of composition and performing was passed from father to son and daughter for generations. One of the greatest dynasties in music was the French family, Couperin. The most influential member of this family was the composer Francois Couperin.

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During the Baroque, several families made their mark in the world of music. In Italy there were few families more influential than the Scarlattis.

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The British Isles were in turmoil in the mid-17th century, wracked by civil war, plague and a fire that devastated most of London. By the late 1660s, new hope was found in the reestablishment of the monarchy. It was thought that a new United Kingdom and a new City of London could arise from the ashes of war and fire. It is in this spirit of Restoration that we see the arrival of one of the most influential composers of the Baroque and, arguably, one of the greatest English composers of all time, Henry Purcell.

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The concerto is a popular genre of instrumental music that was developed during the Baroque.  It is characterized by one or more instruments (the concertino) acting as the soloist while other instruments (the ripieno) accompany the principle line. When it is one instrument accompanied by many we called it a “solo concerto." When there are multiple instruments sharing the spotlight we call this a “concerto grosso."

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The Latin word Cantata means “to sing”, the word Sonata means “to play.” That last title is vague enough to cover a multitude of instrumental genres. Vocal music comes with a built-in structure for the composer to follow.

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The word opera literally translates as the word “work;” it’s the plural of the noun opus. The dramatic form of opera has its roots deep within the aristocratic culture of early 16th Century Florence, Italy.

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The aesthetic basis of baroque music, from Monteverdi to J. S. Bach, was greatly influenced by a concept called the doctrine of affections.

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There are individuals in music history that stand as pillars, whose life and work help us delineate the various eras of musical practice. One such individual was the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, whose work marks the boundary between the renaissance and the baroque.

The Renaissance was a time of re-birth as science and the arts changed the face of culture. However, some old ideas persisted in the midst of this change; especially beliefs about the roles and intellectual capacity of the genders. Even though the Renaissance saw many female heads of state, it was still held as common knowledge that women were inferior to men, physically, mentally and artistically. As a result, we have very few examples of female composers during this period of music history. There is an exception though, the work of Maddalena Casulana.

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