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Violin, Ralph Agutter, about 1685. Museum no 34-1869

Violin, Ralph Agutter, about 1685. Museum no 34-1869

Music was central to public and domestic life in the Baroque. Baroque music fits closely to the cultural and physical environment of its world. It is formal, highly elaborated, richly decorated. It voices the power and wealth of its patrons, just as it fills the spaces of baroque architecture.

Popes and emperors could express their splendour, in church and palace, with the spectacular performance by hundreds of musicians of works commissioned for the venue, or occasion of state.

Virtuoso performance, and the performance of more intimate music for the delectation of a smaller audience, displayed the refined ornamentation and more complex affinity of chamber music. Lesser households, too, could command music as integral to that richness of lifestyle signalled through paintings, sculpture, interiors, exteriors, and the cultivation of art as control over natural forces.

Audio: Diverse bizzarie sopra la vecchia sarabanda o pur Ciacona (3 mins 6 secs)

Composer: Nicola Matteis (about 1678-1749)

Solo violin playing, and composition for solo violin, was dominated at this time by Italian virtuosi. Nicola Matteis arrived in London from Naples in 1672; his music delighted the aged John Jenkins, who 'pulling off his spectacles, clapt his hand on the book and declared he had never heard so good a peice of musick, in all his life'. Music from from Arie diverse … preludy, alemande, sarabande, correnti, gighe, fantasie, minuite ed altre toccate a due corde, libro primo, libro secondo, (London, 1676); Royal College of Music Library F21, edition of 1676.

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Audio: Extract from the Cantata Orphée (2 mins 46 secs)

Composer: Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749)

Music at Versailles was an integral aspect of the court. It was to be heard everywhere and at any time, in both public and private rooms and in the gardens. With the support of the king himself, virtuosos of the viol and the harpsichord, such as Marin Marais and François Couperin, developed and codified the French style.

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Audio: Domine Deus from the Messa con 5 strumenti (3 mins 38 secs)

Composer: Davide Perez

Throughout the 1700s Portuguese composers were sent to Italy to study. Under the influence of the Neapolitan composer Davide Perez, called to Lisbon in 1751 by John V, Portuguese music – both sacred and secular – became entirely dominated by the Italian operatic style.

Music from from the Messa con 5 strumenti, Royal College of Music Library MS 977. Performing edition prepared by Eric Wilson.

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Audio: The Criar (1 min 12 secs)

Composer: Anon

Although the ownership of this manuscript is uncertain, its music is typical of the 'virginal' books used to tutor players, especially women, at the time. Its contents are divided into two collections, one of preludes and the other of fantasias. It also preserves pre-Civil War music by Byrd, Bull and Weelkes, alongside later Baroque composers such as Locke and Blow.

Music from Manuscript 2093, Royal College of Music Library. Played on a spinet by Stephen Keene, London, about 1685 (Royal College of Music, Museum of Musical Instruments 179).

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Audio: Chaconne (4 mins 42 secs)

Composer: Michel de la Barre (about 1675 – 1745)

Music at Versailles was an integral aspect of the court. It was to be heard everywhere and at any time, in both public and private rooms and in the gardens. With the support of the king himself, virtuosos of the viol and the harpsichord, such as Marin Marais and François Couperin, developed and codified the French style.

Download: mp3 | ogg

Audio: Come away, come sweet love (47 secs)

Composer: John Dowland (1563 – 1625)

Although the ownership of this manuscript is uncertain, its music is typical of the 'virginal' books used to tutor players, especially women, at the time. Its contents are divided into two collections, one of preludes and the other of fantasias. It also preserves pre-Civil War music by Byrd, Bull and Weelkes, alongside later Baroque composers such as Locke and Blow.

Music from Manuscript 2093, Royal College of Music Library. Played on a spinet by Stephen Keene, London, about 1685 (Royal College of Music, Museum of Musical Instruments 179).

Download: mp3 | ogg

This content was originally written in association with the exhibition 'Baroque 1620 - 1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence', on display at the V&A South Kensington from 4 April - 19 July 2009.

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