Of all musical genres that I enjoy, I would have to rank the baroque era of classical music high on my list. I love the ineffable quality of the harpsichord and the contrast between solo instruments and the ensemble.
Here’s a definition of Baroque:
“a style of artistic expression … marked generally by use of complex forms, bold ornamentation, and the juxtaposition of contrasting elements often conveying a sense of drama, movement, and tension”
The name comes from a Portuguese word, barroco, which means “misshapen pearl”. Like the moniker given to Impressionism in the last 19th century, this term started out as an indictment by critics who preferred the earlier Renaissance style. The term came to include music and architecture which was excessively ornate or which evoked deep emotion and lasted from about 1600 to 1750.
I think baroque music reflects some important life lessons I’ve learned. Here are a few examples:
1) Life isn’t perfect, but it can be pretty amazing anyway. Early critics eschewed the newer, more energetic and complicated music of the 17th century and so compared it to something misshapen or less than ideal. Circumstances in life don’t always turn out the way we plan them or the way we’d like them to be. While that can disappoint and frustrate us, often these challenging circumstances become the very experiences that, in retrospect, give our lives profound value and character as we persevere.
2) Foundational elements are crucial to grounding us in a world that’s always changing. During the Baroque Era, a new way of notating music emerged that included a continual bass line under the melody. Sometimes this was written out explicitly, and other times only the chords were there, leaving the musician to extrapolate. But this basso continuo, or continuous bass, kept a solid structure under the melody. Whether your bass line is a spiritual faith or you have gathered values from other sources, there are certain foundational elements that keep us grounded when life and the people around us get crazy. And personal discipline to stay connected to those values gives us access to the structure that helps us make sense of the world.
3) This life isn’t meant to be lived alone. Baroque music was characterized by melody and harmony, and this was part of its appeal as well as part of its unseemliness. But having multiple parts and multiple instruments complementing one another was exactly what evoked the emotion that the composers desired. While there may be a solo in movements of a sonata, the power comes from the complicated play of instruments together. Such is life. I always perform better when I allow others to speak into my life and when I sometimes let someone else lead or have the spotlight. We all bring fuller experience to our lives when we play our parts selflessly and support those around us.
What about you? How have you found life lessons in unexpected places?