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Sacred Music in the 17th Century:
Overview

Italy is where the birth of today's classical music took place. The instruments of the violin family, the brass, the beginnings of what became Western tonal harmony, the terms (concerto, symphony, adagio, piano, forte, allegro, and so on) all this came from Italy. The birth date was 1600.

     The 1600s were ushered in by a group of highly educated noblemen who lived in Florence, Italy who called themselves the Florentine Camarata. In their regularly held meetings they discussed ways whereby they might revive Greek tragedy, and they came up with a new style of music based on the extensive research into ancient Greek dramatic music that had been conducted by Girolamo Mei, an erudite Florentine scholar who lived and worked in Rome. Based on the ideas of the Camarata, Emilio De'Cavalieri wrote the first important dramatic and liturgical works and he and Jacopo Peri wrote the first operas, which were performed in 1600, the first year of the new century. 
     From these humble beginnings, an all-new style of music was born, a style that moved away from the dominant polychordal choral singing of the previous century to instrumental music, solo singing, and a mixture of all three.
     Claudio Monteverdi, who inherited the great tradition of Venice, was the first great composer of the era and the first great opera was his beautiful Orfeo, composed in 1607. By mid-century, the Italian town of Bologna had become a tremendous center of music, and there the full flowering of the 17th Century took place, not only in sacred music, but in instrumental music as well. 


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