Classical and Baroque music may seem quite alike at first glance, especially to the untrained ear. They may have a variety of aspects in common, indeed, but they are considered two distinct periods and styles in the evolution of music for a reason: there are many characteristics that set them apart. This essay proposes to analyse the Baroque and Classical styles to determine what makes them similar and, most importantly, what makes the difference between them.
First of all, Baroque and Classical music are similar in terms of the time period characteristic to them. Although Baroque music is believed to have begun in 1600 and Classical music developed in 1750, the styles overlapped for quite a while in the 1700s, before classical performers started to dominate the scene. Another similarity lies in the fact that they are both Western music styles, predominant in Europe, and they both use pretty much the same chamber and orchestral arrangements.
As for qualities that set the two music styles apart, the first major difference was determined by the development in new instruments. While, in the Baroque period, the harpsichord and the organ played a major role in musical arrangements, the invention of the fortepiano, and, later, the piano, turned the latter into the “main protagonist” of classical pieces. Furthermore, new technologies used in string instruments of the Classical era made them have a quite distinct sound compared to their Baroque counterparts.
Another difference between Classical and Baroque music lies in the compositions’ mood. While Baroque composers use a single, constant mood within the entirety of the musical piece, the Classical era came with mood changes throughout the composition. Initially, early classical musicians set two different moods, one related to pace and one to lyricism.
Baroque and Classical music differ greatly in terms of musical texture as well. In the baroque era, composers used a polyphonic approach, meaning that a musical piece had multiple independent melodic lines that coexisted harmoniously within a common structure. In contrast, the music belonging to the Classical period generally uses a single primary melody supported by additional strands that create a rhythmic contrast and give substance to the harmony.
Structure is another quality that sets the two musical periods apart. While, in the Baroque period, performers had a lot of freedom and were expected to improvise greatly, including elaborate ornamentations, the Classical era came with a stricter approach, with various rules and regulations both for composing and playing music. Baroque pieces were written with no ornaments, dynamics or phrasing marks, as it was assumed that these elements will be improvised on the spot by performers. In contrast, classical composers provided a lot more details on how they wanted the piece to be played, notating phrasing and dynamic elements, as well as any trills or turns.
As it can be seen, while the two musical styles do have similarities, there are many more aspects that separate them, from the favourite keyboard instruments, to the mood, texture and structure of the compositions, as well as the way the musical pieces were expected to be played or interpreted.