Which characteristically Baroque elements of music composition still have currency in the 21st century? Are there any 21st-century composers or songwriters who still compose primarily or largely in the Baroque style? What makes their work especially “Baroque”?

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    I think the idea at the centre of this question is great. It might work better if you ask about composers using techniques similar to those employed in various types of Baroque music. Or composers using Baroque period instruments... – Bob Broadley May 29 '14 at 17:18
  • Assuming Baroque, close to J.S.Bach, likely the best place to find this besides university students of counterpoint would be film scores as per writing original music for motion pictures. – filzilla May 29 '14 at 18:03
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    @Bradd - I disagree, this question relates to the musical practice of composition aesthetic and is therefore pertinent to the site. – jjmusicnotes May 29 '14 at 19:31
  • I proposed an edit to make the question less broad and more relevant to music composition and history, in hopes of avoiding closure. Behzad, please check that the revised version is still in line with what you wanted to learn. – Bradd Szonye May 29 '14 at 21:41
  • The original question was simply about musical historicism: Are Baroque styles being used in contemporary times? AFAICT, this is on topic. The updated version, IMHO, leads to much longer answers, since it asks for specific comparisons of the elements of true Baroque to modern re-incarnations -- these details will differ from piece to piece, and composer to composer. – Caleb Hines May 30 '14 at 0:48

The short answer is yes (and I have occasionally written such music myself). Musical styles never really die, they just fall out of general fashion.

It should be noted that there are a couple categories of music that might be considered in an answer.

First off, and perhaps least authentic, are what might be termed "fusion" styles -- mixtures of baroque (or classical) with modern elements. These are usually called Neobaroque, or Neoclassical, and the example I'm thinking of is Stravinsky's Pulcinella, which is said to be neoclassical. Another example might be Joaquin Rodrigo's Fantasía para un gentilhombre which is based on Baroque guitar exercises. I have a feeling you're looking for something more authentic than these, but its worth remembering that all attempts at authenticity will be colored to some extent by the intervening centuries of music history.

Next off is people who who will write an occasional piece in a more authentic Baroque style for some specific reason or affect. This could be for pedagogical reasons, such as students studying Bach chorale harmonizations, or for its affect, such as a film score for a historical film, trying to evoke a particular historical mood. One piece that springs to mind in this category is Karl Jenkin's Palladio (also known as "Diamond Music" due to its past prominence in TV ads for a certain jewelery company) which does a wonderful job of evoking the feeling of Vivaldi. Another example that probably falls closer to the pedagogical category is the Lady Gaga Fugue.

Finally, what I think you're after is composers who regularly (though perhaps not exclusively) write in a relatively authentic Baroque style merely because they like this style of music. I know that such composers exist, though I can't remember any of them at the moment. They tend to be relatively obscure, and my impression is that the larger composer community generally ignores them, because they are always looking for newer techniques and styles. An example of one such composer whose name I have come across before is Michael J. Starke.

Another fact worth considering is the economic realities of supply and demand. Patronage for a supply of newly-composed, authentic Baroque-style music is probably pretty sparse, so most professional composers don't really have a good regular outlet for this, even if they wanted to. Thus most people who would qualify as answers are just as likely to be composers "on-the-side" who dabble in it as a personal hobby, rather than professional full-time composers.

Edit: A more general name for the phenomenon of writing in a past musical style is Musical Historicism. Wikipedia mentions, as an example:

Roman Turovsky-Savchuk, whose original lute and viola da gamba compositions in the baroque style were sufficiently convincing to be mistaken for works by masters of the composer's own mythopoeic invention (Colburn 2007), and led to accusations of "trivializing musicology" (Smith 2002).

With the resurgence of historically-informed performance, it is not surprising that there is also a resurgence in historically-informed composition. Indeed, the above Wikipedia page also mentions an international society called Vox Sæculorum.

Vox Sæculorum is an international society of contemporary composers writing in the Baroque style established in 2006.

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    Brilliant answer! Have you seen the "Britney Spears Fugue" online? – Bob Broadley May 29 '14 at 18:02
  • Ottorino Respighi, not 21st century but 20th century: "His musicological interest in 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century music led him to compose pieces based on the music of these periods." While listening, Caleb has it right, this is not authentic, but I would say borrowed/inspired. He has a definite 20th century flare for texture and dynamics and is quite good at creating deep moody and somber moments from traditional themes. Not unlike Ralph Vaughan Williams, his orchestration is powerful and profound. Check out his "Three Botticelli Pictures". – filzilla May 29 '14 at 20:58
  • Along Caleb finds add Richard Grayson. – filzilla May 29 '14 at 21:32
  • FYI, I revised the question to address concerns about scope and topicality. I tried to avoid invalidating your excellent answer, but it may need light editing to fit the current form of the question – apologies! – Bradd Szonye May 29 '14 at 21:50
  • There also Glenn Gould's "So you want to write a fugue". – Fixed Point May 30 '14 at 3:24

1). Whenever a composer makes use of counterpoint within the context of a tonal chord progression, or writes a fugue, the composer is more or less going straight back to the compositional technique of the Baroque composers such as J. S. Bach, G. F. Handel, or Telemann. So there are quite a few examples of these compositional techniques in 20th and 21st century music, even if they are done with contemporary musical instruments or if they are using a harmonic vocabulary (for instance, using jazz chords) that is more modern than that used in the Baroque era.

2). There is a lot of contemporary movie soundtrack and video game soundtrack music that consciously emulates the Baroque style and Baroque instruments. You can find this in particular in genres like fantasy, sword-and-sorcery, and any movies or video games set in an "ancient" setting. In movies and video games that you would consider to be in a medieval time period, the new music composed for the soundtrack is often in the Baroque style, or perhaps a Renaissance style.

3). Metal. These days, occasionally you find elements of Baroque-style composing, usually performed on electronic instruments and orchestral digital sample libraries, in heavy metal music.

4). Today there are Baroque chamber orchestras all over Europe and the New World. They perform music of the Baroque composers on replicas of the instruments used in the Baroque era, in historically-informed performance style. On occasion these groups will commission a contemporary composer to write a new piece for them to perform. Such pieces might be strictly in the Baroque style, or they may be in a much more contemporary style but written to be performed on Baroque-period instruments in historically-informed performance.

5). One composer whose name comes up frequently as using Baroque-period instruments in new works, hearkening back to the Baroque style, is the recently-deceased British composer John Tavener (1944-2013).


There's also P.D.Q. Bach, who is J.S. Bach's last and forgotten son, but was way ahead of his time, many of his pieces clearly informed by 20th/21th century music. My impression is that compositions by P.D.Q. Bach, no matter their many failings, enjoy broader notoriety than, for example, Professor Schickele's pieces, who's an award winning 21th century baroque composer. The race is on, great to see some healthy competition in the baroque music space!

  • Won't the race end in a dead heat? – Tim Aug 31 '17 at 10:50
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    @Robert Monfera "P. D. Q. Bach is a fictitious composer invented by musical satirist "Professor" Peter Schickele"! – Behzad Sep 8 '17 at 20:37

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