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 Lecture 10

The Early Baroque, the Beginnings of Opera


 Why cause words to be sung by four of five voices so that they cannot be distinguished,

when the ancients aroused the strongest passions by means of a single voice supported by a lyre.

—Florentine critic, 1581


the baroque period

C.E. 1600-1700 

What's different about the baroque period? 

What's this new thing called opera?


Topics covered:


Monteverdi's Orfeo

new trends in the baroque


Composer: Monteverdi



understand what distinguishes music of the baroque from music of the renaissance

basso continuo

ostinato (ground bass)



other trends



watch lecture 10 (in multiple parts for quicker download)

review previous chapters, as necessary

read textbook, Chapter 13-15


Audio / Video lecture

click lecture segments below in sequence

presented in several segments to reduce download time

total lecture time: approx. one hour 15 minutes (all segments included)


Video Timeline for the baroque (very short) 

some important dates and events, accompanied by music generally applicable to the period

To give you a better perspective on the period and its composers, I might suggest that you watch this at least twice— 

• once before the first lecture covering the period 

• once more after the last lecture covering the period. 




Lecture 10.1 

Baroque Opera Part 2



Lecture 10.2 

Monteverdi’s Orfeo



Orpheus sings of his happiness that he is now married to Euridice

Behold, I return to you, 

dear woods and beloved hills, 

made blissful through that sun 

through which alone my nights have turned to day.


Orpheus laments Euridice's loss as he learns that she has been bitten by a snake

Thou art dead, my life, and I am still breathing? 

You’ve departed from me, nevermore to return? 

No, if my verses have any power at all, 

I will surely go down to the deepest abysses 

and having melted the heart of the King of Shadows [Pluto], 

lead you back with me to see the stars. Otherwise, 

I will remain with you in the company of death. 


Possente spirto - Orpheus' plea to the gods to allow him to enter Hades and bring Euridice back

Mighty spirit and powerful divinity, 

without whom the souls freed from their bodies 

hope in vain to reach the other bank of the river Styx. 

I am not alive, not after the death of my beloved wife, 

my heart is no longer with me, 

and without a heart, how can it be that I live? 

I am Orpheus, who follows the steps of Euridice 

through these dismal plains, 

to which no mortal has access. 

Pluto, only thou, noble god, can aid me. 

Fear not— It is only the sweet strings 

of my golden lyre that I use as a weapon 

against the stern souls to whom it is vain to implore.


Lecture 10.3 

New trends of the Baroque


Lecture 10.4 

The nature of opera