Music and Society in the Late Baroque Era

  • George J. Buelow
Part of the Man & Music book series (MAMU)


Since the early nineteenth century, ‘Baroque’ has been used first in art criticism and later in musical historiography as a label defining the period in Western culture extending from approximately 1600 to around 1750. Significantly, its original application to music can be traced only to specific criticism of music written in France late in the period encompassed by this volume. It was in the 1730s that a few writers began to disparage the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau for being extravagant in style, bizarre, too dissonant and therefore in its original, pejorative context ‘baroque’. The word itself originated with the Portuguese label barroco, for a misshapen pearl. Thus, for example, in 1739 Jean-Baptiste Rousseau declared in a letter that Rameau’s opera Dardanus had inspired him to write a humorous ode containing the line ‘distillers of baroque chords of which so many idiots are enamoured’.1 In 1753 Jean-Jacques Rousseau accused the Italians of composing ‘bizarre and baroque’ music,2 and in his Dictionnaire de musique (Paris, 1768) he formulated his well-known definition: ‘“baroque” music is that in which harmony is confused, charged with modulations and dissonances, in which the melody is harsh and little natural, intonation difficult and the movement constrained’.


Eighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Good Taste Musical Style Instrumental Music 
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Copyright information

© Granada Group and Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • George J. Buelow

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