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Renaissance Precursors to Baroque Music

Renaissance polyphony

Renaissance music is characterized by what is called "equal-voice polyphony," in which a complex texture of different voices creates a more or less continuous, harmonious work. "Voices" do not mean individual singers but refer to different musical lines (soprano, alto, tenor and bass, for instance). Renaissance composers also based their compositions on the eight church modes, which are essentially scales with patterns of whole and half steps that are not the same as the two modes we use today, major and minor. Composers in this era generally concentrated on creating seamless, elegant musical textures that obeyed very strict rules of counterpoint (how the voices fit together) rather than focusing on expressing emotions or ideas. This is not to say that the music is not beautiful and moving, which it certainly is, only that the composers were more focused on the abstract beauty of the musical relationships rather than on conveying the emotion or mood of a text. A good example is "Nuper rosarum flores / Terribilis est locus iste," a motet by Guillaume Dufay. This motet was composed for the dedication in 1436 of Brunelleschi's dome on the famous cathedral (the Duomo) in Florence. The proportions among the parts in a very complex canon that structures the composition are 6:4:3:2, which are the proportions of Solomon's temple; they are also, furthermore, proportions that directly relate to the structure of the Florentine dome itself. Clearly, one would not actually hear this relationship, but it exists as a symbolic, intellectual reference that was an integral part of the composition. Motet
A motet is a sacred, polyphonic vocal genre originating in the Middle Ages as an elaboration on an existing sacred composition. Its name comes from the word motliterally, word in French because it originally involved adding words to a long, untexted musical addition to a Gregorian chant. As with most musical terms and genre designations, its meaning changed over the centuries. By the 17th century, it was used to describe almost any polyphonic, sacred vocal composition that was not a part of the mass.

Word painting and the rise of the madrigal

As the Renaissance continued, the style gradually changed, and one finds, bit by bit, instances where composers began to pay close attention to the meaning of the text and consciously tried to illustrate it. Bear in mind that the majority of musical manuscripts from this time were for vocal music. This is due in part to the fact that music notation was an invention of the ninth to eleventh centuries, and was primarily designed to fix the repertory of Gregorian chant so that the liturgical practices of the Church could be more uniform throughout Europe.

The repertory in which this gradual shift of focus is most obvious is that of the Italian madrigal. Note that the earlier composers had Flemish names. At the beginning of the sixteenth century Flemish composers began traveling to Italy, marking a shift in the musical center of gravity in Europe

The Madrigal was a secular vocal genre popularised in the Renaissance. It was initially sung a cappella and its text was generally a poem of good literary quality, by poets such as Petrarch, Tasso, Guarini, Bembo and later, Marino. Each textual phrase was set to its own particular music, so that the resultant composition had a through-composed form, meaning that it contained no large-scale patterned repetitions, such as a refrain. In the Baroque, composers began writing continuo madrigals, which were often solo works with simple, figured bass accompaniments

Their madrigals increasingly employ a compositional device known as word painting. This means, simply, writing music that attempts to illustrate particular words--for example, fast notes on the word "running," a rising vocal line on the word "sunrise," dissonance on the word "bitterness" and so on. In addition to encouraging an emphasis on the text of a vocal work, this genre is important also because it represents a shift of focus from sacred to secular music, which occurs in part as a result of the increased interest in Italian poetry during the sixteenth century.

Another important development, however, was perhaps just as critical to the blossoming interest in secular music, which at this time is primarily represented by madrigals and other part-songs. Around 1500, Ottaviano Petrucci succeeded in obtaining a monopoly to print music in Venice. He had invented a technique that allowed him to use movable type, instead of the laborious, and uneconomical, woodblock engravings that had sufficed previously. Petrucci churned out books of songs, which were so successful that publishers in other cities soon followed suit. Most noteworthy among those publishers was Pierre Attaignant of Paris, who further improved upon Petrucci's invention by creating a system that would allow both music and staves to be printed in a single impression-a much more economical answer to the challenge of printing music. Thus a repertory of music that people could conceivably perform in their homes for their own amusement was disseminated not only through Italy but through all of Europe. What's more, Petrucci's early prints included a very cosmopolitan selection, so that a wide variety of styles and forms were made available to an increasingly large buying public.

Although this output of madrigals and chansons circulated widely in the courts and cities of Europe, by the late sixteenth century most of the musical innovations occurred in the Italian cities. Italy's predominance on the musical scene resulted in part from a patronage system in which princes and dukes (generally not excessively secure in their positions) vied with one another to create instant credibility by setting up lavish establishments. Such extravagant displays of power and status included exorbitant spending on the arts and music.
The Florentine Camerata

Chanson literally means "song" in French, and refers to French secular vocal works that often adhered to the formes fixes, such as rondeau, virelai and ballade, which were originally poetic forms. The chanson in the sixteenth century and later was characterized by a particular opening rhythm that was dactylic (a certain kind of syllabic accentuation), and that form became emblematic of the genre. The term's Italian form, canzona, was adopted for a particular type of instrumental work in the late Renaissance and early Baroque period.

It was in one such court, in Florence at the time of the Medici, that a group of intellectuals began a style movement that radically altered the musical aesthetic of the Renaissance. This group, known as the Florentine Camerata, met to discuss burning issues such as the ideal way to perform tragedy, and dedicated themselves to the study of the classical (i.e., Greco-Roman) authors. One of the hotly debated issues was the supposed ability of music to move the emotions as described by the ancient Greeks. The members of the Camerata realized that music as they knew it did not have the miraculous effects that Plato and Aristotle wrote about, neither succeeding in inciting people to war nor in calming a raging madman. Whether or not music ever possessed such powers, this thinking of the Camerata led to one of the few instances in the history of music in which a genre was actually consciously invented rather than evolving organically from what existed before. Certain of the group's members, including Counts Bardi and Corsi, decided that the music of their day was going about the business of expressiveness all wrong. It made no sense to them to illustrate the meaning of individual words; they felt that the sense of an entire thought should be expressed. Although some late-sixteenth-century View full biography. composers had pushed the limits of word painting to an extreme, to the point where the device became quite mannered (most notably Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa), for the Camerata such music still failed to satisfy their need for true expression. In order to achieve the desired results, they needed compositional resources that were not available within the style of the Renaissance madrigal. In particular, the idea of many voices singing the same text at different times, however lovelysounding, ran counter to the ultimate goal of clear expression. The members of the Florentine Camerata felt that listeners would be unable to distinguish the words themselves, let alone be moved by a true perception of the emotional content of a given text. Therefore, they began to think in terms that reversed the prevailing hierarchy of music and text, and to think of the words as the most important part of a vocal work, with the music there simply to support them. This departure from Renaissance musical style inaugurated the beginning of the Baroque era in music.

The Beginning of the Baroque Style in Music "Monteverdi?" you might ask. "I thought Bach and Handel were the most important Baroque composers." Yes, Bach and Handel are extremely important, but their music, and music written by other very important composers in the early eighteenth century-including Vivaldi, Pachelbel, Telemann and Domenico Scarlatti, to name a few-do not present the whole story of Baroque style. Far from it. Many music scholars consider the Baroque era to have begun in 1580, more than 100 years before Bach and Handel were born, and the music of this time is essential in defining the Baroque as a style era in music.
Monody: creating the texture of Baroque music

The Renaissance idea of many voices singing the same text at different times, however lovelysounding, ran counter to the ultimate goal of clear expression. The members of the Florentine Camerata, a group of Italian intellectuals at the end of the sixteenth century, felt that listeners would be unable to distinguish the words themselves, let alone be moved by a true perception of the emotional content of a given text. Therefore, they began to think in terms that reversed the prevailing hierarchy of music and text, and to think of the words as the most important part of a vocal work, with the music there simply to support them. This radical departure from the Renaissance concept of the way text should be set to music resulted in a completely different musical texture from the polyphony common during the Renaissance. Although there were precedents in accompanied song, nothing that had existed previously was quite the same as the genre of monody that resulted from the activities of several members of the Florentine Camerata, including Giulio Caccini and Jacopo Peri. Monody was simply a vocal melody (only one, not a web of different lines) accompanied by an instrument that would play chords underneath. This supporting part was the continuo, played by any instrument capable of playing chords, such as a keyboard or a lute. Sometimes a viol doubled the bass line. But the accompaniment wasn't the only new feature of monody. The melody itself was designed to suit the natural declamation of the text, enhancing natural speech rhythms and accentuation, taking its cue from an orator's delivery rather than from the measured patterns and repetitions of melodic phrases one normally associates with song. Although the idea of a single voice singing with a chordal accompaniment may not sound particularly new today, it was a truly revolutionary concept at the time, serving as a catalyst for some of the most important developments in Baroque music. It was such a significant development that its appearance in Florence in the late sixteenth century is commonly considered the beginning of the Baroque period.
The creation of opera

The far-reaching consequences of this new musical texture included the creation of opera. One voice clearly and movingly singing text with an accompaniment that did not obscure its sound or meaning suddenly made the creation of an entire drama set to music a real possibility. Although intermedii (a genre in which a spoken play was interspersed with songs and dance numbers) existed previously, the first true opera directly resulted from the musical innovations of the Florentine Camerata.

This first opera was Jacopo Peri's Euridice (1600), with a text by Ottavio Rinuccini. Opera appealed mainly to connoisseurs at first, but when Claudio Monteverdi created his own dramma in musica in Mantua, in 1607, with a text by Alessandro Striggio, he used the new monody in combination with songlike movements, dances and instrumental interludes. Monteverdi's Orfeo, although not quite the same, is near enough to remind us of the genre of opera we know and love today. Its engaging mixture of types of music and concern with dramatic development did much to set the tone for many works that followed. This type of court dramma in musica, or serenata, or balletto, became the norm in the first quarter of the seventeenth century, when elaborate musical productions were usually associated with important court events. Monteverdi composed several such "operas," but unfortunately their music has been lost. Other composers were active at this time, however, so we do have some additional examples. Francesca Caccini, daughter of Giulio Caccini, composed her most famous work as a commission from the Archduchess Maria Maddalena of Austria (one of the regents for Ferdinando II), for the visit in 1625 of Crown Prince Ladislao Sigismondo of Poland, who was betrothed to the Archduchess's daughter. Caccini's "La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina" (The Liberation of Ruggiero from Alcina's Island) was a magnificent showpiece that ended with a ballet on horseback in which members of the court took part. Caccini's balletto, like many others of the time, used monody to convey most of the action of the drama, with more songlike numbers for choruses of nymphs and shepherds. In fact, monody eventually evolved into what we know today as recitative, and the distinction between sung and spoken moments in an opera became increasingly defined as the Baroque era wore on. Monteverdi's later operas, composed only about 30 years after Orfeo, show considerable development of song forms.
Varietas as an aesthetic principle

Recitative is half-spoken, halfsung delivery, often used to link songlike numbers in an opera, oratorio or cantata. Recitative can be secco (dry) or accompagnato(accompanied). Secco recitative has only very simple chordal accompaniment; accompanied recitative involves the orchestra more actively.

Perhaps even more than the creation of opera, the new musical texture introduced through monody ushered in an aesthetic that valued contrast and juxtaposition over seamless uniformity. One of the easiest ways to hear this different aesthetic goal is to compare Giovanni Gabrieli's early Baroque "In ecclesiis" with a random sample from the great Renaissance composer Palestrina. Gabrieli falls quite early in our period; he was one of Monteverdi's predecessors at the San Marco basilica in Venice and is known for his revolutionary use of the unique architecture of the basilica in massive works, with choruses and contrasting instrumental ensembles placed in balconies around the nave. The result was a sort of early Baroque surround sound, similar to a four-channel sound system. Although Palestrina's music is certainly not monochromatic, compared with Gabrieli's music its changes sound gradual and subtle. Gabrieli juxtaposes short sections that contrast vividly in

terms of their performing forces (solo voice vs. double chorus; instrumental interlude vs. vocal monody) and style (free declamation vs. rhythmically regular, songlike moments). To summarize, Renaissance music was all about continuity, restraint and subtlety; Baroque music sought to evoke strong emotional responses in listeners and to surprise and pique their interest. This principle was called varietas, and it remained one of the central features of Baroque music throughout the seventeenth century. Yet the textures and styles of Renaissance music did not disappear altogether but existed side by side with newer ones. In particular, sacred music was slow to adopt the new style, especially since the newer style generally necessitated the use of instruments other than the organ. The post-Tridentine Church (that is, the Catholic Church after the reformist Council of Trent) was wary of anything that smacked of secular pleasures and regularly tried to impose restrictions on the type of music that could be performed in church. Even Monteverdi, who spent a large part of his life as maestro di cappella(chapel master) of San Marco in Venice, composed in a much more conservative style for the church. In fact, these two different musical styles existed well into the seventeenth century and were dubbedprima pratica and secunda pratica. Didactic treatises maintained the suitability of the former for sacred music and the latter for secular music, almost throughout the Baroque era.
Early Baroque music outside of Italy

Although the Baroque era in music essentially began in Italy, it did not remain restricted to that geographical location for long. The beginning of the seventeenth century was a time when it was relatively easy and safe to travel through Europe. Therefore musicians and composers frequently traveled to other places, were exposed to new styles and became conversant in their contemporaries' musical development. For example, one of the most important early Baroque composers in Germany, Heinrich Schtz, journeyed to Venice in around 1610 to study with Giovanni Gabrieli. When he returned to the court of Dresden, where he was employed as Kapellmeister (chapel master), he created music that incorporated the polychoral style he had learned from Gabrieli, and introduced a whole generation of German musicians and composers to this new music. But the privations of the Thirty Years' War made it difficult to maintain lavish musical establishments in many German courts, and Schtz took another leave of absence from his post in 1628 so that he could return to Venice and study with Monteverdi. It was from Monteverdi that he learned the continuo style, bringing secunda pratica techniques back with him. This example is merely one part of the rich musical and cultural history of the early seventeenth century. While Italy is the node from which the style developments radiated outward, by a few decades into the century other European centers were developing their own variations and adaptations of the early Baroque style. In particular, France and England both have fascinating musical histories during this period, although both countries were affected by the ravages of war--the Thirty Years' War, and the Civil War in England--so that matters other than the arts claimed the attention and resources of the rulers. Jean-Baptiste de Lully in France and Henry Purcell in England are but two of the important figures to emerge from the seventeenth century. In one way or another, however, both countries were deeply influenced by the innovations and developments of the Italian

Baroque composers. So I return to my first point: What is it that Monteverdi actually did to usher in the Baroque era in music? He did not invent anything himself, but he has the distinction of being a musical genius of equal standing with Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and others. His extant stage works, Orfeo,L'Incoronazione di Poppea and Il ritorno d'Ulisse, are monuments of the early Baroque style, which is very different from the late Baroque of Handel and Bach. But perhaps most of all, the study of the evolution of early Baroque style allows us to glimpse the close integration of social, literary, political and aesthetic movements with the arts. I invite you to undertake your own exploration--by listening, first of all, and by reading further.

The Rise of Instrumental Music in the Baroque An important development of the early Baroque era (roughly the late sixteenth century through the seventeenth century) was the increasing autonomy of instrumental music. Most, but not all, of the Renaissance music that was written down was apparently vocal--in other words, there was a text associated with it. Yet this in no way meant that there was no instrumental music prior to the Baroque. We know from the many paintings of the Renaissance period that there were wind instruments, including recorders, shawms and a variety of bagpipes, plus horns of various sorts; stringed instruments played with a bow (mainly of the viol family); plucked stringed instruments (such as the lute, harp and cittern); and keyboard instruments, including several different sizes and types of organs, spinets and virginals. It is likely that players of these instruments not only improvised dance music and doubled vocal parts but also occasionally stood in for parts when not all voice ranges were available. Although notated music from the early Renaissance that is specifically composed to take advantage of the capabilities of different instruments is fairly rare, it was clear that some of the part-songs were in fact intended to have all but the top voice played by instruments. In addition, there are manuscripts of organ music (for use in churches) that date from the fifteenth century. There were probably other pieces for instruments, but manuscripts did not always clearly mark whether a part was intended for an instrument or a voice. And if a part were clearly instrumental there was often little indication of which instrument it was intended for. This was true even of the most common type of instrumental works, arrangements of existing songs for lute or keyboard. The lute, in particular, was extremely popular. Although it is not especially easy to play well, a system of notation called tablature made it comparatively easy to read lute music with a minimum of specialized training. There were also keyboard tablatures, which similarly created an easy-to-follow notation for amateurs. (The symbols for guitar chords today work on the same principle of tablature.) The popularity of the method led a printer named Ottaviano Petrucci to produce collections of lute intabulations of many well-known songs, as well as arrangements of dance melodies for keyboard and lute. Indeed, perhaps because proficiency on the lute or the spinet was considered de rigueur for an accomplished lady or a courtier, these books apparently sold well. Baldassare Castiglione, in The Courtier, one of the most important, and interesting, best-sellers of the sixteenth century, mentions the necessity of musical ability as an accoutrement for the successful lady or

gentleman of the court. The Courtier was essentially a guidebook about how to comport oneself at court, so that one could fulfill one's role in a way that would gain notice and advance one's career.
The rise of the violin

Although the lute and the keyboard remained very popular in the seventeenth century, especially for amateur players, another instrument gradually asserted itself in the growing repertory of nonvocal music: the violin. In fact, a telltale sign that one is listening to Baroque rather than Renaissance music is the use of the violin. The violin started life as an extremely humble, low-class instrument, used mainly because it was loud enough to rise above the hubbub at a party or be heard above the stomping of feet when it accompanied dancing. It was also the instrument that a dancingmaster used to accompany lessons. The viols, with their softer, more subtle sound, were initially the stringed instrument of choice in refined settings. But in the seventeenth century fashion began to change, and composers started to write idiomatic violin music. By the mid-seventeenth century, the positions of the two instrument families (viol and violin) were reversed. It's rather difficult to discern which came first, the fashion for the sound of the instrument or the rather wonderful music that composers such as Salomon Rossi and Biagio Marini wrote for the violin. However this transformation took place, by midway through the seventeenth century the violin was the undisputed king of instrumental music.
Changes in musical language

Viol refers to a family of bowed stringed instruments popular from the fifteenth century to the eighteenth century. They originally had movable frets on the neck, like a guitar today, and were shaped somewhat differently from members of the violin family. The viola da gamba is the lowest of these instruments, earning its name because it was rested between the knees when it was played. The viols generally had more strings than the violin, six being the norm. The name viola da braccio originally referred to the tenor member of the viol family, but gradually it became synonymous with the modern viola. The viols had a softer and subtler sound than the violin and other members of that string family.

The gradual rise of autonomous instrumental music makes a fascinating study. It is bound up with the change in musical language that occurred in the Baroque, whereby the use of a melodic, or horizontal, logic in compositions was gradually replaced by one that was vertical. This means, essentially, that composers were increasingly occupied with the considerations of harmony, and that composed music began to sound more and more as though it were in the major or minor modes rather than in one of the eight church modes. (These are scales that have different patterns of whole and half steps than the familiar major and minor scales we use today.) Without going into too much depth, this new tonal orientation involved establishing a pitch as "home," or tonic, then leaving it, so that the process of returning to it created a degree of tension that glued the music together. This compositional technique allowed untexted music to sustain the interest of the listener for longer and longer time spans. Thus brief instrumental refrains, or interludes in the midst of
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vocal works, gradually took on lives of their own and became separated from any vocal works altogether; a purely musical logic supplied the necessary structure, without the aid of a text. A substantial musical background is helpful to understanding this rather difficult concept, and indeed, the exact nature of the transition from modal to tonal music is still being debated among music theorists and historians today. One way at least to hear this change is to listen to a Renaissance madrigal, then listen to "Vi ricorda, o boschi ombrosi" from Monteverdi's Orfeo, and finally listen to a movement from a trio sonata or a concerto grosso by Arcangelo Corelli. The madrigal relies entirely on the words to supply its form, in that each line of the text receives its own distinct musical idea that directly relates to the words themselves. The strophic song from Orfeo is quite short, rhythmically vital and based on dance rhythms, but to ears accustomed to common practice tonality it seems somewhat static and repetitive. And, finally, the Corelli work depends on the establishment of a tonal home base to create the tensions that inform its shape and structure.

The evolution from Renaissance to that of Baroque was characterized, in part, by a changing demographic of performers. For example, tablatures enabled amateur musicians to quickly learn how to play basic melodies, which they could then perform in court. What other musical genres or artistic movements introduced a new demographic of artists, such as women, or people with differing cultural backgrounds?

Operas and Oratorios in Early Baroque Music Along with changes in musical style, the introduction of new genres and the rise of instrumental music, the early Baroque era was a period that saw an important transformation in the function of music in people's lives, particularly as a public activity. Although there was no true democratization of music, by which I mean that it was still a comparative luxury that was enjoyed by the privileged upper classes, polished, professional musical performances were no longer restricted to the private setting of a court with invited guests.
The birth of opera

Like other developments in the early Baroque, opera originated in Italy, but not in the courts of Florence, Mantua or any of the other feudal city-states. Venice, that republic on the Adriatic Sea, was the birthplace of public opera. And, once again, a group of intellectuals was primarily responsible for this innovation--a group of intellectuals, plus a composer and librettist with entrepreneurial spirits. Benedetto Ferrari and his librettist, Francesco Manelli, were Romans who brought an itinerant group of musicians to Venice for Carnival in 1637. Ferrari's opera Andromeda became the first such work to be performed in the Serenissima (a sobriquet for Venice), at the San Cassiano theater, with the backing of a leading family of Venice, the Tron brothers. The enormous success of this venture led to the establishment of a more permanent opera company in Venice. Aside from the seeming potential for commercial success, there were several reasons that opera flourished in Venice perhaps more than in other Italian cities. For one thing, its staunch

republicanism made a mixed audience more socially acceptable, which meant that more tickets could be sold. Opera was also an ideal vehicle for promoting the political agenda of the republic through allegory. In addition, Venice possessed a sophisticated musical culture associated with the basilica of San Marco, and many of the singers and instrumentalists employed there were happy for a chance to augment their incomes by performing in the opera. To these advantages one could add the factor that other locations were not as conducive to public opera. For instance, women in Rome were forbidden to appear onstage in public. Although many wealthy patrons gave private performances, this interdict was partly responsible for the tremendous popularity of the castrato, a high-voiced male who had undergone some form of castration in order to prevent his voice from breaking. While this potentially solved the problem of supplying soprano and alto voices for the roles of women in opera, castration was, in its turn, also illegal. Needless to say, in Venice there were no laws prohibiting women from singing in public. But by 1637 the fashion for the castrato voice was so firmly entrenched that the main male character was usually set as a soprano or mezzo anyway. In an ironic turnaround, sometimes women had to take these roles, if there were no adequate castrati available. In any case, although this first Venetian opera had aristocratic backing, it was essentially a moneymaking project on the part of the composer and librettist, and anyone who could afford the price of a ticket could attend. It was wildly successful (at least in box-office terms), and it marked the beginning of a series of such entrepreneurial undertakings, some of which involved the construction of new opera houses.
The enterprising Accademia

An organization that was frequently involved in Venetian opera from its beginning was the Accademia degli incogniti. This group of irreverent, iconoclastic intellectuals set the tone for many of the librettos of mid-seventeenth-century Venetian operas, whose plots are shockingly frank and frequently amoral, with gender-bending taken to an extreme that seems daring even today. The interests of the incogniti were primarily literary rather than musical, but opera's origins were closely linked to the idea of literature and to the supremacy of word over music. The librettist remained the more important of the two collaborators in many ways and retained the right to publish and profit from his libretto, which was often judged as a work of literature in its own right. Aria
An aria is a solo song, normally occurring in the context of a longer work but sometimes autonomous. It is usually formally closed, meaning that it could be removed from its setting and performed independently as a complete musical unit.

But the power of music, and the public demand for a catchy tune, soon asserted itself over the purely literary aspects of opera. What began as a recitative and monody-dominated genre was, by mid-century, much more broken up with arias. In addition, aspects of the productions, such as scenery, costumes (to a lesser extent) and stage machinery, were important crowd-pleasing elements. They were also extremely expensive. The popularity of opera created another high-ticket item that was gradually making the cost of each

production spiral upward, namely, the prima donna and primo uomo. Since it was frequently the famous singers that crowds would come to see, the entrepreneurs were caught in a trap from which opera has never since managed to extricate itself. It is--and always has been--quite simply the most expensive form of live entertainment there is (rock-and-roll superstars possibly excepted): lavish, glorious, absurd, continually teetering on the brink of financial disaster, and irresistible to many.

But opera was not the only forum for dramatic vocal music in the early Baroque. The Italian oratorio, which is rather a different animal from mid-eighteenth-century English oratorio, was also a product of this time period. Oratories, the buildings from which the genre originally took its name, were public prayer halls where nonliturgical devotional events took place. The Catholic Church was still well aware of the dangers of the Protestant Reformation, which inaugurated a competing Christian faith, and increasingly sought ways to engage the imagination of the public in worship. The Church soon realized that the sensual power of music (which caused it to legislate heavily against certain types of music in churches and convents) could be as easily used to further their message as to lure people away from the Church. Thus the Jesuits in particular began to write dramatic texts with biblical themes, to be set to music and performed in the oratories. The earliest example of something that resembles such an oratorio is "La Rappresentazione di anima e di corpo" (1600) by Emilio de Cavalieri. Although scholars disagree about whether this work can really be classified as an oratorio, it was composed in Rome, for the Jesuits, and was a conscious attempt to use the new style of music to move people to piety. These early oratorios were sometimes in Italian, sometimes in Latin. They usually included a role for a narrator , (testo or historicus, depending on the language of the libretto), and actively involved a chorus in the action of the drama--both features that distinguish the oratorio from early opera. The most famous composer of Italian and Latin oratorios in the early-middle Baroque is the Roman composer Giacomo Carissimi. His "Jephte," often considered to be his masterpiece, is a textbook example of this type of work. It includes a historicus and an active chorus, and uses all the styles available to composers at that time, including recitative and short arias, and frequently employs the technique of the ground bass. Ground bass
Ground bass is a repeated melodic pattern in the lowest voice of a musical texture. The popular patterns in the Baroque, the passamezzo antico and passamezzo moderno, the chaconne and the ruggiero (among many examples), were derived from dances of the same names. Upper parts would be varied above this repeating ground, and the composition could be purely instrumental or vocal. The genre of the lament often had a section with a particular descending four-note bass pattern. This pattern became associated with the lament, and thus came to signify lamenting or mourning even when used independently of a text.

Some slightly later composers include Luigi Rossi and Alessandro Stradella--the latter of whom composed oratorios that take the application of secular styles and themes to an extreme, to the extent that some of his works have been described as belonging to a genre known as oratorio erotico.

Another of the most important composers of early Baroque oratorios, however, was not Italian. The German Heinrich Schtz composed several very beautiful and important works that fall into this category, some in German, some in Latin. His oratorios include the "Sieben Worte am Kreuz" (Seven Last Words on the Cross) and three Passions, those of St. Luke, St. John and St. Matthew. Not all vocal works were on the monumental scale of operas and oratorios, however. Many composers wrote much smaller works, called cantatas, for performance in more intimate settings. These early Baroque cantatas, again, are not very similar to the Lutheran church cantatas of J.S. Bach. They are generally based on secular subjects, are usually for onlyone voice with continuo (although sometimes more elaborately scored, and including two or more voices), and can consist of little more than a short recitative followed by an aria. The most elaborate might have two or three songlike sections, plus one or two instrumental interludes. The composer who published more cantatas than any other in the seventeenth century was actually a woman. Barbara Strozzi, the "adopted" daughter of the Venetian poet Giulio Strozzi, was a gifted singer and composer who produced eight books of primarily secular cantatas between 1644 and 1664. As communication, entertainment or religious inspiration, early Baroque music was heard by increasingly wider audiences. These audiences might also have begun to hear greater distinctions between the dramatic vocal forms--operas and oratorios--and instrumental music.