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Spanish Music History - 16th 17th Century Baroque

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Baroque art and architecture, the visual arts and building design and construction produced during the era in the history of Western art that roughly coincides with the 17th century. The earliest manifestations, which occurred in Italy, date from the latter decades of the 16th century, while in some regions, notably Germany and colonial South America, certain culminating achievements of Baroque did not occur until the 18th century. The work that distinguishes the Baroque period is stylistically complex, even contradictory. In general, however, the desire to evoke emotional states by appealing to the senses, often in dramatic ways, underlies its manifestations. Some of the qualities most frequently associated with the Baroque are grandeur, sensuous richness, drama, vitality, movement, tension, emotional exuberance, and a tendency to blur distinctions between the various arts.

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While the Protestants harshly criticized the cult of images, the Catholic Church ardently embraced the religious power of art. The visual arts, the Church argued, played a key role in guiding the faithful. They were certainly as important as the written and spoken word, and perhaps even more important, since they were accessible to the learned and the unlearned alike. In order to be effective in its pastoral role, religious art had to be clear, persuasive, and powerful. Not only did it have to instruct, it had to inspire. It had to move the faithful to feel the reality of Christ’s sacrifice, the suffering of the martyrs, the visions of the saints. The Church’s emphasis on art’s pastoral role prompted artists to experiment with new and more direct means of engaging the viewer

Artists like Caravaggio turned to a powerful and dramatic realism, accentuated by bold contrasts of light and dark, and tightly-cropped compositions that enhance the physical and emotional immediacy of the depicted narrative. Other artists, like Annibale Carracci (who also experimented with realism), ultimately settled on a more classical visual language, inspired by the vibrant palette, idealized forms, and balanced compositions of the High Renaissance (see image above). Still others, like Giovanni Battista Gaulli, turned to daring feats of illusionism that blurred not only the boundaries between painting, sculpture, and architecture, but also those between the real and depicted worlds. In so doing, the divine was made physically present and palpable. Whether through shocking realism, dynamic movement, or exuberant ornamentation, seventeenth-century art is meant to impress. It aims to convince the viewer of the truth of its message by impacting the senses, awakening the emotions, and activating, even sharing the viewer’s space.The Church’s emphasis on art’s pastoral role prompted artists to experiment with new and more direct means of engaging the viewer. Artists like Caravaggio turned to a powerful and dramatic realism, accentuated by bold contrasts of light and dark, and tightly-cropped compositions that enhance the physical and emotional immediacy of the depicted narrative.

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To an even greater extent than Fernando Sor in the nineteenth century, Andrés Segovia was actively involved in guitar design and development, meeting with guitar makers of the highest quality, including Ramírez and Hernández. In the 1920s, he encountered the German guitar maker Hermann Hauser, about whom he observed: I examined [his instruments] and immediately foresaw the potential of this superb artisan if only his mastery might be applied to the construction of the guitar in the Spanish pattern as immutably fixed by Torres and Ramírez as the violin had been fixed by Stradivarius and Guarnerius. (Romanillos 1987, p. 56). Hauser later approached Segovia and presented him with a guitar (1986.353.1 ). Through his own ingenuity and ability to recognize the genius of the Spanish traditions in the work of Torres and Ramírez, Hauser is now recognized among them as one of the great makers of the Spanish guitar (Romanillos, José, 1987). The twentieth century has seen innovation of a different kind; guitar makers did not face the same design problems as they did a century before. It was the task of nineteenth-century guitar makers to produce a concert instrument capable of filling a large room with sound; this was achieved by Torres, and his designs remain the benchmark to this day. A guitar by Ignacio Fleta (2010.420 ), made in 1953, a hundred years after Torres’ first instruments, demonstrates both the continuing value in Spanish instrument making and the persistence of the traditions established in the early twentieth century based upon the designs of Torres. Whereas Torres and his predecessors are noted for their daring innovation, makers since have chiefly concerned themselves with minor adjustments in the internal barring structure and in the materials used

Spanish guitar makers today by necessity have to be educated in the innovations of these grand masters (Tyler, James, 2005).

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Thus, in the context of painting, for example, the stark realism of Zurbaran’s altarpieces, the quiet intimacy of Vermeer’s domestic interiors, and the restrained classicism of Poussin’s landscapes are all Baroque—now with a capital B to indicate the historical period—regardless of the absence of the stylistic traits originally associated with the term. Scholars continue to debate the validity of this label, admitting the usefulness of having a label for this distinct historical period, while also acknowledging its limitations in characterizing the variety of artistic styles present in the 17th century.

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Evans, Tom, and Mary Anne Evans. Guitars: Music, History, Construction, and Players from the Renaissance to Rock. New York: Facts on File, 1977.

Romanillos, José. Antonio de Torres, Guitar Maker: His Life and Work. Shaftsbury: Element Books, 1987.

Shaw, Robert, and Peter Szego, eds. Inventing the American Guitar: The Pre–Civil War Innovations of C. F. Martin and His Contemporaries. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Books, 2013.

Tyler, James. Guitar and Its Music: From the Renaissance to the Classical Era. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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