The word ‘Baroque’ comes from the Portuguese word Barroco which means ‘deformed pearl’. In music, historians generally place the early Baroque era from about 1600-1750. Before it became associated with the movement itself, which spanned across art, literature and music alike, the word Baroque was used to describe something abnormal, irregular, or grotesque.

The term was first applied to Rameau’s opera Hippolyte et Aricie (1733) to highlight the boldness, extravagance and incoherence. In art criticism, ‘Baroque’ was used to pinpoint the decadent final stages of the Renaissance era. In fact, it was only in the 19th century when the art critics Burckhardt and Baedeker persuaded the masses that anything flamboyant and extravagant was not necessarily in bad taste, that the word began to be awarded more positive connotations. The change came a little later in music criticism, around the 1920s and it was then that the baroque music period became affiliated with the parallel art and literature periods of the same timespan.

Of course, as with other epochs, the dates of the baroque period are only approximate as many composers before 1600 were already writing music which featured typically baroque traits and similarly many other traits were declining well before 1750. However, it is generally accepted that composers during this period were largely working within a set of compositional conventions and ideals akin only to the era, and unlike in previous decades, they composed music to move the affections and stimulate the emotions.

The baroque era can be loosely divided into early baroque and late baroque. Although the two heavyweights of baroque music, Handel and J.S. Bach are the most well-known figureheads of the era, they represent the latter part of the era and therefore much development of baroque music took place before they began composing.

For an A-Z list of composers click here.