Inside the Music | Virtuosity | Late Baroque | Classical
Novelty, exuberance and contrast were among the many disparate features of Baroque art that helped to enrich its expressive content. The oft-declared aim of the Baroque composer to stir the emotions was entrusted to the performer, whose affective vocabulary was increasingly enlarged by developments taking place in singing techniques, with their emphasis on challenging ornaments and dazzling passagework, and in the craft of instrument-building. Modena, Bologna, Cremona and Venice were active centres of instrument-making, while Naples played host to singing techniques that were quickly disseminated abroad – though not always without resistance. Already by the late 1620s composers such as Biagio Marini (c. 1587–1663) and Carlo Farina (c. 1600–c. 1640) were experimenting with new techniques in their aim to introduce an element of extravagant display into their violin writing. Later, composer-performers like Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643) on the harpsichord, Reincken and J. S. Bach on the organ, and Corelli, Geminiani, Vivaldi, Locatelli and Leclair on the violin, developed the virtuoso content of their music to previously unparalleled heights of sophistication.
The chief vehicle for display in vocal music of the late-Baroque was the aria, whose three-part da capo structure afforded the singer an opportunity for brilliant vocal display coloratura). Such technically advanced singing was not confined to opera or other secular entertainment, but was often a feature of oratorios, sacred cantatas and the varied musical components of the liturgy. Increasingly, virtuoso solo singing, usually in the soprano and alto voice ranges, together with elaborate, colourful costumes and scenery, became the chief attraction for visitors to the opera.
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