~Baroque and Classical Influenced Rock Music~
By Todd Richardson a.k.a MerlinRavenSong )0(

The Baroque period represented the musical styles prevalent during 1600 to 1750. It was a time where the music of the day went hand in hand with the architecture, painting, and literature. It was a time where musicians brought out more intense emotions within their music. The term Baroque means misshapen, bizarre, and extravagant. This may be one of the reasons why during the early 80s to the mid-90s rock musicians were so inspired by this period. They oftentimes dressed in a similar manner and borrowed many of the Baroque musical techniques that were present during that time.

The Classical period represented the style of music that was prevalent during 1730 to 1820. During this time period there was a rise in art and music and a decline in the vernacular and music based on entertainment. The music of this time period embraced the early Greek and Roman ideas of simplicity, equilibrium, perfection of form, diversity in unity, and seriousness. It was a movement that went against excessive ornamentation and frills that were so prevalent during the Baroque period. In modern times these ideas still remain with us. Young rock musicians looking for inspiration beyond the blues-based rock that was the norm became interested in the seriousness and discipline of classical music.

Rock musicians like Richie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen have explored the music of the Baroque and classical periods and have brought new life to it. Songs like �Difficult to Cure� by Richie Blackmore�s Rainbow and �Black Star� by Yngwie Malmsteen are modern day reminders of how the music of a certain area can influence and inspire a totally new musical genre that still exists in modern times.

During the early eighties up to 1995, there was a renewed interest among heavy metal bands toward Baroque and classical music. The trend toward these genres was spearheaded by a young Swedish guitar player named Yngwie Malmsteen, but the roots of this movement started in the sixties. Heavy metal musicians have always been influenced by loud, emotional, and dramatic music that they�ve been exposed to through movie soundtracks and by their parents. The biggest influences came from Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven, and Paganini. One of the first bands to truly experiment with Baroque and classical music was the band Deep Purple.

During the sixties a young band from England led by guitarist Richie Blackmore started to mix their style of hard rock with the musical styles of Baroque and classical music. This was done by the use of the organ (which was heavily influenced by Bach) and the violin inspired wizardry of Richie Blackmore. The band formed in 1968. The band�s line up included Ron Evans (vocals), Nick Simper (bass), Jon Lord (keyboards), Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), and Ian Paice (drums). Various incarnations of the band have come into play from 1968 through 2001. Deep Purple was one of the first hard rock bands to actually record with an orchestra. In 1970 Deep Purple recorded the breakthrough record, Concerto for Group and Orchestra with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Richie Blackmore later said during an interview that he didn�t like the fact that when he took his solo the violin player would cover his ears. This sort of thing didn�t make him feel really wanted. He felt kind of alienated from what was happening. He still wanted to mix classical and Baroque styles in his music, but he wanted to do it on his own turf.

One of Deep Purple�s most popular songs, �Highway Star,� is off the 1972 LP Machine Head. The song �Highway Star� loosely follows the rondo form of A B A C A B A, which is typical of Haydn�s musical style. After a short introduction, the A section comes in with an exposition that states the main theme. This theme is further developed within the B section where it goes back to A again. In the C section it has an improvisatory development that allows for the main subject to be taken apart and leads the way for fresh ideas to be inserted into the music. Afterward, the song goes back to A, but instead of truly going to B, it goes to another C section, which later goes back to A again. The form is close to a classic rondo form, but the improvisatory nature of the song tends to make it slightly different.

The solo sections taken by Blackmore and Jon Lord are played over a descending bass line, which is played chromatically. This base line is very much like the ground bass patterns used in the seventeenth century. Henry Purcell often used this form in his music. The solos are done using a series of arpeggios. This use of arpeggios is very much in the style of Bach. The classical features within the song, along with the use of repetitious melodic patterns, are the square phrase structures, the virtuosic soloing, and the harmonic progressions, which feature the soloist descending through tetrachords by employing half steps or by fifths. These harmonic progressions are Baroque.

Even the sixteenth note patterns, which are played symmetrically and repetitively, are also in the style used in Baroque music. One of the clever things that Blackmore does in this song is overdub the thirds within the harmony. This is very characteristic of Vivaldi�s harmonic progressions. A good example of this is Vivaldi�s Violin Concerto in D Minor. Both Blackmore and Vivaldi used regular and predictable harmonic sequences within their music. (See following page.) Blackmore did at one time consider playing strictly classical music, but he believes that he�s not good enough. �I lack discipline, when you�re dealing with classical music you have to be rigid. I�m not a rigid player. I like to improvise� (Ritchie Blackmore, Guitar World, 1991). Later in Blackmore�s career he formed the band Rainbow. One of their feature songs off the 1976 Rainbow Rising LP was entitled �Stargazer.� Blackmore wrote this song on the cello during a time in his life where he gave up playing guitar, which was between 1975 and 1978.

Blackmore at this time was sick of the guitar. �What I really wanted to be was Jacqueline DuPrey on cello. So I started playing cello.� Blackmore soon realized that in order to get really good at the cello he would have to devote his whole life to it, so he returned to playing guitar.

One of the best examples of Blackmore�s classical influence appears on the album, Final Vinyl, the last LP he did with his band Rainbow. This album has a list of songs that featured many of Rainbow�s mainstream hits and features many of the singers who fronted the band, but unlike the studio version of the song �Difficult to Cure,� this LP featured not only the band playing the theme, � Ode to Joy,� from Beethoven�s Ninth Symphony, but in this new version it features a full orchestra playing with the band. There�s even a section where the band stops playing and allows the orchestra to play a whole section by themselves. The beautiful thing about this piece is everything fits. The listener doesn�t feel that the orchestra is in any way intruding on the music.

Randy Rhoads came upon the music scene during the early eighties. He was a music student in his mother�s music school. At the age of six, he began his studies in guitar, piano, and music theory. In his later years he started to study classical guitar. His big break happened in 1980 when he became the guitar player in Ozzy Osbourne�s band. Rhoads� classical influences included Vivaldi and Pachelbel. Even when Rhoads joined Ozzy�s new band, the first thing he did with his share of the royalties was to buy an expensive classical guitar. Ozzy also had a liking toward classical and Baroque music, which is probably one reason he hired Rhoads. He often opened his show with Carl Orff�s �Carmina Burana.� One of Ozzy�s best known songs, which first appeared on his debut solo album, was a song that features many of the Baroque musical styles during the 17th century. The song became known as �Mr. Crowley.�

A good example of Rhoads� and Osbourne�s fusing Baroque organ within their music is the song, �Mr. Crowley� (1981). The form of �Mr. Crowley� is also closely related to the rondo form because its primary theme is stated in the A section. There�s a small transition in the B section, and its developed further in an improvisatory manner in C, which is typical of neo-classical rock. The progression goes out of the classical framework after the second A because it stays in C where the piece finally ends. The song starts out with a cyclical harmonic progression, which is very much in the style of Vivaldi. The organ part is in minor mode, which sets up the mode within the song, which is one of gloom and doom.

The first guitar solo in this piece is set within a Baroque harmonic progression, which is Dm / Bb /C / Dm / Bb / Emb5 / Asus4. This progression is mixed in with B flat moving back through C (bVI-BVII-I). This style is not really Baroque because bVI usually resolves to V. However, this progression usually happens in heavy metal. The progression at the end of this song is standard within Vivaldi writing, where he uses the circle of fifths in a progression: Dm / Gm7 / C / F / Bb / Em7b5 / Asus4 / A. �The circle of fifths progression was picked up by metal because it sounds archaic, directional and thus fateful� (Walser, p. 80). Randy uses the traditional metal adaptations of Baroque by his use of arpeggios, tremolo picking, fast scales, and trills.

One of Rhoads� most celebrated pieces with Ozzy was the song, �Suicide Solution,� where he took a lengthy virtuosic solo at the cadenza during live concerts. His solos were known for their diminished arpeggios and chromatic meltdowns, which he took from classical music. This virtuosic solo technique resembles the flamboyant style of the 17th century toccata. Most heavy metal guitar players applied the same techniques used in toccatas: �quasi-improvisatory, disjunct harmonies, sweeping scales, broken-chord figurations and roulades that often range over the entire instrument� (Randel, 1986, p. 856).

Rhoads was known for his use of chord tapping, which he used during his solos to make his guitar sound more like a violin. The harmonic areas that he used were loosely based on E minor and A minor. The succession of chords is G / A minor / F / F-aug / A / C sharp minor, which is embellished by his use of the whammy bar. After the typical high wails and growls, he does a ritonello return, which allows him to join into a short reprise of �Suicide Solution.�

Inspired by the neoclassical guitar movement of the eighties and early nineties, a company called Music Dispatch came out with a CD and book called Challenge the Masters � Transcriptions of Classics. It provided guitar players with tab and fingering for the music of Bach, Mozart, Paganini, Vivaldi, and Beethoven. The recordings were arranged by guitarist John Tapella. The cover of the book showed a young Bach with a Fender Stratacaster in his hand. All the pieces were played with distortion and featured unique techniques on how they were to be played. The techniques that were applied were tapping, string skipping, position shifting, alternate picking, hybrid picking, sweep picking, and pedal points. The sweep picking technique described in the book was a way for guitar players to play arpeggios faster than normal, which allowed guitar players to have the effect of sounding more like a violin than a guitar.

This CD and booklet helped young aspiring guitar players to learn the tricks of the trade, because most of the guitar players at that time weren�t giving up the secrets to their virtuosity.

�It�s a well-known fact that I am a big fan of classical violin, and I sometimes approach the guitar from a violinist standpoint. Classical violin is a linear type of playing, whereas rock �n roll is more boxed in� (Malmsteen, Guitar School, 1992).

One of the biggest names to come out of the neo-classical school of guitar playing was Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen. Yngwie Malmsteen was born June 30, 1963. Yngwie�s first interest in playing guitar happened September 18, 1970 when he saw a television special on the death of Jimi Hendrix, which included Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire. It can be said that the day that Hendrix died was the day Yngwie was born. Yngwie�s second big influence was Richie Blackmore. Yngwie soon realized that Blackmore�s influence came from Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven, and Mozart. Yngwie soon absorbed the Baroque and classical structures of these masters by playing many hours each day and often falling asleep with the guitar on his side, which caused his ribcage to grow inward on one side.

Yngwie, at the age of 15, worked as a luthier in a guitar repair shop. While working at the shop he came across a scalloped neck for the first time when a 17th century lute came into the shop. This intrigued Yngwie so much that he scalloped the neck on one of his old guitars and later on, one of his good ones. The scalloped fretboard was more difficult to play, but it improved Yngwie�s guitar playing. Yngwie soon left Sweden for America and began sending demo tapes to record companies.

Mike Varney of Shrapnel Music heard one of the tapes and invited Yngwie to Los Angeles to join Shrapnel�s new band Steeler, and the rest is history. One of Yngwie�s best examples of fusion hard rock with Baroque and classical music is on his album, Fire and Ice. On this LP Yngwie accomplished his lifelong dream of recording with an orchestra. The LP includes Bach�s Badinerie from Orchestral Suite No. 2, which is cleverly embedded within the song, �No Mercy� and in the song, �Cry No More.� Fire and Ice debuted in Japan at #1 (�Ichi-ban�) and sold over 100,000 copies on the day of its release. Yngwie later went on to record a concerto for guitar and orchestra a couple of years after the release of Fire and Ice.

�What I try to do is incorporate classical music in a way where you take the tonality, the way of arranging and weaving of notes, but do it to a hard rock format� (Malmsteen, Guitar for the Practicing Musician, 1986).

When Yngwie arranges his music he usually has the chords coming in after the melody. The melody is written first. �That�s the way Bach would do it. When he wrote a fugue he would have the leading melody and the other parts would be written around it� (Malmsteen, Guitar for the Practicing Musician, 1986), Yngwie, unlike other rock musicians, writes within the rules of musical theory and Baroque counterpoint. One of the best examples of Yngwie�s writing style is a song he wrote for his debut LP, Rising Force. Many of the songs were written the way he has described here. As musicians tried to copy his technique, guitar magazines now had the burden of transcribing his music. One of his very first songs to be transcribed and to be analyzed theoretically was the song, �Black Star.�

Yngwie�s debut LP Rising Force included some of his best classic/Baroque style of writing. The form of �Black Star� does fit into the A B A C A B A except like the other songs, the ending is more improvised and after the second B section, it never returns to A. It ends on an improvised C section. The song �Black Star� shows the many different facets of his guitar playing. The song opens with a prelude that is somewhat reminiscent of Bach�s Bouree in E minor, which is known for its 3/4 rhythm and secondary dominants (i.e., E/G# and F#/A#). When the harmony comes in with the other guitars, it�s very reminiscent of standard chamber music. The difference is it�s played with electric guitars.

The passage closes with an exposition that uses volume swelling done with the volume knob along with an echo effect, which creates a sound that�s similar to the spiccato (�bouncing bow�), a classical violin technique. This is one of the many techniques along with the use of modes, arpeggios, and melodic contour that mimic the techniques used in classical violin music.

The song�s theme melody is based on an E harmonic mode: E F# G A B C D# E. The song moves to the key of B, which is the dominant. This is another Baroque-classical harmonic gesture that Yngwie uses. His playing is very symmetrical in this piece, which again is his way of mimicking the classical violin. Some of the speedy arpeggios require a tremendous amount of hand shifting and hand stretching that are more linked to virtuoso violin playing than to the standard guitar vocabulary everyone�s so accustomed to.

Yngwie also played the bass line on this song. During the B major section he uses the style of the concerto grosso used by Handel, Bach, and Vivaldi. The running bass line counterpoint and aria bass clearly speak of his Baroque and classical influence. By now Yngwie Malmsteen was no stranger to performing with classically trained musicians. Along with recording the �Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra in E Flat Minor Op. 1 Millennium,� he now has the pleasure of having the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra perform his music in their program.

In an interview, Manager Mr. Yasue says, �I personally have respect for him as an artiste and I�ve wanted to work with him someday.� The New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra is inviting Yngwie as a soloist in their orchestral concerts, which will be in the style of regular classical concerts. The orchestra will be positioning themselves in much the same way as standard classical concerts. The concert will feature a full

orchestra that will include more than 100 personnel including a chorus. One of the reasons Mr. Yasue chose to do Malmsteen�s music is he is a fan of hard rock and heavy metal. During his high school days Mr. Yasue went to see one of Malmsteen�s old bands, Alcatrazz. �I still like hard rock/heavy metal music and often listen to some. It doesn�t differ so much from classical to me.� More and more orchestra leaders are starting to record the music of bands like Metallica and even Led Zeppelin because they realize that many of the progressions they use can in fact fit into the orchestral framework. Closing Notes

Nowadays the epithet �classical� can indiscriminately be applied to a wide variety of musical styles, which is far removed from its original music. There are some radio stations that mix American jazz with the music of Beethoven and Mozart. While I do agree that jazz is classic American music, it doesn�t fit into the early standards of classical music. �Classical, therefore, originates in an enduring recognition of the value of certain musical works, rather than in qualities to those works� (Rushton, Classical Music).

When you think of classical music you have to identify it to the forms that were established during that period. When you think of classical, you must think of the solo concerto, symphony, string quartet, sonata, the operas of Mozart, and the music of Schubert. Many of these forms were reinterpreted by modern musicians who have breathed new life into them. This has been repeatedly overlooked by today�s historians and music critics. The media is more interested in portraying the stereotype of the strung out, drug infested rock star rather than commenting on the musical accomplishments made by these musicians.

�In the academy, heavy metal (along with rap) remains the dark other of classical preserves of sweetness and light� (Walser, Running with the Devil).

Heavy metal musicians need not try to legitimize themselves by trying to align themselves too closely to standard classical music. Classical music today is associated with aristocratic and bourgeois forms of music. It is the music of the academic society. It has its origins in musicians who wrote for specific audiences. It has a musical history of being created for courts, churches, and public concerts, whereas heavy metal has more of a history of being part of the counter culture.

They may be kindred spirits, but they both also reflect the ideas and values of their class structure, where classical music represents the upper class and metal the lower class. It should be noted that metal musicians who borrowed heavily from the Baroque period should be commended for incorporating improvisation. This style was more prevalent in the Baroque area but lost its appeal during the classical period. This is just another one of the many contributions heavy metal has made in the world of music. The contributions that these musicians made should never be forgotten.


Bukofzer, M. F. 1947. Music in the Baroque Era from Monteverdi to Bach. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Summit Meeting at Chops City. Guitar for the Practicing Musician, Awards Issue, March 1986

Interview with Mr. Yasue from new Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. http://www.ped.net/ yngwie/feedback/NJP.htm.

Paganini�s Voodoo Child. Guitar World, January 1987, Vol. 8, No. 1. Palisca, C. 1968.

Baroque Music, Prentice Hall History of Music Series. New York: Prentice Hall.Randel, D. M., ed. 1986.

The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

The Early Years. http//www.pd.net/yngwie/biography/index.html. The Ice Man Cometh. Guitar School, May 1992.

Walser, R. Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in

Heavy Metal Music. Wesleyan University Press. Where there�s smoke there�s fire. Guitar World.