Forgotten Baroque Music

Europe’s era of baroque music (ca. 1600–1750) comprises most of the oldest historical compositions still widely played today, with some notable exceptions such as medieval church chorals and renaissance lutists. Everyone at all interested in the subject knows the baroque grandmasters: Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643), Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672), Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713), Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741), Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767), Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Georg Friedrich Händel (1685–1759).

But as a fan of the baroque style in general, I have also collected a number of works by lesser-known artists over the years. When I recently tweeted some examples a follower suggested a blog post on the subject. So here you go, a selection of baroque composers in my library that you might not have heard of, each with a sample of his work. I’m extending the time period some decades in both directions, as the transitional styles are interesting in their own right.

Early Transitional Period

  • William Brade (1560–1630), Hamburger Ratsmusik. An English composer who mostly worked in North Germany, here for the Hamburg city council.
  • Don Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1566–1613), Madrigals, Book 6. An actual nobleman who killed his first wife along with her lover, then went on to write numerous madrigals (secular) and tenebrae (sacral).
  • Michael Praetorius (1571–1621), Dances from Terpsichore. The only surviving secular work of a very active Lutheran church composer (“Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”) and musical theorist (Syntagma Musicum).
  • Johann Hermann Schein (1586–1630), Banchetto Musicale. His only collection of instrumental music, this suite of dances is still quite typical of the older renaissance style.
  • Samuel Scheidt (1587–1654), Ludi Musici. A fine suite of canzonas, but Scheidt is also notable as a pioneer of North German organ music, and for staying in Germany during the entire Thirty Years War.

Main Baroque Period

  • Johann Pachelbel (1653–1706), Hexachordum Apollinis. Everyone knows his Canon in D major and any churchgoer knows his organ music, but I decided to include him anyway as the bulk of his secular work is largely forgotten today.
  • Henry Purcell (1659–1695), Sonatas no.1–7. The only composer listed here not present in my library, but too important to omit. Most famous for dramatic and religious works that I’m less interested in, but I do like these sonatas I found.
  • Giovanni Bononcini (1670–1747), Divertimenti op.7. Largely forgotten today, Bononcini’s popularity rivaled Händel’s while both were present in London from 1720 to 1732. (The Whigs favored Händel, the Tories Bononcini.)
  • Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni (1671–1751), Oboe Concerto in D minor, op.9 no.2. One of the first composers to use the solo oboe. Unfortunately much of his work is lost – many operas were never published, and many works after the mid-1720s were destroyed in the WW2 bombing of the Dresden State Library.
  • Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745), Concerto a 8 in G major, ZWV 186. The eminent Czech composer began his career in Prague but worked mostly in Dresden, where J.S. Bach became his student in 1736 and held him in high esteem.
  • Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688–1758), Trumpet Concerto in D major. Highly regarded and widely performed in his days, although none of his many works were published until after his death. Telemann performed his church cantatas in 1733.
  • Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736), Stabat Mater. Dying at a tragically young age from tuberculosis, Pergolesi still left behind an impressive body of work of which his Stabat Mater is probably best known today.

French Baroque

The gradual German transition to a simpler classical style mostly did not happen in France. Instead, an ever-more refined baroque court music was brutally cut short by the revolution which forced composers to popularize their music for a paying audience, eventually leading to 19th century romanticism.

  • Jean-Baptiste Lully, born Giovanni Battista Lulli (1632–1687), Phaëton (Overture). An Italian working at the court of Louis XIV, he broke with several Italian musical traditions and came to define the French baroque style.
  • Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643–1704), Te Deum (Prelude). If you’re European chances are you know this piece, as it was chosen as the official fanfare of European Broadcasting Union productions, such the Eurovision song contest.
  • François Couperin (1668–1733), L’Apothéose de Lully. Known as “le Grand” to distinguish him from other musical family members. He dedicated pieces to colleagues Lully and Corelli, and Maurice Ravel later dedicated “Le tombeau de Couperin” to him in turn.
  • Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764), Dardanus (Suite). Lully’s successor as the dominant French opera writer. Operas in contemporary French style featured extensive purely instrumental pieces, exemplified by this Dardanus suite.
  • Jean-Marie Leclair (1697–1764), Violin & Flute Concertos. Member of a musical family like Couperin and therefore known as “l’aîné” (the elder) for distinction. Author of numerous chamber and orchestral pieces mostly focused on the violin, his own instrument.

Late Transitional Period

  • Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788), Cello Concerto in A minor, Wq 170. J.S. Bach’s second son exemplifies the “sensitive style” (empfindsamer Stil) during the transition from baroque to classical era.
  • Johann Stamitz, born Jan Václav Antonín Stamic (1717–1757), Trio in A major, op.1 no.2. The Czech composer and violinist founded the influential Mannheim school, one of the major centers responsible for creating the classical style.
  • Ignaz Jakob Holzbauer (1711–1783), Quintet in B flat major, was the teacher of Stamitz at Mannheim, and Franz Xaver Richter (1709–1789), String Quartet in B flat major, op.5 no.2, was one of the Mannheim school’s earliest members.
  • Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782), Quintet in D major, op.11 no.6. J.S. Bach’s youngest son spent five months teaching composition to the eight-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who later acknowledged an artistic debt to him.
  • Johann Franz Xaver Sterkel (1750–1817), Symphony in D major, op.35 no.1. One of the first composers in the archetypical classical style, he evidently made a lasting impression on young Beethoven who visited in 1791. A fitting final entry to this list.

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