Practical Similarities and Differences of Stile Antico and Stile Moderno Essay

Trey SmagurSmagur 1 28 November 2009 Dr. Frederick Tarrant Music History: Baroque to Romantic Practical Similarities and Differences of Stile Antico and Stile Moderno When the general public thinks of Baroque music, they might think of the High Court sounding French concerto, or one of Bach’s many and well-known fugues. These highly structured pieces with their vigorous counterpoint and technical brilliance might be considered “tight” and “incredibly mechanical. However, these pieces though full of well thought out lines, phrases, and ornamented passages are not driven by the writers will to keep the music enslaved in rules and restricting limits of harmony. The Baroque era contained the elements of the stile moderno, a practice where the harmonies of music we’re not thought of as how they fit with the other notes on the page as much as they each followed their own particular line. These ideas were wrought from an earlier practice known as the prima practica or stile antico.

The differences between the stile antico and stile moderno are large in many respects including the lives of the men who lived by both practices. One of the large differences that many people first hear of when they look at the two practices is that of harmony. These two styles have many different views of how harmony should be used in pieces pertaining to all music. The earliest composer known of to truly “break the rules” and use dissonances to cultivate the text or feeling in a piece that was not widely Smagur 2 ccepted as the right way of doing things was Claudio Monteverdi. Count d’Artusi was rather loathing of Monteverdi’s Cruda Amarilli which did not follow some of the earlier models set by those firm believers in being the owner of the music. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina is one example of the men who made such rules for music strictly pertaining to dissonances and over all lines. Cruda Amarilli is by no means an out of the box piece for our ear, however in these days Monteverdi was considered a rebel for “betraying” the most beloved guidelines set by the Renaissance Composers.

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In many ways these first pieces of the new practice we’re not completely set to the ideals later stated as those that were the guidelines of stile moderno, and followed many of the same rules set in stile antico. The polyphonic ways of old followed many strict limitations including the resolution of dissonances almost immediately if they were not on the passing tone and for melodic lines to almost always go up or down by step. If the melody leaped it was to be immediately countered by moving in the opposite direction by step.

Though these guidelines most likely felt limiting to the composers who began the new practice, it was most likely not their aim to just diminish stile antico for the sake of selfish gain. The men who were at the apex of the shift to the new understanding of harmonic and melodic lines as well as the genre for which the music was being composed were known as the Florentine Camerata. These men were looking back in time for not the changing of music, but for a new way of life. What they found were the Greek tragedies and poems that had been cherished for many years.

The group decided that they would use these philosophical methods of ethos and emotion in their lives as well as their composition and arts. What began from this was a certain emotional draw in the music of the composers in the group as well as those influenced by them. Dissonances became more and more widely accepted to express a certain Smagur 3 emotion being portrayed by the text or structure of the music. Each line was given its own unique qualities and was not fit to the other lines only to make sure the harmonic intervals were always set perfectly. This could be why in most Baroque music the chords change almost every beat of the music.

Through their new standard of living the Camerata was able to express themselves in the arts and changing the face of much of the music coming out along with them, though the roots from previous styles had not been forgotten. The ideas and beliefs brought forth by the Camerata and many others were whole and acted as a benchmark for moving forward in music, but the ideas of past musical structures had not been forgotten. Polyphony which had seemed to be a key part of the stile antico with its many rules on line and counterpoint made a strong return through the Prelude and Fugue, particularly by Johann Sebastian Bach.

J. S. Bach wrote many organ pieces with long and fluid contrapuntal passages still following the ideals set in the prima practica. Many of Bach’s works had outlines brought pieces by such composers as Palestrina who some consider the father of the first practice. Palestrina’s Missa sine nomine gave Bach a strong inspiration for his particularly famous Mass in B Minor. Through this polyphony Bach was able to inspire the Lutheran Church as well as the works of many other composers who would later use his works as basis for their own.

Many of the composers who would do this would move out of the Church setting and into private parties and royal houses to entertain, which was not heard of by the earlier predecessors of Polyphony who would have stayed in the churches. These men would have only gone outside of the church if the King or a royal call was offered and would then return to the church for duties. Smagur 4 Another true freedom of the new practice was the theory of basso continuo or figured bass. The bass line would not be completely illustrated but just given the chord structure and let the accompanist play the other notes how they saw fit.

This would mean that you may have gone to one place to hear a piece of music only to hear it completely differently played the second time that you heard it. This type of freedom was one very large part of the stile moderno that is still used in much of music today. The idea was originally featured by Giulio Caccini in his work Le nuove musiche. Because of this freedom however, some accompanists saw it fit to waste around the accompaniment only playing bare bones of what was needed to fill in the chords given.

This might have been one of the reasons that many of the opposition saw this to be a ridiculous new intervention because of bass line that was to be read differently, without a complete structure every time it was played. A collaboration of all of the ideas set forth in this practice would be the monody. Monodies of the time were solo works with a figured bass as the accompaniment with many dissonances and harmonic imbalances throughout to demonstrate the emotion being felt through the text.

These pieces also had a strong tie to the Greek tragedies believed in by the Camerata as well as many others. Many of these monodies were used in some of the earliest operas which were the stories of the Greeks and the lives of the gods such as Orpheus. Because these early operas had no true arias and followed a different structure with more recitative like phrases throughout the entire work, these monodies were used as a true expression of what was going on in the aria, though they were not only performed in operas, this might have been where they found their best fit.

These monodies were also some of the premiere works in the second practice to show off all the ideas that had been brought forth by these composers. Smagur 5 The men who used the second practice to launch a new era of music did not do so for themselves or because they felt a grudge against the prima practica, they did so with the hopes of bringing the raw emotion back felt in the stories and tragedies of the ancient Greeks.

Though the many differences between the first and second practices separate them in many ways, the practices still hold some similarities especially along the lines of contrapuntal polyphony. These men of the Camerata as well as the other men with the same beliefs were not out to destroy the previous music by such composers as Palestrina, they were out to find a new way to express themselves and enjoy art in a new form. This way of art has not since been lost and is still celebrated today through many Baroque enthusiasts.

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