Sunday, 22 June 2014

Baroque'n'Roll

The term “classical” has been applied popularly to all post-medieval music, but there are several periods within “classical” music which relate to specific styles. One of these is baroque music which was written between about 1600 and 1750.

Baroque was an artistic style which also included art and literature and was originally created by the Vatican to attract people back to the Catholic Church after the rise of Protestantism. Baroque tried to be more popular and appeal to the ordinary person in the street and move away from the more formal, somewhat stuffy, music of the 17th century. That’s not to say that music before baroque was always stuffy, but baroque tended to be more melodic and frequently more up-beat and livelier. In this respect it had the same impact as rock’n’roll in the 1950s when the music industry tried to appeal to a younger audience.

Many household names in music rose to fame in the baroque period – Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. All of them are familiar names and you probably know more of their music than you realise. With regards to attracting people back to the Catholic Church one of the most successful attempts was by Handel. His “Messiah” was hugely popular in his time, and still is today. 

There are several other queer composers who made a name for themselves and helped to give music its “baroque’n’roll” flavour to the 17th century. 

Top of the list is Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687). This Italian-born composer became one of the most important cultural figures at the court of King Louis XIV of France. As well as being a composer and talented musician Lully was a dancer, and most of his baroque work was for the theatre and dance hall more than for the church. 

As superintendent of music at the royal court Lully created many innovative ballets, operas and theatrical entertainments which can be compared to the modern stage musicals of recent years with their special mechanical effects. Working in collaboration with such famous French writers as Molière Lully transformed French theatrical music and opera and influenced the way stage productions are produced. 

Lully lost his royal position in 1685 after a scandal involving him and a boy in the royal music school, amongst other probable affairs. The alleged account of his death surely ranks amongst the most extraordinary. But we’ll leave that for later in the year! But until then I found this amusing little cartoon which features Lully and his part in the development of the orchestra.

In Lully’s native Italy another queer composer was rocking the baroque. Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) was a performer like Lully as well as a composer. He was regarded as one of the top violinists of his day and highly influential in the establishing of a distinct Italian baroque style. His music had fewer of the “fiddly” bits (pardon the violin pun) than most baroque composers, and he wrote music which people considered to be perfection. 

Having been born into an impoverished landed family Arcangelo’s rise to musical heights began after his talents were spotted by some of the most important patrons around at the time – Queen Kristina of Sweden, Cardinal Pamfili and, most importantly, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (the pope’s great-nephew). 

Arcangelo presided over the weekly concerts at Ottoboni’s palace in Rome. The Cardinal is regarded as one of the many closeted gay cardinals who gathered a group of talented, artistic young men around him, and Arcangelo, who lived in his palace for a while, probably came under the Cardinal’s patronage because of his looks as much as for his music. Arcangelo formed an attachment to another violinist in Rome called Matteo Fornari. Neither men married or are known to have had any female romantic interests and they were hardly ever separated. Another composer even dedicated a new sonata to the pair. 

Arcangelo’s music influenced many composers that followed, including Handel and Bach. The German baroque music scene was highly influenced by the Italians. One German queer baroque composed who was influenced by the Italians before Arcangelo was even born was Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684). 

Johann studied at the University of Leipzig and lived in the city for many years. He became organist at one of the main cathedrals and was lined up to take over the post of Cantor, or director of music, after the current holder. This offer was swiftly dropped after Johann and several choirboys were arrested for sodomy. Johann was sentenced to jail, but he managed to escape and ended up in Venice. 

Venice helped to increase the Italian influence in Johann’s music and he wrote a lot while he was there, teaching at a girl’s school. Composers from Germany came to be trained by him and return home with the Italian influences. 

In 1682 Johann himself returned to Germany to become the choir master at the court of Anton-Ulric von Gelf, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel. It was there that Johann died in 1684. 

There are many other composers who influenced the development of music and produce the “baroque’n’roll” of the 17th century. The three queer composers mentioned today are just a few of those who passed on their influence all over continental Europe.

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