In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Baroque Music

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • The Baroque Arts and Society
  • Geographical Surveys
  • Music-Theoretical Issues
  • Performance Practices

Music Baroque Music
Tim Carter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0004


“Baroque” is a style-period in music conventionally identified as the 17th century and the first half of the 18th, i.e., from Claudio Monteverdi (b. 1567–d. 1643) to J. S. Bach (b. 1685–d. 1750) and Handel (b. 1685–d. 1759). It is often divided into “early” (1600–1640), “middle” (1640–1690), and “high” (1690–1750) phases. These various chronological boundaries remain fuzzy, however, and also reflect the prejudices of German and Anglo-American scholarship that might not appeal to, say, French admirers of their musique classique from Jean-Baptiste Lully to Jean-Philippe Rameau, or Spanish devotees of the siglo de oro up to the death of Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1681). Given that many characteristics of early Baroque music can be traced to aesthetic attitudes and performance practices typical of the late Renaissance, it is common to take the beginnings of Baroque music back to 1580 or so. When the Baroque period ends is a much more problematic question, depending on where one situates the so-called Rococo and style galant (e.g., of Rameau or Georg Philipp Telemann), the Empfindsamer Stil (e.g., of C. P. E. Bach), or the pre-Classical style of, say, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and Johann Adolf Hasse. Baroque music is often characterized by one or more of the following: harmonic (vertical) thinking, musical rhetoric and affective text expression, elaborate ornamentation, newly codified genres and forms, the emergence of functional tonality, and the rise of the virtuoso. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (in his Dictionnaire de musique, 1768), writing from the rather smug viewpoint of the French Enlightenment, claimed that “a baroque music is that in which the harmony is confused, charged with modulations and dissonances, the melody is harsh and little natural, the intonation difficult, and the movement constrained.” Modern scholars and performers would disagree, and the current entry, introducing the fundamental texts in the field and its subdivisions, seeks to make some sense of just what Baroque music might be. It does not include composer studies, which can be found separately in Oxford Bibliographies.

General Overviews

For any music-historical style period, the assumptions are (1) that music somehow shares characteristics with the other arts and their broader political, social, and economic environments in more or less the same time span, and (2) that musical developments are somehow congruent over a wide geographical area. Scholars vary, however, on the extent to which music reflects or determines context. Musicologist Curt Sachs (“Barokmusik,” Jahrbuch der Musikbibliothek Peters [1919]: 7–15) borrowed the term “Baroque” from art historian Heinrich Wöllflin; it was then taken over by a Sachs student to produce the first authoritative survey of the repertory in English, Bukofzer 1947, which is historically important and also still has useful insights. Bukofzer’s tendency to treat the music autonomously rather than place it in broader historical environments remains apparent in more recent surveys essentially designed as textbooks for university music-history courses such as Palisca 1991 and Buelow 2004, although Hill 2005 broadens the focus in effective ways. Bianconi 1987 comes from the Italian Storia della musica series that, significantly, prefers to avoid period labels, although the contextual issues remain the same. Given the expansion of musicological studies on the period, and the ever-increasing repertory open to discussion, collaborative volumes have become common, drawing on expertise beyond the capabilities of a single scholar: Carter and Butt 2005 serves the 17th century; Keefe 2009 seeks to negotiate the tricky paths of the 18th; and Stauffer 2006 is a selective set of essays covering the range.

  • Bianconi, Lorenzo. Music in the Seventeenth Century. Translated by David Bryant. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    A translation of Il Seicento (Turin: EDT, 1982) published as part of the Storia della Musica series promoted by the Società Italiana di Musicologia. In what might best be described as a “soft”-Marxist approach, Bianconi produces a cogent and provocative view of the repertory.

  • Buelow, George J. A History of Baroque Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

    A good survey by a respected expert in the field. Particularly strong (given the author’s scholarly interests) on German music.

  • Bukofzer, Manfred F. Music in the Baroque Era: From Monteverdi to Bach. New York: Norton, 1947.

    Now superseded by Hill 2005 in the new Norton series, but still interesting for its attempts to characterize the period in musical terms.

  • Carter, Tim, and John Butt, eds. The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521792738

    A collaborative volume that covers much of the repertory, albeit in selective ways.

  • Hill, John Walter. Baroque Music: Music in Western Europe, 1580–1750. New York: Norton, 2005.

    Perhaps the best of the recent textbook surveys, and one that seeks to place the music in social and other contexts. It also has a useful companion anthology.

  • Keefe, Simon P., ed. The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Music. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    A collaborative volume good for the age of Bach and Handel, but somewhat hampered by the difficulties of treating the 18th century in any coherent manner.

  • Palisca, Claude V. Baroque Music. 3d ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1991.

    The classic textbook, first published in 1968 and still a very helpful and concise guide.

  • Stauffer, George B., ed. The World of Baroque Music: New Perspectives. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

    A useful set of essays on a range of Baroque topics up to Bach by leading scholars in the field. Each is important for its specific subject, while all have a good feel for hot topics in recent scholarship.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.