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Monday, April 2, 2012
Catholicism in the Baroque Period of Music
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With the onset of the Renaissance, the Western World saw not only improved medicine, transportation methods, and artwork but also music.  Before the Renaissance, the vast majority of music was developed within and for the Sacred Liturgy and the Divine Office.  Most notably among these forms was Gregorian Chant, the chants of the Orthodox Church, and Old Roman Chant.

In 1600 until approximately 1750, music changed yet at least for this period (unlike later periods), the vast majority of the music written was still written and performed for the honor and glory of God.  Later periods saw music become a form of entertainment and devoid of its divinely commissioned role in ordering our senses to understand and appreciate the true, good, and beautiful.

Below is a summary of several key figures from the Baroque period and with them, selections of music appropriate for a Catholic. 

Johann Pachelbel - Canon in D Major



Pachelbel's birthdate has been lost to history; however, his baptismal date of September 1, 1653, would seem to indicate that he was born in late August of the same year. Over the course of his life before his death in 1706, Pachelbel composed a large body of sacred and secular music, and his contributions to the development of the chorale prelude and fugue have earned him a place among the most important composers of the Baroque period.

The above piece features one of Pachelbel's chamber songs scored for three violins and basso continuo and originally paired with a gigue. When Baroque music faded from popularity in the middle of the 18th century, the works of Pachelbel were virtually forgotten until the middle of the 20th century. His Canon in D Major is one of his most recognizable pieces, and certainly a common piece at weddings in our present day.

Arcangelo Corelli - Christmas Concerto in G Minor



Born in 1653, Corelli would become one of Italy's most famous violinists during the Baroque Period. As with most of the greats in the development of music, his career in music began at an early age. By the age of 19, he was already renowned in Paris for his talent.

In 1685 Corelli was in Rome, where he led the festival performances of music for Her Royal Highness Queen Christina of Sweden. He was also a favorite of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, grandnephew of another Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who in 1689 became Pope Alexander VIII.

Corelli's contributions to the development of music extended beyond his compositions. His sphere of influence stretched far outside of Italy. Even Johann Sebastian Bach studied the works of Corelli.

Corelli composed 48 trio sonatas, 12 violin and continuo sonatas, and 12 concerti grossi. The piece above is taken from his Christmas Concerto in G Minor.

Johann Sebastian Bach - St. John's Passions





Much can be said of the great Johann Sebastian Bach. His influence far outreaches the previously two mentioned composers. Among those in the world today, Bach (next to Beethoven and Mozart) is one of the most widely known musicians. In the videos above, please listen to the beauty of his account of the Passion of our Lord According to St. John.

As a word of caution, when referring to Bach, refer to him either as JSB or Johann Sebastian Bach or JS Bach. JS Bach had over 20 children, many of which became musicians and went on to compose pieces in the Classical Period (1750 - 1830) that would also become quite famous. Among his children are JC Bach and CPE Bach. CPE Bach, for instance, wrote over 50 orchestral pieces and 100 chorale pieces!

George Frideric Handel - Zadok the Priest, Messiah





Born in 1685 and living until just after the end of the Baroque period, Handel is well recognized among Catholics who are familiar with sacred Advent music. His "Messiah" is one of the most widely performed pieces in Sacred concerts during Advent and for many families is a yearly tradition. The two pieces above are two of his most famous works and reveal the depth that Catholicism was rooted in music of the Baroque period. "Zadok the Priest" is so popular that is has been performed at every coronation of a king or queen ever since it was composed!

Antonio Vivaldi- Gloria



Antonio Vivaldi, one Fr. Vivladi, was a unique example of the union between the life Baroque composer and the life of a priest. Born in Venice, Vivaldi went on to be ordained a priest of the Holy Catholic Church.Vivaldi composed hundreds of instrumental pieces and is remembered for, among other works, his Four Seasons. The Four Seasons are regarded by some as the most recorded piece in all of classical music.

His Gloria, which is featured in the above video, is also one of his most famous pieces. The Gloria e Imeneo was originally written for the Nuptial Mass of His Royal Highness Louis XV.

Conclusion

The music of the Baroque Period was deeply united with a sense of the divine within music. Each of these composers not only wrote secular music, but each wrote music set aside solely for God's honor. Even the secular pieces they composed were constructed in a way to move the listener to a deeper sense of respect for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.

Many of these pieces are available for purchase on Amazon. If you do purchase any of them, please use the following widget. In so doing, A Catholic Life will earn around 5%.


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