Majestic Sounds: The Drama of Baroque Music

woman plays piano as two students sing from folder

School of Music students Meghan Curry and Martin Coyle perform musical excerpts from Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, accompanied by Marica Tacconi.

"There is no Dark Ages in music. Every period is interesting in its own way," explained Marica Tacconi last Wednesday to a room full of captivated listeners at the Penn State Downtown Theatre.

Tacconi, an associate professor of musicology and executive director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, led the audience in a discussion about the history of Baroque music. Joining Tacconi were senior vocal performance majors Martin Coyle and Meghan Curry, who performed musical excerpts from Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, widely considered to be the first major opera.

Encouraging participation from the audience, Tacconi asked attendees to share their preconceived notions about both Renaissance and Baroque musical styles. With the help of a CD player and a few CDs, Tacconi taught the audience how to distinguish early Baroque music from later pieces and how to recognize polyphonic and monodic tones in the musical selections.

Marica Tacconi head shot

Marica Tacconi

Tacconi—a native of Italy and scholar of Florentine musical and liturgical history—joked that she was "not being biased" in her view that Florence was the epicenter of musical experiments in the late 16th and early 17th centuries that led to Baroque music's melodic and emotionally expressive style.

"Think about this. Even today ... most of the music we hear, whether it's folk or pop or rock or whatever music you hear on the radio, tends to be monodic, a single vocal line accompanied by instruments. It's a Baroque revolution that is still very much present in our musical system today," said Tacconi.

Tacconi's lecture, combined with the melodic voices of the student performers, made for an exceptional event. We look forward to next week's topic, "The Roman Gladiator: Myths and Realities," featuring associate professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies and history, Garrett Fagan.

Marica S. Tacconi, Ph.D., is associate professor of musicology in the College of Arts and Architecture and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. She can be reached at

Last Updated April 24, 2008