...where to begin...

Baroque is French taken from the Italian 'barocco', meaning Bizarre. Believe it or not, a lot of the art that happened in the 'baroque' period (mid 16th century to mid 18th century) was considered bizarre. The term baroque, while generally associated with music, actually got it's start with a style of architecture beginning in German and Austria.

Of architecture... in a structural design sense, baroque refers to the emphasis of dramatic, and often highly strained effect and is typically exhibited by bold and elegantly curved forms, elaborate (sometimes to excess) ornamentation, and overall balance of disparate and dis-joined parts. This style was in usage from the mid 16th century to the late 17th century.

Examples of this philosophy can be seen mostly in the larger structures of the time, such as cathedrals (typified by ornate flying buttresses and grotesques) and royal residences (ornamental gateways and bulbous carved furniture).

Of music... The baroque music movement began at the height of the architecture movement, and lasted for about half-a-century after the building style ceased to be popular (late 16th to mid 18th).

Strictly speaking, baroque music follows the lines of being polyphonic and utilizing complex and elaborate music ornamentation and contrasting styles to the point of being a dramatic piece in and of itself.

Prior to this revival, the concepts of a 'solo', 'harmony' or 'concerto grosso' were not widely used. It was during this period that things such as symphonies, as we know them today, came about. Before this was the era of chamber music where each piece was small, elegant, to the point and most importantly, separate. In the baroque period we begin to see the idea of all pieces in a suite flowing into each other, almost as one gigantic composure.

Many of the old masters did the majority of their life's' work during this period: J. S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Georg Friedrich Händel but to name a few.

It is sad to say, though, that after this period ended, many people began to use the term 'baroque' as a pejorative term to signify something as 'old', 'dated' or 'eccentric', when what is really should still mean is 'bizarre'.

the Baroque Music Home Page (baroque-music.com)

barney = B = BASIC

baroque adj.

[common] Feature-encrusted; complex; gaudy; verging on excessive. Said of hardware or (esp.) software designs, this has many of the connotations of elephantine or monstrosity but is less extreme and not pejorative in itself. "Metafont even has features to introduce random variations to its letterform output. Now that is baroque!" See also rococo.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

Baroque music is a curious beast. What is usually thought of as "Baroque" is the late, or high Baroque. The big change from the Renaissance to the Baroque actually was quite different from the music of Bach and Vivaldi.

In general, the defining development was Opera. Various theorists and musicians came up with the idea (supposedly based on classical Greek philosophy) that music could be more effective and emotional if it were made both more simple and more free. The complex polyphony of the late Renaissance (Palestrina, Lassus, and Byrd for example) was replaced by a single singer and a continuo line. This continuo is basically a bass line with numbers and symbols to indicate chords. This kind of accompaniment allows a great deal of freedom to both performers (or more, since the continuo line can, and frequently does, involve many players). This freedom extended from tempo and rhythm alterations to ornamentation.

The most clear example of this new style is recitative, where the line between speech and singing is blurred. A good performance of recit essentially involves the singer speaking their part with the drama of a good actor, while at the same time hitting pitches and occasionally letting fly with a barrage of actual music. It's important to note that the short, bland recitatives from Handel's time are quite different from the earlier sort. In an opera like Monteverdi's Orfeo, the recitative is frequently as elaborate and melodic as the arias, and the vast majority of the opera is given over to the recitative.

Some of my favourite aspects of this early baroque music are ones that are sadly lacking from nearly all modern music. Principally among these is the freedom given performers - rhythmic notation was at best, imprecise, because precision wasn't needed or wanted. Many composers gave specific instructions to change the rhythms as one felt fit, or to disregard them completely. Some styles, like french unmeasured preludes were usually written with no rhythm at all - just a series of circles on the staff.

Of course, the Baroque does include such wonderful music as that of Bach, Vivaldi, and Francois Couperin, and they shouldn't be ignored. But I think the earlier composers, Frescobaldi, Louis Couperin (uncle to Francois Couperin), Monteverdi, Castello and others, should also be appreciated at least as much. I expect the main reason that they aren't as well known as the others is simply that their music is much more difficult to perform without a strong understanding of the style of the music - Bach can work moderately well on almost any instrument, in almost any way of playing. But these earlier sounds, with their emphasis on rhythmic freedom, rather than theoretical complexity, require some more specialized work to make them understood.

According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music - and contrary to the witeup by xunker above - the word baroque is a French word which comes from the Portuguese barroco which means a pearl of an irregular shape. This word was used frequently in texts that dealt with jewelery making.

Although it has been assumed (as xunker notes,) that the first application of the term to the arts was in reference to architecture (by Charles de Brosses), the first recorded usage of the term was actually in reference to music, in 1734, in a letter to a magazine, provoked by the premiere of Jean Philippe Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie in Paris in 1733. The anonymous author describes the style of the music as 'du Barrocque', and complains that Rameau's opera lacked melodic coherence, was full of dissonance, and changed key and meter constantly. in 1739, J.B. Rousseau has written about Rameau and other composers in a poem, calling them 'distillers of baroque chords'.

Thus, the adjective Baroque was used as a pejorative term, in order to differentiate between music that is sweet and songlike, and the new music that was full of dissonance, and made swift changes between moods (as indeed can be heard in French music of the 17th century.)

In crude terms, the Baroque era refers to the years 1600 - 1750. This is the period which marked the shift from contrapuntal to harmonic composition, along with the rise of the basso continuo and the trend from 'mannerism' to 'emotionalism.' The main musical characteristics of Baroque music are the thoroughbass (basso continuo) as a main thread of composition, together with the rise of tonality (as opposed to the mostly modal character of renaissance music) as it finally came to be in the classical era; highly controlled melodic development and canonized emotional gestures (again in contrast to the 'flights of fancy' of the Renaissance;) the frequent use of dance forms and rhythms in bigger secular works; the prominent use of dissonance for dramatic purposes; and the rise of opera.

The Baroque era also saw the decline of the hegemony of Italian music (and culture in general) over the rest of Europe. In the 17th century, French, German and English music became prominent, as can be seen in the works of Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean Philippe Rameau, Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, George Frideric Handel and Henry Purcell.

Baroque Art

The characteristics and stylistic aspects of Baroque art are difficult to define because other than the break during the Mannerism period Baroque is simply a continuation of the Late Renaissance. The Baroque period in art occurred roughly 1600 to 1750 C.E. The main differentiating characteristic between the Late Renaissance and Baroque is that Baroque is considered dynamic while Renaissance is considered static.

Some words that are commonly used to describe Baroque art are spacious, colorful, dynamic, brilliant, theatrical (this was also a period of great popularity for live theatre), passionate, sensual, ecstatic, opulent, extravagant, versatile and virtuoso. Events going on during this time period both inside and outside the art world affected the appearance of the art that was being created.

One of the societal influences on art was the feeling of nationalism prevalent in this region. There were wars going on in America as well as between the Renaissance cities. Citizens of the cities were feeling loyal to their hometowns and this was reflected in the visual art.

Also during this time period major advances were being made in the fields of science, including astronomy and physics. Some of the people who played major roles in this advancement of science were Galileo, Kepler, and Newton. Three aspects of art that were greatly influenced, but not completely transformed, by science were space, time, and light.


Never before had outer space been studied so closely and with such great detail. The concept of the universe and outer space seeped into the visual arts. Milton describes the new understanding as “the vast and boundless deep.” The new concept of space can been seen particularly in the Perspective Illusionism of Fra Andrea Pozzo.


In centuries previous light was primarily conceptual and was very important in religious depictions. Not only was light ethereal, as seen in gothic architecture, but it was also a symbolic representation of truth and the Holy Spirit. Now light became a physical entity. An example of this new concept of light is Gianlorenzo Bernini’s (also known as Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini) Ecstasy of St. Theresa. In this sculpture gold spikes, representing rays of light from above, seem to lunge toward the figures. In order to further accentuate the light in the piece, a small opening is located above the spikes so they shine with actual sunlight.


The concept of time played important roles in religion, psychology, philosophy, and literature. Previously people could not and did not attempt to define time. Time was accepted as a concept and not something that exists in reality. During this period however scientists began to apply measurements to the concept of time bringing it closer to being an actual aspect of nature. Artists began use time as a central theme in much of their work; often it was depicted as fleeting and fierce.

Scientists began to study nature through careful observation and experimentation. Artists did the same, studying the human figure closer than had ever been done before and adding elements of the natural to depictions of the ideal (classicism). Artists continued to use space, time, and light symbolically and to create art that illustrated the invisible and unchanging truth. However, in the Baroque period artists began to add naturalism to their paintings believing that since nature was pure and perfect it would make their artwork more valid.

Finally artists had all the tools they needed to created realistic art that was completely convincing and accurate. They could move on and concentrate more on the drama of human life than the recreation of it on a flat surface.

Source: Gardner's Art Through the Ages Tenth Edition

Ba*roque" (&?;), a. [F.; cf. It. barocco.] (Arch.)

In bad taste; grotesque; odd.


© Webster 1913

Ba*roque" (?), a.

Irregular in form; -- said esp. of a pearl.


© Webster 1913

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