Before the Baroque era, music was rarely written specifically for instruments; most often, music played on instruments was originally for voice. The Baroque Era last from 1600 to 1750. During this time, instruments were improved, and composers began to write pieces for specific instruments. Music became more popular with the middle class, and amateur musicians became to sprout up, separate from the church and the court.
Instrumental music in the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras were called sonatas, concertos, and sinfonias interchangeably. The order and shape of their movements were often very similar. Works that used between five and seven violins with contino were often called sonatas and concertos, though they were more often like canzonas. Before Corelli’s concerto grosso, concerti often designated music that used both instruments and voices. However, during the last quarter of the Seventeenth Century, the concerto signified purely instrumental music, unless the title of the piece specified otherwise.
However, by 1680, there were a few ground rules that were being set up. The first generation of the concerto grosso was typically for violins. Arthur Hutchins, about Corelli and Vivaldi, says “the violin was a wordless voice of super-human compass and range of expression, with clearer attack and greater agility than a human voice, and free from the strain of human fatigue.” This belief that violins could emulate the human voice led to a golden age for string ensembles. Concertos normally consisted of between six and twenty strings, with an organ, harpsichord and archlute. In 1686, Torelli wrote the first piece that did not include voices. It was titled Concerto da camera a due violini e basso; this led to concerto becoming the designated term for an orchestra until the Eighteenth Century.
The beginning of the Seventeenth Century saw the attachment of the term concerto to an ensemble where some element contrasted, for example, between a soloist and accompaniment, loud and soft sections, or sections with many versus few voices. Concertos also had their own stylistic features. A common feature in short motives was to use sequences, usually rising fourths or falling fifths in the base, and was used by well-known composers such as Corelli, Handel, and Gabrieli. Another common theme was the use of repetition and echoes. To keep the repetition from being too boring, composers would use dramatic changes in dynamics. The ritornelli became a popular feature to connect solo sections and tutti sections. Composers would draw their material from the main theme, sometimes transposing it to other keys, or as an echo of solos.
The concerto was split up into separate subgroups: the solo concerto and the concerto grosso. From there, the concerto split into the concerto da camera, chamber concerto, and the concerto da chisa, a multi-movement church concerto. Of the two, the chamber concerto disappeared by the...