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Curtis 1
Kris Curtis
A Compare and Contrast Between the Baroque and Classical Period Concerto
“I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings,”
states Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, an Austrian composer, teacher, and performer of the Classical
period. This statement by Mozart reflects the change in compositional writing in music during the late
18th century, as composers sought a new means of expression, being drama. Throughout the course of
music history, during the Baroque and Classical periods, there has been a continuous advancement of a
musical genre known as the concerto. The concerto, from 1600 – 1820 ca, went through two periods of
evolution during the Baroque and Classical periods. Elements that contribute to the evolution of the
concerto include different structural, harmonic, contexts of performance, and ways of conveying
expression. The differences, as well as the similarities, between the Baroque and Classical concerto
will be discussed according to the stated elements.
The Baroque period for music history covers from 1600 – 1750 ca. and offers us the first
glimpses of how the concerto came to be. The concerto has its first roots in the sacred idiom of music.
Italian music scholar, Marco Scacchi (ca 1600 – 1697), in his classifications of early Baroque music,
classified the concerto as the most progressive genre of church music in Western music. The concerto,
historians find, originally developed from the Renaissance motet. Music was the master of the text for
the most part, and concertato scoring (wind/string instruments or organ doubling voice part and
occasionally having independent lines) was becoming the norm. The first composer to designate the
term “concerto” was the Italian composer Lodovico Grossi da Viadana (ca 1560 – 1629). Viadana
composed a series of pieces in monody texture (one voice line playing melody and a keyboard
instrument playing basso continuo) called Cento Concerti Ecclesiastici (One Hundred Church
Concertos) in 1602. Concertos in early Baroque sacred music are typically for one, two, or three voices
with an unfigured basso continuo line. These concertos employed conservative harmonies of the “first
practice” of composition (music guides the text). Towards the middle 17th century we see the concerto
Curtis 2
become more elaborate and evolve into a staple of the worship service in both Lutheran and Roman
Catholic churches. Heinrich Schutz (1585 - 1672) is credited with helping incorporate the concerto into
Lutheran services all across the Germany during The Thirty Years War. Schutz primarily worked in
Dresden, Germany most of his career. In the sphere of influences Schutz encountered, no two people
influenced him more than Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi. Gabrieli and Monteverdi had a
profound impact on Schutz, as much of his compositional writing reflects their styles with Schutz’s
intent to combine monody texture with the aesthetics of the Italians and with German language. Schutz
wrote many works for both churches, Lutheran and Roman Catholic, but the most acclaimed piece of
music he composed is entitled Kleine Geistliche Concerten (Little Sacred Concertos), having been
published in 1636. The texture of these little concertos is very limited. It consists of 1-2 voices singing
in German with an accompaniment of 1-2 strings. After the mid 17th century, we see a shift in the
context of where concerti are principally being played. In the late 17th century, the Baroque concerto
starts to become a genre with more secular ties, with performances ranging from small informal
amateur groups to orchestras of upwards to thirty players playing for private wealthy homes.
Composers begin in this part of the Baroque, to expand on the concertato principle that is seen early
Baroque grand concertos (polychoral scoring, concertato doubling of instruments to voices, using the
principle of cori spezzati) for the Roman Catholic Church. Ultimately, the concertato scoring plus the
ensemble typically used for a sonata, which for this purpose expanded in terms to an orchestra became
known as the late Baroque concerto. Georg Muffat (1653 -1704) dutifully described the structure of
these concertos in detail. Muffat was a German composer who was under the influence of JeanBaptiste Lully and Arcangelo Corelli. In his Auserlesene Instrumental – Music (Selected Instrumental
Music, 1701), Muffat describes the concerto as a genre that can be flexible within its texture.
According to him, the concerto ensemble at the very least needed four players to make a trio. This trio
would consist usually of two violins, a basso continuo instrument, and a cello or a violne to play the
bass line of the piece. Muffat also entails that if one needs to conduct a concerto with a large orchestra,
Curtis 3
it would be fine to put as many as four players per part. In the late Baroque period, we see the
introduction of concerto subgenres, being the solo concerto and the concerto grosso (big concerto). The
solo concerto consists of alternating sections of ritornello (tutti orchestral section) and soloistic
episodes played by one soloist. A concerto grosso is like that of a solo concerto, but instead of having
one soloist in the episode play; there is the addition of a small solo group (concertino) that plays the
episodes. On average, the typical orchestra would average around twelve to twenty players in the late
Baroque. Today the person we can credit with the formal structure of the Baroque concerto is a
Bolognese composer by the name of Giuseppe Torelli (1658 – 1709). He describes the concerto as
having three movements, which would alternate between fast, slow, and fast tempos. The first and
third movements would have a plan where there would be a stark contrast between tutti orchestral
sections of the ritornello and the virtuosic episodes for the soloist. The tonal organization of the
concerto starts by the orchestra playing a harmonically stable ritornello section. The soloist or
concertino group would play the next section of virtuosic melodic material with minimal
accompaniment. The episodes for the soloist(s) tended to explore a wide array of keys through
modulation. The ritornellos following an episode may or may not present a tonicization (harmonic
stabilization) of the modulated ended key in an episode. The first and last ritornellos are usually in the
stabilizing the tonic key of the concerto. Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741), an Italian composer, teacher,
and virtuosic violin player, is associated with being the master of the Italian Baroque concerto. He
composed over 500 concertos, the majority of which are composed for violin, and he is known for his
exquisite composition of concerto ritornellos in particular. Vivaldi’s ritornellos often had strong
driving motivic material, Corellian cadential patterns (IV - V – I), and the distinctness of ritornello
themes being at different lengths throughout the concerto in order to propel the intensity of the humor
(feeling) being conveyed. Furthermore, we see the Baroque concerto as having contrast that was
essential to the society’s musical conventions of the time. Contrasting between the orchestra and a
soloist(s) gave music the expression, ornamentation, and virtuosic displays of musicianship that were
Curtis 4
valued in the Baroque. Today the concerto is looked upon as instrumental music’s first large-scale
design of form based upon unity and contrast.
The Classical period in music history spans from 1750 – 1820 ca. In the early part of the
period, pieces of the Baroque Concerto started to undergo some changes. The concerto grosso for
example gradually declines in popularity, and with the exception of a few scarce examples here and
there, the concerto grosso does not come back into popularity. However, the concept of using multiple
solo players in the concerto grosso does transfer for a time beginning in the Classical genre called
sinfonia concertante. Many of the sinfonia concertante were composed and played with many
orchestras through the later part of the 18th century, but eventually it too died out as the solo concerto
became increasingly ever more popular. Solo concertos for the most part were written for any
instrument that typically played in the orchestra. The fortepiano and the violin were by far the most
popular instruments for composers to write solo concertos. Solo concertos and sinfonia concertantes
adopted the three-movement plan that many of the Baroque concerto had used previously. The
movements of the concerto are generally categorized by tempo, and usually follow the order of fastslow-fast. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), many consider, is the premiere composer of the
concerto genre in the late Classical period. From 1781 – 1791, Mozart began writing concertos as a
means of making a living during the Vienna years. Whether it was in the idiom of composition (for
public music demand) or for promoting his own music when he performed, Mozart had officially
become a freelancer who was successful until up to the last few years of his life in making steady
wages. The Mozart concertos of the Classical period have integrating thematic material tightly knit
soloistic work within the new classical form. This a characteristic of many concertos Mozart wrote.
Down below is a diagram of how the Classical concerto would look form wise in sonata form.
Structure of Sonata form in the Classical Concerto
Exposition
Ritornello
First theme Second theme Closing theme
I__________________________________I
Solo
First theme (transition)
I
Second theme
V
Curtis 5
(New material) New material
Second theme
New material
Ritornello
Closing theme
V_________V
Development
Recapitulation
Solo
Fantasy
First theme (transition)
Modulates/Tonicizes I
Ritornello
Closing theme
I__________I
The Classical concerto form notated above uses the alternating ritornello – solo sections of the
Baroque concerto, but also infuses sonata-allegro form to guide the path of thematic material that is
tied to the tonal organization. The tonal organization comes from the Baroque concerto except for the
“development” section that incorporates several modulations. Occasionally there are times when
composers will expand on the above form and add an additional ritornello section just before the solo
section of the recapitulation. As should be noted, the sonata form was generally used for the first and
sometimes third movement of a concerto. The second movement could be a variety of forms such as
theme and variations or ABA form, where as the third movement usually consisted of a rondo in
ABACA form (five-part rondo). When Mozart first writes in the stated Classical concerto sonata form
form, his purpose was to appeal to a mass audience in order to be successful as a freelancing composer
and performer. Sonata-allegro form had been extremely popular and recognizable ever since the mid
18th century. Mozart’s aim was to fuse sonata form within an older Baroque concerto form, so that
listeners and players of all abilities would be acquainted with the music in some manner or form. With
the advent of such a revolutionary idea in musical form, musicians of the Classical period began
shifting their models of expression from the rhetorical to being more drama based. One can see that in
concertos of the Classical period there is a basis for the concerto structure itself to propel drama-like
competition between the orchestra (ritornello) and the soloist (episode) sections. Throughout the both
these periods, the concerto is stabilized as genre of instrumental music that has influence even on how
composer’s today write their own concertos.
Bibliography
Curtis 6
1. Moncur, Michael. "Quotation Details". The Quotations Page. 3/5/2010
<http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/30937.html>.
2. Seaton, Douglas. Ideas and Styles in the Western Musical Tradition. Mountain View: Mayfield
Publishing Company, 1991.