The stylus fantasticus (or stylus phantasticus) is a style of early baroque music. The root of this music is organ toccatas and fantasias, particularly derived from those of Claudio Merulo (1533–1604), organist at St Mark's basilica in Venice. A later practitioner in Rome was Girolamo Frescobaldi, and his German student Froberger took the style north with him. There were constant flows of Italian musicians north to Bavaria and Saxony, of German musicians south to Italy (such as Hans Leo Hassler and Heinrich Schütz), and of musicians who had careers in both Austria and Italy (such as Sances and Turini). The author, scientist and inventor, a true baroque polymath, Athanasius Kircher describes the stylus fantasticus in his book, Musurgia Universalis:
- "The fantastic style is especially suited to instruments. It is the most free and unrestrained method of composing, it is bound to nothing, neither to any words nor to a melodic subject, it was instituted to display genius and to teach the hidden design of harmony and the ingenious composition of harmonic phrases and fugues."
The style is related to improvisation but is characterised by the use of short contrasting episodes and a free form, just like a classical fantasia.
In summer the Prince Bishop of Olomouc and his court retired to Kroměříž Castle, where there were lavish musical entertainments. Ballets such as The Fencing School and descriptive pieces such as Battalia or The Peasants go to Church. Kroměříž Castle then was newly built by the Prince Bishop, the original medieval structure having been destroyed by the Swedes towards the end of the Thirty Years' War. Jacob Handl had worked at the old castle between 1579 and 1585. The discontinuity in musical life and musical training due to the Thirty Years' War explains the originality and the folksiness of the stylus fantasticus at Kroměříž. Though Bishop Karl was fanatically interested in music, and is principally known in England as a patron of Biber and Schmelzer, he was the driving force behind the restoration of the economy of Moravia after the destruction of the Thirty Years' War.
Many facets of musical modernism were invented in the stylus fantasticus at Kroměříž, such as bitonality in Battalia, minimalism in The Peasants go to Church, stochasticism in Vejvanovsky's Bells. What is not always mentioned is that these techniques are used to represent chaos, drunkenness, stupidity, and animal noises rather than as a principal resource.
Composers employing the stylus fantasticus
- Johann Sebastian Bach
- Antonio Bertali
- Heinrich Ignaz Biber
- Dietrich Buxtehude
- Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli
- Johann Adam Reincken
- Johann Heinrich Schmelzer
- Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky
- Johann Schop
- Nicolaus Bruhns
- Girolamo Frescobaldi
- Kircher, Athanasius, 1602–1680. Musurgia universalis sive ars magna consoni et dissoni in libros digesta. Romae : Ex typographia Haeredum Francisci. Corbelletti, 1650.