Early Baroque Period
(1600 – 1680)
The most important figure of the Early Baroque period was the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi. He transformed music through his imaginative development of traditional forms. In particular, the dramatic styles of his madrigals (vocal compositions) anticipates the solo cantata and operatic recitative (a singing styles that resembles speech) of the Late Baroque period. Monteverdi was also the earliest significant composer of opera.
Other music that flourished during this period was church organ music. Dutch composer Jan Sweelinck pioneered a number of forms, including the fugue, which strongly influenced J.S. Bach. Another leading musician was Dietrich Buxtehude, whose fame inspired Bach to walk two hundred miles just to hear him play.
The early 17th century saw the rise of Baroque monody, where the melody is given to one instrument of voice, while a basso continuo (”continuing bass”), usually consisting of a keyboard and bass melody instrument, supplies the accompaniment. This did much to distinguish it from the polyphony of the Renaissance. The basso continuo was a common device in both vocal and instrumental Baroque music. Its keyboard part was never written out, but each chord change was indicated by numbers written over or under the bass line.