Twentieth Century Music: How it Developed, How to Listen to It

By Marion Bauer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE BEGINNINGS OF THE MODERN ERA: BACH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURY DEVELOPMENTS

IT has often been remarked that the seventeenth century produced no great composers, still, it was a period of revolutionary developments in music. "That age of turmoil and yet of swift progress," Charles Sanford Terry calls it in Bach: The Historical Approach. ". . . A pulsing century of rapid, organized growth, perfected and crowned by the absorptive genius of Bach!"

From the time of the Camerata to that of Bach, innumerable innovations succeeded in breaking down time-honored traditions. Johann Sebastian Bach ( 1685-1750) welded together the heterogeneous tendencies which had been growing for almost a century and bound them into such a homogeneous unity that the year of his birth is regarded as the beginning of the era of modern music. Coincidentally, Händel was born the same year, while Domenico Scariatti and Jean Philippe Rameau, the "modernists" of Italy and France, were born shortly before them.

The experiments of the Camerata, resulting in opera, oratorio, and ballet, opened new homophonic paths.

Although every type of musical instrument was known to the ancients, and seeds planted centuries before had taken root in the sixteenth century, instrumental music had not developed into an art until the seventeenth. The potentialities of instruments, used merely as accessory to the voices, were disclosed and developed, and early types of keyed, wind, and stringed instruments were improved. The little town of Cremona became the center of the violin industry and the Amati, Stradivari, and Guarneri families transformed the antiquated chest of viols into violins, violas, and violoncellos, the perfection of which has never been equaled.

New instruments produced performers, composers and new

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