The Baroque Period in classical music boasted the creation of opera, the abandonment of the church modes, and new exciting musical forms like the Baroque Suite. Music from the Baroque from classical composers like Bach, Monteverdi, Strozzi, and Purcell shared several major characteristics common to all works of the Baroque period. The Baroque Era lasted from 1600-1750 (or the year that Bach died). Although many of these musical innovations occurred centuries in the past, contemporary compositions owe much to the developments of the Baroque Era.
While monophony prevailed during the early Baroque period, music of the late Baroque Era embraced more complex polyphony than even the complex lines of the Renaissance. Monophony essentially involves a single line with accompaniment. Monophony prevailed in opera, however, since understanding text and drama is essential to understanding the complex plots of most operas. Polyphony, with several complex musical lines crossing and countering each other, makes understanding text purely secondary. Therefore, while monophony was a mainstay of the Baroque opera (and operas of the following classical eras until the 20th century), polyphony made up the bulk of late Baroque compositions.
The Western view of harmony developed into our current minor and major scales during the Baroque period. Prior to this, compositions used what is called church modes, such as the Dorian mode or the Ionian mode (which later became the Major Scale). Composers became interested in creating beautiful music not only in the polyphonic lines, but through harmony and specific harmonic progressions. Typically these progressions involved some sort of move from tonic to dominant, and possibly back again. Even Bach’s complex fugues maintained vertical structure throughout.
Although the complex polyphony of the Baroque era, such as the three-part fugue, are not en vogue today, classical composers still study the complex lines of the Baroque. Mastering fugues and canons is part of any serious classical composer’s formal training, and even though the 20th century saw a dismissal of many harmonic functions (such as atonality and chance music), most classical music works, even contemporary works, still revolve around the harmonic functions of the Baroque Era from over two centuries ago.
The Baroque era in classical music gave contemporary composers many musical innovations, such as traditional harmony, complex polyphony, suites, and opera. Composers like Bach, Monteverdi, Strozzi, and Purcell enjoy popularity even today. Contemporary composers have learned much from the Baroque masters and mistresses. The Baroque classical composition will continue to play an important role in classical music for many centuries to come.