So, what is it?
In short, baroque music is centered neither on the perceived Genius of a composer nor on performers' feelings. Baroque music is really much simpler. It is about steering and moving motions in You - the listener - and telling you - the listener - some meaningful story. It is almost like Pop, jazz or folk. A baroque performer places the God above all, the listener next, and himself or herself - last. By contrast, Romantic performer is the God. He believes his listeners, for some reason, must be deeply interested in his feelings, and if they are not, well, then - at their best - they become simply irrelevant to the performer. Such a performer might later be sanctified and tagged a Genius who lived ahead of his time and for this reason was not understood by his contemporaries.
Baroque performer is a doctor for whom it is more important whether or not his cure had the desired effect. Romantic performer is interested in how his cure was prepared rather than whether or not it had any effect. In fact, all of Baroque music was written for a specific purpose, which, no matter what it had to serve. Baroque performer is a craftsman, Romantic is an Artist with a very, very big capital A. Baroque performer finds its best if the composer is alive because he or she can ask the composer should any ambiguity arise around the piece. Things are very different with a Romantic performer for whom the best composer is the dead composer because the performer can safely claim to be the Genius who understands the composer's idea or even claim - why not? - to have had direct contact with the dead via some supernatural channel.
Well, this might sound strongly biased toward Baroque but I am not saying that one is better than another. These are very different musical languages and epochs in our culture. Baroque approach is by far less known today because it is the Romantic approach that is being taught in most institutions and it is automatically applied to the Baroque music. There is however an exception from this rule: the Early Music Movement also known as Historically Informed Performance Practice - about which you might wish to discover on your Baroque journey.
Let this journey start with the trailer from this beautiful movie and go past 14 of July 1789 - the date of the French Revolution when everything abruptly came to an end.
“If you love Monteverdi, get this. If you think you might like his music, get it. If you’ve tried to listen to Monteverdi, but haven’t quite managed to get into it, get it. If you’ve never heard Monteverdi, get it.” --American Record Review
Luckily for us, some creative minds use the technology and means of communication adapted to the 21st century - the cinematograph (the first motion picture was recorded in 1878 by an English photographer Eadweard Muybridge). Cinema, like opera, includes in itself many other forms of art: music, photography, literature, theater etc and is a natural evolution of opera though, while in cinema you are watching a story recorded on film or digital, in opera you are watching everything life, from the actors on stage and musicians in the orchestra pit, to the work of costumers, stylists, painters, sculptors, light-team, stage directors, dancers, choirs etc etc etc. Opera was born in the early Baroque period with Claudio Monteverdi being the first composer to write a full-fledged opera L'Orfeo in 1607 in Mantua. L'Orfeo is an ancient Greek story of Orpheus' descent to Hades and his attempt to bring his dead bride Eurydice back to life and is still one of the most performed masterpieces of the Baroque! No wonder! What a story and music!
After watching the trailer of "The Full Monteverdi" you might wish to see it whole, as well as see some older equally exhilarating movies such as Tous les matins du monde with Gérard Depardieu and music performed and directed by Jordi Saval (viola da gamba), and Le Roy Danse by Gérard Corbiau with the music performed by Musica Antiqua Koln (Reinhard Goebel).
You might be surprised to discover how familiar and direct Baroque music is, even if you never heard it before or avoided the so called Classical, or "serious" music all together. Actually, baroque is not necessarily "serious", but it may become a very serious experience if, say, dance music is performed not for dancing but for listening being sitted for an hour and a half! Shame on programmers but not on music!
Music-lovers, as well as modern players and instrument-makers might be interested to know that there is plenty of specialized literature for string-players, wind-players, keyboard-players, instrument-makers, primary sources on musical practices and works on every aspect of Baroque life and before. This is an on-going research on the craft side of Early Music performance as well as making appropriate instruments in a proper baroque style. It is conducted by people who went to Hades and Heavens to search and experiment, reconstruct, test and re-test, be booed for failures and hailed for successes. These are the people that bring back to life the vital sources of our culture and not just on stage. Amateur home-salon music making is popular in countries such as The Netherlands or UK. While it might be rather difficult for an amateur to enjoy a Wieniawski violin concerto or equally difficult to bring to perfection a John Dowland viol consort, it is possible to fully enjoy the immense baroque repertoire either solo or in family consorts of viols, violins, recorders or voices etc. Is there a good reason not to give music to kids and their parents?
Naturally, there are no gods among the modern baroqueurs so, do not hesitate to ask for guidance and do not fear to search and find on your own. One day you might absorb it all, wish to reject it all or bring about a change: this is something baroqueurs of all times did and left an inspiring page in this never ending story.