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Piano Music, Baroque and Nationalism Influences Essay


Please describe the characteristics of keyboard music in the Baroque period. Name two important composers and talk about their contribution to the keyboard repertoire at the time?

The keyboard music of the Baroque period has exhibited the features characteristic of the other forms of art of the period: the increasingly complex and ornate patterns and the virtuosic and exquisite nature of the composition. Another notable feature, extended from the Renaissance period, was the influence of other cultures. The music has become more cosmopolitan. Finally, the feature unique to keyboards of the Baroque era was the introduction of a basso continuo, which was essentially the extension of a monody (Wright 90). The music was written for the specific instruments, which further extended the complexity capabilities.

The composer most often credited for almost universally shaping the early Baroque music is Johann Sebastian Bach, whose improvisations and basso continuo utilization had made him notorious in his day, but alienated the public. While he laid out the foundation of the Baroque music for organ and harpsichord, it was Lodovico Giustini who has perfected it. His sonate da Chiesa has taken the possibilities of the piano to the limit, utilizing the wide dynamic contrast and modulation to remote keys (Neumann 46).

How to play pedal in Baroque and early Classical piano repertoire on the modern piano?

Although the Baroque music was written for the instruments without pedals, the use of pedals on a modern piano is advised when playing it. The reasons for this are:

The construction of the harpsichord did not include dampers, which resulted in the longer resonation of strings. To compensate for this and avoid “dry” sonority, the use of sustain pedal is advised. Besides, certain effects unique to baroque music are only achievable while using pedals, such as the rhythmical structure or a legato that emphasizes a specific harmony (Vartic par. 4).

The music written for organ utilizes its powerful sonority that remains stable as long as the key is pressed (Vartic par. 3). The only way to simulate this effect is by using the sustain pedal. The switch of the organ registers can, in turn, be simulated with the soft pedal.

The use of the pedal in classical music is more complicated. The majority of compositions demand calculation and accuracy in applying pedal. Almost all of the works of the Classical Era, including those of Mozart and Haydn, are traditionally played without applying the pedal, although minor disagreement on this matter exists among the music scholars. Its use is most characteristic of the period of transition to the Romantic Era, most notably in works authored by Beethoven in his late period of work. (Vartic par. 5).

Discuss Nationalism in the piano repertoire. Give three composers from three different countries as examples.

The Baroque music has emerged simultaneously across Europe, and while its mutual influence was apparent, several attempts were made by composers of various countries to create a distinct style of music, unique to a particular nation. This phenomenon, known as musical nationalism, was particularly apparent in French and Italian Baroque music. While both used variations of basso continuo, the Italians largely followed the general trend of virtuoso compositions and highly ornate structures, while the French composed more subtle and eloquent music. Jean-Baptiste Lully is the perfect example of the latter, as all of his music exhibits power and liveliness, and is perfectly suited for dancing.

Lully is credited for the invention of the French overture – the musical form not characteristic of the rest of Europe, and later utilized by Bach. These are contrasted by Alessandro Scarlatti, whose famous style, while credited as a transition to the Classical period, exhibits all the rich and intricate details characteristic for the late Baroque period, including the experimentation with modulations and phase lengths (Bachus 107).

While his contributions to the keyboard genre are not numerous, the complexity of his music can be matched to that of Johann Sebastian Bach. George Frideric Handel can arguably be named a representative of the German Baroque tradition, despite working in London for a considerable time. While his music is mostly based on Italian school, the influence of the German polyphonic tradition and the four-part harmonies perfected by Bach are apparent (Williams 21).

Comparison of keyboard sonata in Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods

One of the musical forms that emerged during the Baroque period was the sonata. During the late Baroque period, the sonatas were mostly written for the string instruments, and existed in the very basic form, with the multitude of the harmonic forms that served as a basis for it. The only composer who paid enough attention to this musical form was Domenico Scarlatti, who has composed over five hundred of them.

With the coming of the Classical era and the shift from the harpsichord to the piano, sonatas have risen to tremendous popularity, were cemented, defined as a form, and attained the majority of their features. At this point, many Classical composers have contributed to it, including Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Haydn, and Clementi. The latter was particularly prolific, composing over a hundred piano sonatas and establishing a standard that is still maintained today with his Opus 2.

Towards the Romantic era, sonatas have lost their popularity in favor of other genres. Both Franz Schubert and Franz Liszt have interpreted the form in Wanderer Fantasie and Sonata in B minor, respectively, adding the unparalleled complexity and programmatic elements (Gibbs 144).

List three living composers with piano works and their contributions to piano music

The deviation between contemporary piano music genres is huge. On the one side of the spectrum are minimalist composers, like Steve Reich and Philip Glass, although Glass distances himself from the definition of “minimalist” and points to the fact that his usage of counterpoint and harmony puts him among the musicians of the classical era. Reich, on the other hand, is more innovative with his use of slow rhythm and phasing patterns. Both compose the beautiful, haunting, almost hypnotic music which is easily approachable by the general public, to the point where it is used in feature films, like Koyaanisqatsi, featuring the pieces by Glass, and the variety of works by Reich in the electronic music. On the other side of the spectrum are works of James Dillon, which exemplify the complexity and evolutions to the point where no passage is repeated within a single work.

Works Cited

Bachus, Nancy. The Baroque Piano: The Influence of Society, Style, and Musical Trends on the Great Piano Composers, NewYork: Alfred, 2006. Print.

Gibbs, Christopher. The Cambridge Companion to Schubert, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.

Neumann, Frederic. Ornamentation in Baroque and Post-baroque Music, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983. Print.

Vartic, Ilinca. . 2011. Web.

Williams, Peter. Bach, Handel, Scarlatti 1685-1985, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Print.

Wright, Craig. Listening to Western Music, Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage Learning, 2016. Print.

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