Many of the musical traditions to which we’re accustomed evolved from about 1600 to 1750, a period known as the Baroque era. Many Baroque innovations had deep roots in the Renaissance music that preceded them, but some of the ideas which developed during this period include:
- the concept of harmonic progression (thinking of music as a series of chords accompanying one or more melodies, rather than a combination of simultaneous independent lines)
- larger instrumental ensembles, including the earliest versions of the orchestra
- assigning certain musical lines to specific instruments—a practice that would grow into what we call orchestration
- the idea of a concert hall (and music written to be performed in one)
- some of the classical musical forms we know so well, including the sonata, the concerto, the symphony, and the oratorio
Most Baroque composers worked either for a church or a royal court. It wasn’t that popular music didn’t exist. It’s just that the trained musicians who understood music notation didn’t initially think of folk dances and popular tunes as worthy of study and notation, so less of it has survived.
As the Baroque period progressed, however, impresarios began producing concerts of this grand (and expensive!) music for the public, rather than nobility. By the middle of the 18th century, the citizens of London were clamoring for tickets to hear performances of Handel’s latest oratorios in public concert halls.
Many composers from this period remain popular today. Audiences still enjoy hearing the music of Bach, Vivaldi, and others.