A baroque music is that in which the harmony is confused, charged with modulations and dissonances, the melody is harsh and little natural, the intonation difficult, and the movement constrained.
Understanding Baroque architecture . . . mean[s] freeing the mind from classicist conformism, accepting daring, fantasy, variability, intolerance of formalistic canons, variety of theatrical effects, asymmetry, disorder, the symphonic collaboration of architecture, sculpture, painting, gardening, and jeux d'eaux.
—Bruno ZeviFrom the 1540s to at least the 1720s composers in a preponderant share of their music strove for the expression of affective states, whether or not inspired by a text. It is this striving that led to the extravagances that were first deplored as "Baroque." Irregularity, amplification, strangeness, and grotesqueness, qualities inherent in the word, were often the very products of the search for expression.
—Claude V. PaliscaIn all styles of baroque, whatever period, whatever country, improvisation was always present, integrated into both the melodic and harmonic fabric of the music. To decorate, to supplement, to vary, to embellish, to improve, as it was often called, was an accepted part of being a performing musician.
The word "baroque" originally meant irregular or misshapen--particularly with reference to pearls.