A particular favourite period of mine from 1600 – about 1750 and saw the emergence of some of our greatest musicians and composers.
The 17th Century saw some great advances in technology and travel. Foreign trade and colonization brought us into direct contact with new parts of the world that were previously unknown. In turn artistic culture was fed by these new discoveries and breathed new life into an area long controlled by the church and nobility.
Many of the well known composers in the Baroque period came from Europe, Italy and Germany in particular. Monteverdi, Corelli and Vivaldi from Italy and the infamous Bach and Handel from Germany.
It is believed many of the types of baroque music of which we are familiar with today originated from Italy. Types like the cantata, concerto, sonata, oratorio and opera all started in Italy, although different countries added their own twists bringing the different styles we know today. Musicians were able to travel all over Europe for the first time with relative ease and listened to each others compositions
Today we think of musicians and composers as artists. They make a living by selling tickets for concerts or recordings of their songs (composers get paid every time their compositions are played) In the Baroque period it was very different. A composer only earned a living if they were lucky enough to have a patron. This was normally the nobility, political party or religious institution. Therefore to some extent the composer or musician was dictated to by their patron. It is probably safe to assume for example that Bach wrote the amount of cantatas he did, because that was what was demanded by the Church that employed him.
The encyclopaedia Britannica describes the cantata as:
cantata, (from Italian cantare, “to sing”), originally, a musical composition intended to be sung, as opposed to a sonata, a composition played instrumentally; now, loosely, any work for voices and instruments.
The word cantata first appeared in the Italian composer Alessandro Grandi’s Cantade et arie a voce sola (Cantatas and Arias for Solo Voice; published 1620–29). There were precursors of the cantata in earlier strophic arias (in which the melody for each strophe, or stanza, was varied over a constant bass) and such earlier vocal works of chamber proportion as the late madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi.
The encyclopaedia Britannica describes the sonata as:
sonata, type of musical composition, usually for a solo instrument or a small instrumental ensemble, that typically consists of two to four movements, or sections, each in a related key but with a unique musical character.
The encyclopaedia Britannica describes the oratorio as:
oratorio, a large-scale musical composition on a sacred or semi sacred subject, for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra. An oratorio’s text is usually based on scripture, and the narration necessary to move from scene to scene is supplied by recitatives sung by various voices to prepare the way for airs and choruses. A basically dramatic method is used in all successful oratorios, though they may or may not be produced with theatrical action. The oratorio is not intended for liturgical use, and it may be performed in both churches and concert halls. The principal schools of oratorios are the Italian, essentially a form of religious opera; the German, developed from treatment of the Passion story; and the English, synthesized by the composer George Frideric Handel from several forms. The term oratorio derives from the oratory of the Roman church in which, in the mid-16th century, St. Philip Neri instituted moral musical entertainments, which were divided by a sermon, hence the two-act form common in early Italian oratorio.
opera, a staged drama set to music in its entirety, made up of vocal pieces with instrumental accompaniment and usually with orchestral overtures and interludes. In some operas the music is continuous throughout an act; in others it is broken up into discrete pieces, or “numbers,” separated either by recitative (a dramatic type of singing that approaches speech) or by spoken dialogue. This article focuses on opera in the Western tradition. For an overview of opera and operalike traditions in Asia (particularly in China), see the appropriate sections of Chinese music, Japanese music, South Asian arts, and Southeast Asian arts; see also short entries on specific forms of Chinese opera, such as chuanqi, jingxi, kunqu, and nanxi.