Mahler’s Having a Moment. He’s Got Lydia Tár to Thank for It.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that whenever you hear the word “German baroque,” you’re inclined to imagine that it’s some kind of bizarre mutant sub-genre that’s been around since the first half of the 20th century. It’s not. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before.
The German Baroque — a term coined by the German composer Michael Praetorius — is the slow and stately period of music, and is characterized by its almost complete independence from rhythm. In other words, it’s not one of those pieces that depend on the beat or pulse to function.
That’s one of the many reasons I love the Baroque — because it’s a piece of music that can be composed in a very different way from the way you’d write a piece that looks like the slow and stately piece of music we’re all familiar with.
German Baroque is a style that is still relatively unknown outside of the German-speaking world, but a lot of its ideas — and even vocabulary — have been around for a very long time.
The German Baroque is the slow, stately style of music that’s often associated with Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in B-flat major has a tempo of almost six minutes — a slower tempo than anything in the Baroque period. He wrote it almost entirely in this style.
As a composition teacher, I love the challenge of finding a contemporary composer who understands the techniques required to write for that style of music, because there are so many.
One of the most famous composers to do so is the American composer Philip Glass. I’ve been writing a lot about his work in the past in The New Yorker’s Music Issue here, but I’ve spent a lot of time talking about him on the podcast of NPR’s The World, Here