While it is tempting to consider historical periods with specific dates and characteristics, there is truly more of a gradual evolution in which old styles linger and new begin without definitive ending or beginning. In the last half of the 1500's, there was a continuation of old styles while at the same time, the foundations of the burgeoning Baroque era was building. Reaching for new resources of harmony and dissonance, color, rhythm, and form, composers began to seek an expanded musical language. Led by Giovanni Gabrieli at St. Marks, a powerful Venetian school, experiments with massive colors, new ways to use voices and instruments, and multiphonic sound that produced up to five separate choirs were begun. Thus was created brilliant antiphonal bodies of sound that echoed back and forth. Gabrieli's successor, Claudio Monteverdi furthered this transition to Baroque, a term for great ornateness in music and art and architecture. Monteverdi moved toward modern tonalities with mixtures of polyphony and homophony and a focus on the solo voice and its supporting bass line.
Certainly, instrumental music became increasingly important in Baroque. In fact, composers began to call for specific instruments and ensembles. They transcribed music so it could be played by lute, guitar, clavichord, virginal, and the harpsichord. They wrote dance music for ballets, and for the popular social dancing in Western Europe. Moreover, they experimented with pieces that would show off a performer's virtuosity. Certainly, Baroque paved the way for more elaborate personal expression in music. In the Baroque music, the listener's attention is designed so that he will appreciate elaborateness of expression, and how music is an expression of general states of the soul. As one listens to Beethoven's Eroica Sympathy, for instance, he is drawn to the piece as a personal statement of the composer. Curiously, the term baroque was used in October of 1733 in Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie, printed in the Mercure de France in May 1734. There a music critic implied that the novelty in this opera was
"du barocque," complaining that the music lacked coherent melody, was filled with unremitting dissonances, constantly changed key and meter, and speedily ran through every compositional device
- Early Baroque 1580-1630
Under the patronage of Count Giovanni de Bardi, the Florentine Camarata, a group of humanists, intellectuals, poets, and musicians convened to discuss and lead trends in the arts. These men held an ideal of Classical musical drama which gave birth to opera as they rejected their contemporaries' use of polyphony, holding instead to a Greek concept of monody, in which a solo vocalist is accompanied by an instrument called a kithara. In addition, composers began to concern themselves more with harmony, which had also existed in the Renaissance. Also, composers employed the tritone, perceived as an unstable interval, to create dissonance.
- Middle Baroque 1630-1680
With the increasing employment of various instruments, chamber music began to be popular. The cantata, oratorio, and opera of the bel-canto style, an important contribution to Baroque as a new concept of melody and harmony, emerged, along with the sonata.
- Late Baroque 1680-1730
Polyphony became the basis for composition with such greats as Bach in Germany, who altered older forms with stringed instruments,giving them more variety; Christians found themselves divided with sacred music used in the Catholic Church and the secular Baroque of the aristocracy that was played in chambers, but became antiquated and was reserved only for conservatories and students of music.
Christians, then, found themselves divided in the old Baroque and new forms of music.
Essentially, Baroque music began in Europe during the 1600's to 1750, with 3 major periods that ran from 1580 - 1630, 1630 - 1680, and 1680 - 1730.
As to how the Baroque period began, it started with a music critique that criticized the opera, Hippolyte et Aricie, and stated, "that the music lacked coherent melody, was filled with unremitting dissonances, constantly changed key and meter, and speedily ran through every compositional device." Thus, the term "du barocque", was coined.