Compare and contrast two works from the same genre from different eras Essay

Compare and contrast two works from the same genre which were written at least a generation or half a century apart. Consider and explain similarities and differences with regard to musical style and historical context.

The Renaissance and Baroque era entailed very different characteristics, due to the Renaissance composers writing more freely and being more individual then those of the Baroque era where they followed more ‘rules’ and experimented less. This essay will show the difference in two pieces by different composers, even though they were written less than a century apart.

Giovanni Gabrieli was an Italian composer born in 1554 and wrote many works in the ‘in between’ stage of Renaissance and Baroque. He was a composer and organist, composing many great works, such as Jubilate Deo but mostly wrote polychoral pieces which had been explored by his Uncle, which possibly lead him to write Sonata pian’e forte. At the time, composers could not make a living out of just writing music so Gabrieli became an organist at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and then became a teacher, giving lessons on writing madrigals and other works.1 Sonata pian’e forte was composed in 1597 to be performed in a Catholic service at St Mark’s in Venice. It is written for eight instruments that are split into two broken consorts; one with three trombones (or sackbuts) and a cornett, and the other with another three trombones and a violin. However, this violin part goes down to a D so the part might be played nowadays by something else e.g. the viola. The sackbut was the smaller predecessor of the trombone and was often used to mimic vocal parts. The lines are written in the same way someone would compose for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, as they have equal ranges and the bass (or trombone 3/6) is very cadential. This is very different to Corelli’s Trio Sonata in D, Op. 3 No. 2: movement IV as the composer writes idiomatically for violins, mainly in the mid-register.

Arcangelo Corelli was born in 1653 in Italy and studied music in Bolonga, excelling in violin and composition. He then became a teacher himself, mostly teaching violin to hundreds of students who used Corelli as their “iconic point of reference”.2 Trio Sonata, composed in 1689, is in D major with diatonic harmonies. The cello and organ provide the basso continuo, following the figured bass. The modulation in bar 10 to A major ends in a V7 – I, providing strength to the piece. This differs from Sonata pian’e forte which is in the Dorian mode with lots of root position chords (bar 1 and 2) and suspensions (bar 3). The melody is mostly stepwise and the tierce de Picarrdie in bar 4 gives a sense of balanced phrasing. This is felt again in bar 8, due to the consonant 4th. The modal harmony in bar 13 creates an imperfect cadence to mark the end of the A1 section. An interesting phrygian cadence (IVb – V) is used in bar 16 leads into a short circle of 5ths (bar 17) and then a perfect cadence in F major with a 4-3 suspension (bar 20). This ‘busy-ness’ before cadences was not uncommon, due to the very expressive works that were composed in this era.

Trio Sonata also uses engaging rhythms and harmonies, for example, the 7-6 suspension in bar 9 and the hemiola before the perfect cadence in bar 28. Corelli also uses an inverted tonic pedal in bar 15 to create a sense of strength and anticipation before the start of the B section. “Unity of mood in Baroque is first conveyed by the continuity of rhythm.”3 This quote shows the importance of rhythm in the Baroque era, particularly lively, driving rhythms, like in Corelli’s Trio Sonata. The animated first subject is in compound duple time with an ‘answer’ from the second violins in bar 3. The melodic material for the second subject is then derived from this to give a sense of unity throughout the piece. This is different to the cadenza like rhythms in Sonata pian’e forte which uses rhythmic and melodic imitation almost immediately followed by a suspension in bar 3. Most of the time the piece is in free polyphony, although homophonic at times (bar 40).The tutti section starting in bar 26 is full of antiphonal exchanges of the sam descending phrase starting in trombone 5. This is interesting because two coros would have been separated to create a unique sound in the space between them. This is known as cori spezzati which was developed in the Renaissance period and commonly used in churches and cathedrals.4 The rich and expressive climax starting in bar 72ff is very typical of sacred music of the time because of the blending of the sounds rather than contrasting, and the clear I-V-I cadence in C major (bar 73) gives a sense of finishing.

This piece is through-composed which is uncommon of this era, although he uses motifs and alters them in other parts to create harmonic interest e.g. the descending phrase in bar 26 is inverted and used again in bar 28. Bars 1-14 is the opening subject by coro 1 in the Dorian mode but starting on a G, consisting of slightly unusual phrase lengths of five bars. The following twelve bars is the answer by choir 2, still in the Dorian mode, but a repeating note idea in the trombones is introduced. Bars 31-71 is the main antiphonal section with balanced phrasing and functional tonality. This is followed by the final tutti section with lots of imitation and ending in G major due the the tierce de Picarrdie. This differs greatly from Trio Sonata as it is in clear binary form with the A section in the style of a fugue. This piece can also be described as being in the style of a gigue which is a british baroque dance developed in the 17th century, normally in 3/8 time with compound rhythms and contrapuntal textures.5 The A section starts in D major and modulates to the dominant (A major) and the B section modulates to various keys such as B minor (bar 26). This piece is mostly diatonic and functional in harmony. The clear sense of pulse in this piece is disturbed in bar 26 due to the cross-rhythms followed by a hemiola before a cadence already mentioned. The dotted melody creates syncopation, especially in the 1st violin part (bars 26-27), which is then passed to the 2nd violin as they share playing the resultant melody. “The resultant melody is mostly conjunct, and follows the melodic contour of the main melody quite closely, pairing two notes at a time.”6

To conclude, the Renaissance and Baroque, although chronologically next to each other, are two very different eras, due to the expression and individualism of the 15th and 16th Centuries, and the unity of mood as well as terraced dynamics of the pieces that came after.7 The Baroque style in art, too, was taken on mostly by the Church, due to the religious themes throughout works of this time. The drama in these were also conveyed through architecture and literature, unifying all ‘the arts’ in this era. This was also true of the Renaissance period that came before, due to the phrase ‘rebirth’, leading to the unique and distinctive characteristics conveyed by Renaissance artists, writers and composers even today.


Willi Apel: Italian Violin Music of the Seventeenth Century (Indiana University Press, 1990) D. Arnold: Giovanni Gabrieli and the Music of the Venetian High Renaissance (London, 1979) M. Little and N. Jenne: Dance and the Music of J.S. Bach (Indiana University Press, 1991) T. Loviko: Italian Violin Concertos (Veritas, 2003)

M. Tenzer: Analytical Studies in World Music (Oxford University Press, 2006)