CCSF MUS27A Symposium musician with
                      his seven-stringed lyre beside the fluted column
                      of a building, ca. 460 b.c. University of
                      Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology (c) Instructor: Larry Ferrara  
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Music Appreciation

Week 8


THE BAROQUE (1600-1750)


A fugue is a piece of music based on a highly systematized procedure of imitative polyphony based on a single theme called a subject. During the course of a fugue various "voices" enter in imitative counterpoint much like a canon or a round.

A fugue is written for a set number of "voices" which are played by instruments or sung. It begins with a single voice or instrument stating the theme (the " fugue subject") of the piece. The fugue subject comes in alone by itself in monophonic texture but the remaining parts of the fugue is in intense polyphonic texture. Then a second voice takes up the subject while the first voice continues on with a new, independent melody, known as a "countersubject." Then a third voice may take up the subject while the first two go their separate ways. There are as many entries of the fugue theme as there are voices. (Most fugues are written for two to four voices.) When all the fugue' voices are going at once, the effect is that of a conversation between different melodies, each commenting on or echoing what the other is saying, while each voice retains its individual characteristic.

Once all the voices or instruments have stated the fugue subject, the composer's challenge is to develop the material of that has been presented in the most inventive and clever ways possible. At this point, recurrences of the theme alternate with passages known as "episodes." These passages, which are often derived from fragments of the theme and its countersubject, provide variety and eventually lead to new statements of the complete fugue subject in different keys and registers. These returning sections are called “restatements."


Young Bach.

The composer's most important and difficult task in writing a fugue is to maintain variety and constant interest without introducing material that is not somehow related to the fugue subject. During the Baroque period and forever since the greatest composer of fugues was Johann Sebastian Bach. He was able to achieve the complexities of the fugue seemingly without effort, making his fugues models of concise inventiveness and profound beauty.

The parts of a fugue are as follows:

 Subject: The theme of a fugue. The subject starts the fugue in monophonic texture.

 Exposition: The fugue subject is announced by all the voices of the fugue in imitative polyphony.

 Episode: Modulatory passages built on motivic material drawn from the subject. There are no complete subject statements in an episode.

 Re-statement: Return of the fugue subject in various keys and modes.

 Coda: A short ending to the highly polyphony writing and very often a brief shift in texture to homophony to tell the listener the polyphony is coming to a close. Codas are helpful to conclude a fugue but are not always present.

Listen to just a Fugue Subject by J.S. Bach.


Listen to how that Fugue Subject is imitated and then developed.


Music Notation

Listen to the Fugue in E flat, BWV 852 by J.S. Bach. Notice in the music notation above, how the opening notes are copied by a lower voice three measures later.


Listen to a Fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier by J.S. Bach. It is played on a modern piano instead of a harpsichord.


GROUND BASS (continued)

A motive, phrase, or theme in the bass repeated again and again as the basis for a composition. A basso continuo is when a bass instrument that very often plays this bass line which is reinforced with "continuous" chords or connecting harmonies played by a harpsichord. Most Ground Bass forms in the Baroque period had florid polyphony above the steady Ground. Certainly that is the case in both "Canon in D" as well as the "Passacaglia" in C minor by J.S. Bach.

Listen to the most famous Ground Bass in Classical Music written by the Baroque Composer Johann Pachelbel. It is the "Canon" in D, also known as "Pachelbel's Canon."


Listen to another Ground Bass this time by J.S. Bach from his "Passacaglia" in C minor." Notice how the "ground" or melody in the bass is stated alone before it is repeated over and over while the other voices spin polyphony above it.




Music that is performed one person per part is called Chamber Music. Chamber Music is different from Orchestral Music because Orchestral Music (music for an orchestra) has the parts doubled. For example, if there are 14 first violins in an orchestra then all of the first violins play the same music, doubling the parts. When there are 14 second violins they have different music from the first violins but together all 14 second violins play the same music within their section. In Chamber Music there is only one person per part.


Baroque harpsichord.

The most common form of Chamber Music during the Baroque period was called the Trio Sonata. A sonata is any instrumental work in multiple movements. In the Baroque Era a trio was really an instrumental work for 4 instruments. Because the harpsichord was almost always present accompanying chords in all sorts of Baroque ensembles it wasn't factored into the genre Trio Sonata. The typical instruments in a Trio Sonata are two treble, one bass and one harpsichord. The harpsichord was the favored continuo instrument of the Baroque and it usually accompanied instrumental pieces playing chords. If a harpsichord wasn't available then an organ or a Baroque Lute was used instead. Continuo stands for the continuous sound of the harpsichord or some other instrument playing chords.




Drama presented in music, with the characters singing instead of speaking. The concept of drama presented in music came into being during the Baroque era when musical interludes (intermezzi) where placed between acts of a play and sung to the events of the previous or forthcoming act. Opera grew out of madrigal. Florentine composers felt that the many voices of a madrigal ensemble could only dilute strong emotions, not concentrate them. The Florentines developed a new style of solo singing that was half music, half recitation. This led to opera invented in 1600 and it became one of the most important and characteristic products of Baroque imagination. It has all of the Baroque ideals of grandeur, flamboyance and all encompassing art. Opera has embellished stage sets, elaborate costume design and often involves not only singers but a chorus and sometimes dancers.

During the Baroque period opera had strong divisions between aria and recitative. The subjects and story lines were drawn from serious, heroic and legendary themes. The inspiration for Baroque opera came from ancient Greece (Opera Seria).

Schwarzenberg collection of
                              theatralia and theatre repertoir, costume
                              design,middle 18th century.

Schwarzenberg collection of theatralia and theatre repertoir, costume design,middle 18th century.

Aria - A section of an opera where a singer gets his or her feelings out in the character they are portraying. They do this by singing a soliloquy or meditation based on a recent event or stirring emotion presented in an opera. A singer mulling over ones feelings as to ponder or ruminate an action or emotion. Arias were accompanied by the orchestra in an opera.


Recitative - A section in an opera in which a singer recites words to music. Recitative is more expressive than ordinary speech but less melodious (tuneful) than song or aria. It is like dramatic speech.




An opera on a religious subject. An oratorio is a religious opera and an oratorio like an opera has soloists, orchestra and chorus and sometimes also a narrator. Often oratorios are not staged in that the characters (singers) are in regular concert attire and not in costumes. Well known oratorios are Handel's "Messiah" which is based on the three stages in the life of Christ, (birth, teaching, resurrection) and also the "Christmas Oratorio" by J.S. Bach.




A one act religious opera to be performed before the sermon of the Sunday service. The text in a cantata is the weekly prayer. Some cantatas are secular but most are religious. Cantatas are shorter than Oratorios in that they are only in one act. Oratorios are in several acts or parts.






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