People with an affinity for various genres of rock and pop music often seem to find Baroque music a refreshing entry point to the classical repertory. Yet they also find it hard down the exact reasons why Baroque appelas to them! There are, however, a few recurring themes. Some describe the music as “beautiful mathematics” while others use words like “complex,” “contrapuntal” and “sublime.” Still others point to the emotional capacity of Baroque music to move the soul, using words such as “soothing,” “profound” and “uplifting”. Maybe there are no single reason and maybe it’s all the above.
For a short introduction to Baroque music, I can think of no better example than “Lascia ch’io pianga” (“Let me weep”), composed by George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) that has become a popular concert piece and is one of my personal favourites.
A contemporary of J.S. Bach, Handel wrote it for Act 3 of his 1705 opera Almira as a slow dance. He used the tune again for the aria, Lascia la spina, cogli la rosa, or “Leave the Thorn, Take the Rose” for the character Piacere in part 2 of his 1707 oratorio Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno. He used it again in 1711 for Act 2 of his opera Rinaldo as a heartfelt plea for freedom by the character Almirena to her abductor Argante. The opera was a triumph, and it is with this work that the aria is chiefly associated.