baroque, in music, a style that prevailed from the last decades of the 16th cent. to the first decades of the 18th cent. Its beginnings were in the late 16th-century revolt against polyphony that gave rise to the accompanied recitative and to opera.
With opera and recitative came the figured bass, used consistently in ensemble music throughout the baroque era. Renaissance polyphony persisted, however, being called the stile antico and considered more appropriate to the church than the nuove musiche.
The baroque period was thus one of stylistic duality; it was an era that displayed emotional extremes (see romanticism). By the end of the era major and minor tonality had replaced the church modes. Contrapuntal writing was resumed in the middle baroque period, but it now had a harmonic basis.
Idiomatic writing, taking account of the individual character and capacities of instruments and voices, was characteristic of baroque music. Originating in Italy, opera, oratorio, and cantata were the principal vocal forms. In instrumental music the sonata, concerto, and overture were creations of the baroque.
In France and Italy the baroque had by 1725 been overshadowed by its outgrowth, the rococo, and it remained for Germany, where the baroque saw the flowering of Protestant church music, to bring the era to culmination in the works of J. S. Bach. The fugue, chorale prelude, and toccata were important forms of the late baroque.
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