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Difference on the emotional effects between Baroque and Romantic music

Mizue Murakami

Pipe organ

Today, just for fun, I would like to compare the emotional side of Baroque music with music from the Romantic period. There are a lot of music pieces composed by various composers from both the Baroque and Romantic eras. For example, there are Bach, Petzold, Pachebel, Vivaldi, etc. from the Baroque period and Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Borodin, Grieg, Mussorgsky, Verdi, Bizet, Brahms and many others from Romantic era. Most of them move and trigger human emotions in many ways, but differently when you compare them between the Baroque music and Romantic music in general.

Some people use Baroque music as background music. They can even have Baroque music playing semi-quietly and work in your office or wash dishes at the same time. However, it's hard to have music from the Romantic era playing in the background and not get pulled in or get distracted by the music. You probably experience that in your life as well.

It's because the music from the Romantic era triggers your emotions differently from Baroque music. The compositions from the Romantic period are more like story-telling. It has a drama in it. Ups and downs are a lot more obvious than Baroque music. The obviousness is created by strong "obvious" harmonic (chord) progressions, by having a sectional musical structure such as binary and ternary, and by having "sad" and "happy" more distinctive.

On the other hand, Baroque music is more meditational. It still triggers emotions. However, it's triggered calmly and in a deeper place. Because it's meditational, there is not as much story-telling quality in the music as romantic music. Usually, Baroque music has a little short theme (more like a poem instead of a novel). And it keeps repeating in a variational way circling around. And the harmonic progression is also quite different from the romantic music. They are moving around more subtly, often by using non-root note of the harmony as a bass note. This effect creates a subtle but beautiful calm movement in the harmony which puts people in a more meditative state.

Because of these differences, I've noticed the different behaviors towards Baroque music and romantic music by many piano practitioners, especially students. A lot of people enjoy listening to romantic music. They sit down and pay attention to the music and listen. But these same people don't want to be so attentive towards the Baroque music when they listen. They can even have the Baroque music in the background. However, when it comes to practicing the piano, even these students who don't listen to Baroque music that much, really get in the zone when they practice Baroque music. The meditational quality puts them in the deep practice zone, calmly with less judgment and emotions. A lot of my students said something like this. "I didn't like Baroque music that much before. I still don't listen to them much. But I've been founding practicing them is so fun surprisingly."

I want to talk more about this subtle effect of Baroque music and also about the romantic style as well in my later blogs soon. 

We have piano solo sheet music from the Baroque era. Please visit our collection page, "From Baroque Music."

You can also explore and learn about different composers from different periods at our page, "Learn About Composers." 

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