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A Distinction between Classical and Baroque Styles of Music

Updated on December 5, 2011

From the 1600’s through the 1900’s, two distinct forms of musical composition and periods came into play that would change the way the world looked at musical performance in all its revelations. Baroque music displayed music that expressed drama, expression of self and talent in retrospect to the way church felt had previously felt about in the medieval era of thinking. The form of Classical era music that began to engulf much of western Europe gave the spectator a sense of a wide emotional spectrum to feel as the instrumentation made its way among staff notation, Orchestra, etc. Although both had similarities and differences, one must take a closer look at two important composers of both periods to gain a grasp on the individual notions of each and how they helped to drive the periods.

“The Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 in D Major,” a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), was part of a larger series called the “The Brandenburg Concertos”. This series was given as a gift to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. This particular piece was of great importance to the Baroque style, expressing very dramatic tones and shifts in orchestra. The entire piece consisted of flutes, violins, strings, and the harpsichord, a primitive piano that played a very supporting and above all else a concertino piece that seemed to unify the piece as a whole. The repetition of the piece is in a concerto grosso format, consisting of a Tutti-Concertino-Tutti, where the song continuously traverses from a mezzo-piano to a fortissimo, with the Harpsichord as the strongest appearance. The texture and harmonic features of this piece is the dominant function of the D-Major with 8 and 16 note appearances, and coupled with a rhythm of high pitch tones to a very strong finish help to make this composition a very influential addition to popular orchestrations in the Baroque period.

“Piano Concerto no. 23 in A Major,” a composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), exclusively published around the same time as his greater play, “The Marriage of Figaro,” to gain greater publicity. Mozart’s compositions helped to move the classical period to new heights, especially with the production of this great orchestra, consisting of one flute, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, and strings, along with a piano. There was a great performance with the piano as the supporting function of the orchestra, and a repetition of a allegro in A-Major, an Andante in F-Sharp, and Presto in A finishing the piece. Throughout the composition, a soft tone could be heard that kept an almost fixed dynamic all throughout the piece, and was accompanied by 6/8 notes hidden within the sounds of the instruments. As for the melody of the piece, the first section was melancholic with a positive feel about it while the second part also portrayed a melancholic but opera type tone among the instruments. The third part presented a very strong and cheerful melody that gave spectators a sense of happiness and excitement that was typical of the Classical period.

The evolution from the Baroque period into the Classical period was filled with expression, emotion, and above all else, a sense of creativity that was erupting from the enlightenment and reformations that were taking place at the time. The Baroque started with an equal footing of both secular and religious works of music, unlike the earlier religious restrictions from the church. Individuals of that period began to pursue expressive ideas of creativity that was not monitored by any particular institution or class, and this gave music the dramatic and emotional backdrop that individuals craved during this period, which gave rise to concerto grosso. This form of musical individuality allowed a small group of performers to give dramatic displays of musical excellence for those willing to hear such a refined and sophisticated sound. As the period progressed however, more people began to want style, and performances based upon talent of the individual rather than the group, and so concerto came into the scene. A Concerto is the individual that performs one solo instrument in a talented and refined way to give the crowd the moment of dramatic expression, a moment when they are placed on the edge of their seats in anticipation. This became the classical period, a time of Greek revival of arts, sciences, and luxurious styles, architecture, and appeal.

In both compositions produced by Bach and Mozart, there are a few similarities and differences, mainly because the classical period and baroque period intertwined within itself at certain periods in time. The similarities can be seen if one looks close enough, as the instruments used during both compositions are the same except for the harpsichord of Bach’s piece, although the Piano, clarinets, bassoons and horns of Mozart’s piece were added as Classical technology began to succeed the baroque period. It seems as though Bach’s piece gave a soft to intense moment at any given time, while Mozart tended to express softer tones throughout his compositions. In terms of Bach’s concerto grosso, the reader needs to understand the Baroque style that the elite wished to hear smaller groups performing to refined tastes and did not want to hear one particular sound at that time. As the classical period aged, Mozart’s concerto took hold, in which large scale audiences wished to see talent as it was meant to be heard, alone over a group of instruments that would simply drown out the talented individuals sound.

In my view of Bach’s work of musical genius, I could relate to the dramatic tone that the work entailed, mainly because of my life’s eventful days. The music itself offered me a sense of relaxation but with a sense of productive thought that gave rise to some of my creative writings in the past as well. I thought the sounds of the combined orchestra with the flutes and harpsichord in general gave the emotional attachment that I would look for with a mellow chord presentation and loud renditions of the flute. The slow increase from mellow to dramatic form with the solo of the harpsichord gave a very intense moment that I could truly feel and almost touch. In terms of Mozart’s piece, the emotional detail for me personally was much different, although I thought of his composition just as highly. I personally felt much at ease with his music, but almost with a sense of not depression, rather a sense of the outside looking in at the world at large. The piano truly gave this composition the supporting role to move the emotional sense of the spectator such as myself.

Overall, I would have to choose Mozart as my favorite among the two, only because for a musician to make the spectator think of the world as a whole rather than taking them into the heat of human dilemma and actions. It was once said that an average scientist looked at the universe and said, I wonder what’s out there, while Einstein looked out and said, I wonder how God created the universe. This is the same with Bach, who looked to find human emotion through the dramatic style of the Baroque period, while Mozart simply wanted to find the finesse and balance of the world through the Classical Period.


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    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 

      7 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      you're welcome!

    • BakerRambles profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 

      7 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      i remember studying these in music class in grade school. As I've began and ended a career as a professional musician, I've grown less interested the titles of genres. if it sounds good to me, I couldn't care less what we call it. Interesting hub, pointing out the differences and whatnot.

    • BakerRambles profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Thank you so much sir. I truly appreciate your love for baroque and classical music, as my love for it I can say are just as deep and affectionate. Ms. Sue, I can understand where your coming from with the bugs bunny show, as that I believe is where I got my first taste as well.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi BakerRambles,

      I thoroughly enjoyed this hub, especially The Best of the Classic Music video.

      My first memory of classical music was from the Bugs Bunny Show.

      Voted up, up and away!

      Have a good evening.

    • epigramman profile image


      7 years ago

      ...well ya can ramble all ya want Sir Mark when you put together a world class hub like this for a musicologist of the highest order like me - lol - love the Baroque style of music - particularly the sound of the viola da gamba - and outside of that genre - I love when Glenn Gould plays Bach (the Goldberg Variations - being a good example of nirvana for me) I will post this mighty effort by you which is so impressive in its detail and information along with your passionate writing style.

      lake erie time ontario canada 3:08pm


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