If it ain’t Baroque…

My son has just started guitar lessons again after taking the summer off. His old teacher left to pursue a PhD, but we’ve found a new teacher who can teach both electric (heavy metal) and classical. If it were up to B, of course, he’d be all Metallica all the time, but we mean parents like him to have some variety of technique.

This is the long way around to what I really want to talk about, which is Baroque music. B’s new classical piece is “Agitato” by Mauro Giuliani. Here’s a very serious dude playing the song in outer space:

(I love how he maintains that absolute deadpan face while galaxies swirl out of control behind him. Also: well played, serious dude!)

Anyway, this song is simultaneously easy and challenging for B. Easy because the rhythm is very regular and there aren’t a lot of position changes, challenging because there are a lot of accidentals. The thing is, the accidentals are absolutely predictable if you’re familiar with Baroque music. Every time B gets stuck, or plays a wrong note, I’m able to sing the correct note for him — and not because I’m already familiar with the piece. I’ve now listened to Mr. Deadpan’s performance about six times, but before that I really wasn’t familiar with this.

But this is either the beauty or the tedium of Baroque music (depending whom you ask) — composers had essentially just invented the circle of fifths, and they liked to ride that thing like a merry-go-round. I enjoy it. I find it soothing. Back when I played cello, I used to rank Baroque composers by how predictable they were. Bach is one of the all-time greats because he’ll surprise you; Vivaldi, on the other hand, really only ever wrote one song, in my opinion. Kind of like Boston. You can turn “More Than a Feeling” into “Foreplay/Long Time” without breaking a sweat.

Which is not to say I don’t enjoy Vivaldi. I totally do, and – who am I kidding? – Boston, too.

Handel was always my favourite Baroque composer. He seems predictable until you actually have to learn the parts, and then you realize he’s way weirder than you ever imagined.

Here’s another of my favourites, though, and it’s about as predictable as they come: Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. It got a lot of play at home when I was a kid, and I’ve performed in it as well.

YE GODS, IS THAT AN ARCHLUTE?? Actually, it’s probably a Baroque tenor lute, but still! We didn’t have no stinkin’ lute in my university orchestra, more’s the pity. Anyway, I think I should make B listen to this. It’s got all the best Baroque tropes, used to good effect.

11 thoughts on “If it ain’t Baroque…

  1. Back in the late 90s I spent a bit of time playing chamber music. I well remember the day we finally pulled out some Beethoven pieces. It was really interesting how music that the older composers would have structured AABBACCA (or whatever) suddenly became AABBA’CC’A” — the repeated parts would be a bit (sometimes a lot) different when they came around again. It was a lot of fun, but it was definitely more difficult to sight read!

    • Beethoven is another of my very favourites. The highlight of my (not very highlight-ful) cello career was playing one of his piano trios with my sister and Mr. C-P, our school’s music teacher. He was a diminutive man, Mr. C-P – sang like an angel – and the octaves were a challenge for him. But we did it, and we were pretty good.

  2. I love Baroque music! It’s my favorite classical era. And I love Corelli’s Christmas Concerto! In high school, I arranged most of it for flute, glockenspiel, viola, and two cellos so my friends and I could play it, but I don’t think we ever made it sound remotely good.

  3. I wonder what B’s name is? Is it Bob? Bill? Brutus? Badru? Bongani? Berko? Balbinus?* Guessing is fun. I vote for Balthazar!

    * These are all legitamate names

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