Sign in

The Development of Baroque Instruments

Instruments update and musical style of the Baroque Era.

Baroque Instruments

Music of the Baroque period was mainly written and played for particular sites- churches, opera houses, and the nobility. In the Baroque period, churches were the primary channel for sacred music performance in Europe. Sacred music was composed mainly for organ, voice, or the combination of above two. The emergence of other instruments’ adoption in church music grew gradually throughout the Baroque period. Among those instruments, the very first one was the brass instrument, and it was followed by the string and wind for cantatas and oratorios. Opera combined elaborate sets and delicate stage clothes, along with virtuosic musical performances. The Opera drama productions had their roots in the sacred/church music dramas. Since then, the production of opera began to open to the public- people from all classes, not merely for the noble and royalty. Famous composers from this period include J. S. Bach, G. F. Handel, A. Corelli, G. P. Telemann, and A. Vivaldi. It is worth mentioning that there were two composers- Andrea Gabrieli and Giovanni Gabrieli, composing brass music works, and one of those was the very first one that was adopted, and afterwards made brass instruments continue being employed in church music during the shift periods from Renaissance to Baroque Era.

A portriat of Giovanni Gabrieli holding a Lute

During the Baroque Period, instrumental music grew in popularity, and it rose to a point as importantly as vocal music did. There was an noticeable rise in the quantity of music composed for flute, oboe, bassoon, trombone, valveless trumpets and horns, harpsichords ,as well as organ. Timpani were the only percussion instrument used in serious sacred composition. Orchestras were primarily written for string instruments and a few woodwind instruments to perform. Organs were being built in churches for playing the solo material. The idea of a keyboard instrument with a wooden or plastic hammer to strike the strings when a performer presses or strikes the keys was just being developed- this would eventually become the piano people play in modern times.

Throughout the Baroque Period, instruments continued developing and evolving to certain extent, allowing for a performer to reach more delicate and advanced sound effects and quality in range and keys. The horn was one of the instruments that underwent great changes in the seventeenth century. It grew in lengths up to 12 feet. The shape of it changed to a large extent, from a multi-coil style to an open hoop shape, which would allow the performer to shift key centers as needed by using different sixed crooks or tubing extensions.

Musical style

Stylistically, music changes from the Renaissance to the Baroque Period in several different aspects. During the Baroque Period, the melody, whether for human singing or instrumental performing, was used mainly as a guideline for the player, who was expected to do spontaneous performance- improvisation and ornamentation- by their own musical thoughts. Fast scale phrases, ornamentations, and chord figuration in a more fantastical(imaginary) style were written to display brilliant technique. One such place for there flourishes is in the cadenza, an unaccompanied passage at the very end of a piece.

Contrasting texture within a piece of music became increasingly significant and was accomplished through Concertato style. Concertato style is a musical approach featured by the interaction of two or more groups of instruments or voices. It required large and small groups of instruments take turn playing sections in contrasting volume, quality or tones. Polyphonic music continued to develop during the Baroque periods. Fugue was one of the most complicated polyphonic musical types . It characterized by the systematic imitation. There are two or more voices were built on a single subject/theme which is displayed at the beginning, and those melodies would change their patterns(imitation: repetition at different pitches) in several different ways with the same quality of subject should remain. Written dynamics were, for the very first time, introduced into music scores during seventeenth century. However, they were used sparingly. The term piano(soft) and forte(loud) came into general use in new Italian music, and similar markings were also employed in other European areas. By the eighteenth century, crescendo and decrescendo were marked down as well.

Sacred Instrumental Music

In early Western music, there was a general concept of not to having instrumental performance in churches. In modern times, the term a capella is used to describe a vocal-only performance, which means an unaccompanied piece. (It literally means “from the chapel”). It is an artifact from the days when only human voice was acceptable to be performed inside churches. Nevertheless, there is no such boundary in the Baroque period. Instruments were widely used in Baroque church services. (accompaniment for cantatas or other forms of music). In the early Baroque period, compositions with 4 movements for strings or keyboard instruments called a sonata da chiesa, and it was performed in church and secular settings.

If the Renaissance gave people the finest church vocal compositions ever written, the Baroque period has given people the greatest organ music. Pipe organs became a fixed setting in many churches and there are lots of composers writting a great amount of music for organs owing to its wide-range tone colors. J. Pachelbel written a lot of delicate sacred organ music. D. Buxtehude was also a musician with a great amount of organ works for organists to play. Buxtehude was so influential that people came from great distances for his performance. As an young organist, J. S. Bach once walked two hundred fifty miles just to watch his performance as well. In the Baroque period, the compositional form of the fugue culminate. In the hands of J. S. Bach, fugue became a well-formatted and highly- developed musical form with sophisticated compositional techniques depending on the equally complicated rules for tonal harmony. (Fugues usually followed a prelude, a toccata, or a fantasia, and were performed for sacred services.)

Baroque Secular Music

The flurishment of instrumental composition was a index of the increasing power of the court and the middle class. In this era, paintings often show a harpsichord or a virginal as a permanently fixed piece in homes of those middle class. Collections for instruments began to be published. Many of them were in the form of a dance suite, which is a collection of dances generally lasting only a few minutes each. Suites consist of a mixture of fast and slow dances from diffrent European countries. Sonatas were a common form for instruments, and the name Sonata was mainly used to help distinguish between works of instruments and that of vocal singing. In addition to the sonata da chiesa(church sonata in Italian), there was also a sonata da camera (chamber sonata in italian), various trio sonatas, solo sonatas, etc. Please note that all of the above musical compositional forms are not the same ones found in the Classical and Romantic periods, even though they have some of the same basic characteristics. In the Baroque period, sonata form people perform a lot today had not completely formed its fundamental structure, but the basic concept and form was in place. The concerto developed in the Baroque period, A. Corelli was usually credited for the development of the concerto. But it was through A. Vivaldi’s hundreds of concerti, the standard form for concerto was settled. He refined concerto into a three-movement structure (fast-slow-fast) with a solo instrument set off against an orchestral ensemble. The practice of having a concerto with one or more soloists was also common.


Bakst, James. A History of Music. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1966.

Beattie Davis, Richard. The Beauty of Renaissance. Florida: The Friends of the S.E. Wimberly Library, 2008.

Feofanov, Dmitry, Ed. Rare Masterpieces of Classical Piano Music. Mineola, NY: Dover

Publications, 1984.

Jaffé, Daniel. Historical Dictionary of Baroque Music. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2012.

Leonard, Richard Anthony. A History of Baroque Music. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1957.

Baroque Music.” New World Encyclopedia.

(accessed March 14th, 2021).

Johann Sebastian Bach: a Detailed Informative Biography.” Baroque Music.

(accessed March 14th, 2021).