The origins of the word Baroque probably began with an insult. The Portuguese word barroca means misshapen or oddly shaped pearl. When applied to music it wasn’t meant as a compliment. For those who valued symmetry and order in music, the Baroque style in music represented something strange and even grotesque.
Standing at the dawn of the 17th century in Venice, Claudio Monteverdi was one of several Italian composers exploring bold new dramatic forms of musical expression. He found himself in a fierce controversy as a result. A music theorist attacked him for breaking the time-honored rules of counterpoint, for taking too much license, and creating music that was crude. Monteverdi responded primarily through his music, not words. In his madrigals, operas, and sacred music, he continued to explore new musical paths, tapping into the depths of human emotion. In the words of Robert Hollingworth, “There’s very little artifice in Monteverdi’s music. It’s his own blood directly on the page.”
Fast-forward a couple of generations in Venice, and Antonio Vivaldi was making a statement of his own. In a period where Arcadian values of balance and restraint were popular, Vivaldi in 1725 published the collection known as Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione, with 12 concertos including The Four Seasons. The title suggests a hypothetical contest between Harmony and Invention. “Harmony” referred to the science of composition, the accepted rules of composition, whereas “Invention” referred to the composer’s (and performer’s) inspiration and free imagination. Like Monteverdi, Vivaldi spoke through his music; it’s clear from these 12 concertos that he came down firmly on the side of Invention.
So here’s to the rule breakers and musical mavericks of the past, and the odd-shaped pearls they created. Their music still has the power to astonish and move us!
As we enter October (or “Rocktober” for Colorado baseball fans like me), the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado is hard at work preparing our season opener The Glories of Venice on October 13-15. The first concert of a new season of the BCOC always evokes memories for me of our debut 12 years ago. Our core ensemble has evolved and grown since then, and includes both charter members and newer colleagues. I am always excited to work with these wonderful collaborators! I’m also looking forward to sharing the stage next week with some of the area’s finest early music singers in works of Monteverdi, complemented with instrumental works by Fontana and Gabrieli. The second half is all Vivaldi, culminating in a fiery violin concerto from Harmony and Invention, with Cynthia Miller Freivogel as soloist. I hope you will join us! Find out more on our Concerts page.