The HOASM Site Guide

From the Ninth Century onwards, a new kind of music began to appear, in which the older chants were implemented by additional voice parts of increasingly independent character. The gradual melodic and rhythmic independence of these 'counter parts' led eventually to the rich polyphonic music of the later mediaeval period. From the beginning of the Twelfth Century, the composers of secular song (the knightly troubadours, trouvères and Minnesingers ) and of vocal and instrumental dance music also began to make use of polyphonic settings. The climax of this development of polyphony was reached in the French Ars Nova of the Fourteenth Century, with Guillaume de Machaut (died 1377) as its leading master.

Only a little later than the rise of the Ars Nova , but probably independently, a secular musical art of great vitality arose in Upper and Central Italy, linked with the growth of a vernacular literature, which had its centre in the Florence of Dante and his successors. The leading figure of this period was Francesco Landini (died 1397) who was a poet as well as a composer. This Italian style was imitated in Germany by Oswald von Wolkenstein , 'the last of the Minnesingers,' who had visited Italy in the entourage of King Rupert in 1401. In Germany, where the chief interest was given to polyphonic settings of folksongs, the Mastersingers flourished as a bourgeois echo of the Minnesingers. In England a further development of the Florentine style led to a climax in the group of composers centred around John Dunstable (died 1453). After them came the Netherlander or Burgundian masters, who dominated European music for several generations. The two leading composers, among the first two generations of these Netherlanders were Guillaume Dufay (died 1474) and Johannes Ockeghem (died 1495).

With Josquin des Prés (died 1521) and Heinrich Isaac (died 1517) the two outstanding masters of the third generation of the Netherlands School , the influence of the Netherlanders extended over the whole of Europe. The contact of their art with the music of other nations, led to a variety of characteristic national genres: the glorious development of the social art of the madrigal , chanson and lied : the climax of Catholic and the rise of Evangelical church music : the independent development of domestic music for the organ, lute , clavichord, spinet and gamba, and of instrumental ensemble music: the development of the Venetian music for several groups of choirs and instruments, with its splendid ostentation, and the Golden Age of church and secular music in England ( Thomas Tallis , Orlando Gibbons , Thomas Morley , John Dowland , William Byrd and many others). The Netherlander Lassus (died 1594) in Munich and the Italian Palestrina (died 1594) in Rome were the two outstanding masters of the second half of the century, and the Royal Courts, from that of the German Emperor Maximilian I to that of Queen Elizabeth I of England, were the main centres of music making.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century opera was born in Florence,derived partly from the development of musical dialogs, and partly from the efforts of the Humanists to revive classical tragedy. Its essential means of exxpression was the solo song, which became a new vehicle for expressing human emotion. This solo song also revealed fresh aesthetic possibilities outisde the theatre in the new 'monody,' which later developed into the chamber cantata. From the combination of several solo voices with one another, or with instruments, or with chorus, there came the vocal concerto and the oratorio. Claudio Monteverdi (died 1643) in Venice, and Giacomo Carissimi (died 1674) in Rome, were the first great masters of this 'Baroque' music. As a counterpart to the sung 'cantata,' the 'toccata' for keyboard instruments found its first eminent exponent in Girolamo Frescobaldi (died 1643). at the some time the appliaction of the accompanied solo style to instrumental music led to the rise of the 'sonata' (solo or trio) which reached its first peak in the works of Giovanni Legrenzi (died 1690). The Italian preference for stringed instruments led to the classical age of violin making.

The rise of the Italians as the leading composers in Europe induced the more important German musicians to go to Italy for their training. Heinrich Schütz was the most accomplished German exponent of the new style, especially in the field of vocal church music. The organ variations of the last great Netherlander Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck influenced the harpsichord and organ music of Samuel Scheidt , whilst Johann Jakob Froberger (died 1667) was more inclined towards the Italian Frescobaldi . A peculiarly German form of monody arose in secular and religious solo song: dance music was elaborated into "suites' of several movements, above all by Johann Hermann Schein . The religious vocal concerto developed further into the church cantata, based on specially written texts as well as on Biblical excerpts and chorales.

England had an outstanding genius in Henry Purcell (died 1695), the 'Orpheus Britannicus,' most celebrated for his compositions for the great English dramas, but also a composer of universal range. In France Jean Baptiste Lully (died 1687), an Italian who had migrated to Paris in Early youth, set the classical seal on French opera, and as chief 'conductor' to Louis XIV, provided ballet music and operatic suites for the festivities of 'Le Roi Soleil.' French composers for the harpsichord, and above all François Couperin 'the Great' (died 1733) adopted the principle of the suite to keyboard music, at the same time introducing elements of tonepainting and program music. In this way the powerful energy of the Baroque was transformed more and more into the delicate and graceful art of the Rococo, of which the chief musical representative is Jean Philippe Rameau (died 1764). French composers also wrote sonatas, not only for the violin and the gamba, but also for the woodwind instruments (flute, oboe and bassoon) which their craftsmen constructed with such great skill.

In Italy in the eighteenth century the transition from the early to the late Baroque saw the division of solo song into declamatory recitative and cantabile aria, a procedure practised in Neapolitan opera, and particularly by its leading master Alessandro Scarlatti (died 1725). An unprecedented virtuosity in the art of "Bel canto' led to the flooding of Europe with Italian singers and opera companies. Even more productive than the serious opera was the "Buffa", in its development of the ensemble. In instrumental music the application of the concerto principle led to the development of the Concerto Grosso ( Arcangelo Corelli , died 1713) and the solo concerto ( Antonio Vivaldi , died 1741). Domenico Scarlatti (died 1757) represents a late blossoming of virtuoso music for the harpsichord, as does Giuseppe Tartini (died 1770) in the realm of the violin sonata.

German music in the eighteenth century, influenced by Neapolitan tunefulness and French elegance, began to develop "popular" aspects. The solo aria was simplified into the simple religious song, dance song and pastoral song. at the smae time the acme of aristocratic music-making, in both opera and chamber music, was attained at the courts, such as Dresden, and in particular at Potsdam, where the music loving King Frederick the Great (d. 1786) played the flute and wrote conceros and sonatas for the instrument. Outstanding composers and virtuosos such as Johann Joachim Quantz (d. 1773) played in the Royal Orchestra, which was direcetd by the operatic composer Karl Heinrich Graun (d. 1759). But by far the most versatile and prolific composer of the period was george Philipp Telemann (d. 1767), whose centre of activity in the City of Hamburg epitomizes bourgeois music-making of the royal courts.

The emergence of the Rococo style had been in many respects a revolt against the more severe forms of the earlier Baroque music. At the same time, although Italian music and musicians were still dominant in the field of opera, all through Northern Europe a number of local schools, particularly in the field of instrumental music, arose around the middle of the eighteenth century. Paris was the centre of music in Northern Europe, but other, equally important, schools flourished in London (where J. C. Bach was soon to become the leading composer), Mannheim (where a series of Bohemian musicians were gradually establishing a new orchestral technique), Berlin (which remained rather old-fashioned in its tastes, and where C. P. E. Bach first began to write his major works before moving to Hamburg), and Vienna. As matters turned out, Vienna and the surrounding Austrian empire became the geographical centre for the emergence of a new school which has in the course of time acquired the name "Viennese Classical Style."

The second half of the 18th century brought many new developments. Out of the suite grew the popular serenade, and from that the more fastidious string quartet. In solo song the later Berlin School completed the return to nature, and stressed the popular element. Bach's sons, especially Carl Philipp Emanuel (died 1788) reflect the passionate "Sturm und Drang" movement, particularly in keyboard music. In a similar manner the Mannheim School furthered the development of modern symphonic art. Gluck (died 1787) led Italian and French opera towards a new truth of dramatic expression, whilst the "Singspiel," the German form of comic opera, began to flourish. The authority of Haydn (died 1809) and Mozart (died 1791) was recognized as the classical style grew out of the "Sturm und Drang" and as an early forerunner of the romantic period the "Biedermeier" developed from the sentimentality of the late "Galant" style.

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