Popular music is the result of a centuries-long optimization process, getting us to where we are today. What becomes a hit is the perfect combination of fitting maximum emotion, hether that’s electro-dance music sending your energy to its heights or raw ballads bringing you to tears, into the optimized timeframe of human attention, which is approximately three minutes.
This union of electronic and acoustic sounds is inescapable and the emotional direction music can pull us in can be immense, but also dulling. Over time, the beats and bass compound in our brains and one can stop appreciating those pinnacles of sound reaching their eardrums. If one is looking for a reprieve from the modern day music, there is a vastly underappreciated era that is worth exploring: Baroque music.
Baroque music is a type of classical music, and a typical journey into this genre of music will likely find one within what is termed the “Romantic era” (1820-1900). Think Beethoven, Tchaikowski, and Chopin. The works during this era are thick with emotional intensity and can push ones emotions well beyond what modern music can, if one is willing to allow the composer occupy their attention for 30+ minutes rather than three. On an exploration into classical music one might take it one era deeper into the past, to the “Classical era” which Mozart and Bach occupy. The Classical era turns down the emotional intensity found within the Romantic era and fits more within the modern paradigm of “music to do homework to.”
Digging just one era deeper, we arrive at Baroque music (1600-1750). With characteristic ornate melodies following gentle and predictable patterns that flirt with complexity but never reach heights of too much intensity. What makes Baroque music subtly provocative to one’s ears is that the instruments the music was originally written for are a notably different set of instruments that one may be accustomed to hearing today. For example, the piano, with a versatility for sustained and staccato, loud and soft notes did not yet exis,t and its predecessor, the harpsichord, with a strictly staccato string plucking mechanism, ruled this era.
Because the era of Baroque music predated recorded music, recordings became possible in the late 1800s. The only way to hear Baroque music today is either from an ensemble that also maintains ancient instruments, or through an experience that is slightly altered due to the performance being done on modern-day instruments. Both varieties preserve the textural characteristic of Baroque music, where multiple melodies are happening at the same time. This gives a complexity to otherwise “simplistic” early classical music.
If one is feeling a depleted enthusiasm for the music that is filling the airwaves today, it might be interesting to dig a few eras deeper into classical music and see how the mind responds to the rarely appreciated Baroque era.