I've been researching the difference between Baroque and Classical and every time it mentions that the former is far more complex than the latter. Looking at the two most prominent composers in both fields, Vivaldi and Mozart (Vivaldi and not Bach because Bach lived until he was 65) we can compare the number of masterpieces they gifted us.

Vivaldi is listed to have over a thousand written pieces of music but according to his Ryom-Verzeichnis, it lists his music from RV 1 to RV 812.

Mozart, on the other hand, has a list of music spanning from KV 1 to KV 626 (though his pieces were longer I believe).

Originally I thought since Classical music is less complex, it would be easier to write. Or is it because Vivaldi was better suited to baroque than Mozart was to Classical?

I really don't have any idea, any answer is appreciated.

  • Hm, how many songs did Kurt Cobain compose? – leftaroundabout Apr 23 at 9:21
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    Why are you ruling out Bach in favor of Vivaldi due to his age? Vivaldi lived to the age of 63, only 2 years less than Bach. Mozart died at 35. That's a huge difference. Mozart probably would've written a lot more music had he lived into his 60's, so it's hardly a valid comparison. – Darrel Hoffman Apr 23 at 19:40
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    If you're looking for a better comparison, I might suggest looking at Haydn instead of Mozart. He also lived for a long time (~77 years), and has over 750 known works. Beethoven lived 57 years and had roughly 200 works. Again, as others have said, this is not a measure of relative complexity, but it's unfair to use the output of two composers as a relative measure when one lived almost twice as long as the other. – Darrel Hoffman Apr 23 at 20:00
  • @DarrelHoffman: My logic was that Mozart started as a child and Vivaldi died a beggar. But you're right, sorry. – Aops Vol. 2 Apr 23 at 20:14
  • @DarrelHoffman another factor is the decreasing acceptability of reworking existing pieces, whether composed by oneself or others. Bach's Cantata 4 is an adaptation of a Pachelbel cantata. Handel reused his own material liberally. Buxtehude has a trio sonata in B-flat that appears with two different middle movements (which average 12 measures in length) but which consequently accounts for two BuxWV numbers (255 and 273). A lot of it has to do with the nature of the working composer's obligations to his employer. – phoog Apr 24 at 16:26

How do you define your "complex"? In your description above, I saw only sheer numbers of pieces composed. This is not a very good measure.

I suggest you first make yourself sound understanding to some fundamentals of music: timbre, beat and tempo, meter, pitch and mode, intervals and tunings, tonality, key signature, melody, texture and harmony, etc, etc.

Baroque music and classical music have their own characteristics. Generally speaking, in baroque music you do hear a lot of embellishment, highly constructed polyphony and alignment (counterpoint), which make it sounds "complex" at first hearing. But in terms of motivic development, rhythmic variety, emotional expressiveness, I'm afraid many works in the classical era are more complex.

Mozart, whose music many considered "simple" at first hearing, is considered the most complex and challenging to play among many top instrumentalists.

Some complexity is at the surface, you get it when you first hear it. Some complexity is in the flesh and bone, top instrumentalists practice it life long and always find new details and new meanings.

Of course, this is not to say, that baroque music is all that superficial.

Suggested learning: Robert Greenberg: How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, and Robert Greenberg: Fundamentals of Music.

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The question author commented:

I wasn't at all saying one was more complex than the next, I was just trying to understand why if Baroque (which etymologically means complex) is more complex, why did Vivaldi make more music than Mozart?

My answer:

You made your question a bit clearer. OK. But still, how do you measure the amount of music Vivaldi and Mozart composed? Numbers of pieces alone is not that meaningful. Some pieces can be very short and some can be very long. I forget exactly in which piece (must be a baroque or classical one, may well be Mozart's work), a single movement has more than 500 bars, that means, more than 1000 beats. And even bars and beats are not good measures. Some pieces can be very dense of music notes some not so dense. So, please forget about these less meaningful comparison. Simply listen to their music and enjoy, and learn the fundamentals if you want to enjoy their music deeper and more.

Aside from the questionable measure about the music amount, generally speaking, baroque music has more clearly defined forms and structures. At one hand, this restricts the composers; At another hand, those rules and forms are somewhat like mathematical formulas, it is not that difficult to produce "stuff" by simply following those rules. Whether that "stuff" is good or not, is another thing. Within the same baroque set of rules, great talents like J.S. Bach, produced incredible master pieces, I may just produce some mechanical sounds.

While in classical music, humanism is the root, human emotion is more involved, bold and creative expression of composer's personality is often present. Composers in classical era often broke rules of baroque music. This can also mean more intellectual and emotional engagement while composing. Creating your own musical rules and styles could often be more exhausting than just following existing rules and styles.

Put it in another way, if you are a programmer, baroque music might be easier to imitate using a computer programme than classic music.

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  • I think you misunderstood me. I wasn't at all saying one was more complex than the next, I was just trying to understand why if Baroque (which etymologically means complex) is more complex, why did Vivaldi make more music than Mozart? – Aops Vol. 2 Apr 23 at 18:38
  • @AopsVol.2 I edited my answer. – Nicole Naumann Apr 23 at 19:30
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    @AopsVol.2, FWIW, the word baroque has the connotation of bad taste, not simply ornate, but overly ornate to the point of bad taste. Like, all that scrollwork and cherubim are tacky. Wikipedia's notes seem like a good summary en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baroque#Origin_of_the_word. – Michael Curtis Apr 23 at 22:12
  • Another parameter in which music became more complex over time was orchestration. A piece for orchestra with six independent wind and brass parts is very substantial by Baroque standards, but a classical piece with ten such parts is unexceptional. – phoog Apr 24 at 16:47
  • @MichaelCurtis i was going to point this out but you beat me to it. In fact a very many (all ?) names for art movements were intended as insults. – Yorik Apr 24 at 20:13

How would you define complexity? Polyphony? Counterpoint? Harmonic progression? Rhythm?

This answer might be pretty opinion based. I’d say a crucial criterion is the redundancy. And this also depends on algorithms and fixed schemata, melodic and harmonic patterns, modules and empty phrases.

The answer is easy if you want to compare Mozart with Vivaldi, because I would deny your question and say: "Mozart is more complex than Vivaldi."

I was ignorant concerning Mozart and said his music was so simple: simple form, simple chords, simple accompaniments, simple triads, Alberti basses, till I saw the movie Amadeus and recognized his treasures and his genius spirit.

Even though Baroque music is more polyphonic than a simple classical sonatina I’d say today Baroque music is not more complex. (Exception: certain pieces or better constructions by Bach and Handel.)

If you know Vivaldi and his patterns you can say this music isn’t less redundant or more complex. Malicious tongues say Vivaldi didn’t write 600 compositions. He just always gave to his composition another title or number. I think this is quite polemical but this impression when listening to music of his period is the point that makes me say: Mozart (e.g. his Requiem or his Jupiter Symphony are more complex.)

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All the answers agree on the same. The definition of "complexity" is really subjective. So in some part, you're on your own if you say "This is complex".

In order to not repeat what the other amazing answers have showed, and maybe to justify what you've read, I want to give you another examples.

Opera is a good one. Just listen a pair of Classical operas and a pair of Baroque ones, and you'll notice the difference, there are a lot of ornaments, embellishments in the Baroque one (again, I don't want to repeat what is already said, counterpoint, precision, etc).

In art, you can find your own examples, my one is, just look at the baroque lute, the embellishment of the sound hole. I've always thought the look of the baroque lute like a definition of the baroque look, and I feel the sentences "Baroque is more complex" are usually referred to that. Embellishment, ornaments, and of course, don't forget to add the other answers on this post.

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I've been researching the difference between Baroque and Classical and every time it mentions that the former is far more complex than the latter.

What are you reading?

In music appreciation type writing you get descriptions along the lines of fugue epitomizing the Baroque era - sometimes called the learned style - and the technical procedures of fugue gave way to a simpler homophonic style in the classical era.

Of course that description is based on the notion that complexity is all about imitative counterpoint and fugal techniques. More importantly, such descriptions rely on a dichotomy. The dichotomy makes easy reading for a general audience, but it's bad music theory and history.

If you switch to the scholarly literature, you usually don't get those kinds of simplistic descriptions. Well, IMO, good scholarly writing will be more objective. Absence of imitative counterpoint doesn't mean simple music. It just means the music doesn't use imitative counterpoint. That music may or may not be complex by some other measure.

In the classical style the focus is usually on form and the harmonic devices used to create form. Sonata form is the epitome of the style. Two important books on the topic are The Classical Style by Charles Rozen and Classical Form by William Caplin. There are plenty of complex musical ideas in those two books, but they aren't concerned with imitative counterpoint.

Why is Baroque composition called “more complex” than Classical composition?

Simply put: the dichotomy is false. Baroque and classical eras both have lots of examples of writing long and short, and contrapuntally complex or non-contrapuntal homophonic texture. You can compare entire eras so simplistically.

If you want to dispel the question of complex Baroque versus simple classical, just pick obvious counter examples, like Purcell's (not complex) suite in G major, or Mozart's (not-simple) finale to the Jupiter symphony where various themes are combined into a fugal ending!

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VERY loosely:

Baroque is all about counterpoint. Intertwining musical lines. Instrumentation and tone colour of secondary importance. Like complex white-on-white needlework.

Classical painted with a broader brush. Melody and accompaniment. Exploration of key relationships on an architectural scale.

Studying Bach and Beethoven would probably demonstrate the differences more clearly. And study the scores, listen to the music. I get the impression much of your 'research' is from textbooks.

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    Yes, it was from textbooks. That's where you get research... – Aops Vol. 2 Apr 23 at 18:40
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    No No NO NO NO!!! You get research from the thing you're researching. In this case, the actual music. All you can get from a textbook is someone else's research. – Laurence Payne Apr 23 at 19:42
  • Research from an expert. I'm am neither smart enough nor arrogant enough to rely on my own opinions. That's why I ask the question on this forum. – Aops Vol. 2 Apr 23 at 20:06
  • Sure, let other people's research guide yours. But do I get the impression you've ONLY read about this music? Not really listened to or studied the scores of much of it? That's grade school rote-learning. Not research. – Laurence Payne Apr 23 at 20:14
  • I actually came to this listening to Vivaldi's Violin Concerto in E minor and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. But in terms of music, I am in grade school so ill accept that. – Aops Vol. 2 Apr 23 at 20:17

The complexity of music may not be proportional to the amount of time it takes to write it. For instance, Bach, who was great at inventing music quickly, jotted down the first notes he could think of, guided by intuition, thus producing a great number of works and expanding the limits of harmony and musical form. (Of course, as he progressed, there would be certain patterns that emerged out of practice.) On the other hand, Brahms put on himself a great number of restrictions by strictly adhering to traditional forms. He made a habit of studying music traditions and respecting each and every one of their rules. Hence, it required quite some creativity to find a solution that would simultaneously achieve the effect Brahms had in mind, and simultaneously not violate any of the restrictions he had put on himself.

Some might say that hence, the complexity of Brahms' work is inferior to that of the work of Bach. That (reflecting some of the sentiments of the above answers) is only partly true, since while Bach would shine when it comes to the complexity of his counterpoint, the music of Brahms tends to be much more structured and restrained when it comes to the partition of the timespan a piece takes, which is something that frankly Bach mostly seems to have often improvised.

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