French harpsichord literature of the late seventeenth century* consists largely of dances and preludes. Only occasionally do titles suggest the character pieces that became so popular in the eighteenth century. The clavecinistes naturally appropriated dance forms as the structure for their works, for this era was the grand period of the dance: “All Europe knows what a Capacity and Genius the French have for dancing, and how universally it is admired and followed.”1 Their allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, gigues, gaillardes, gavottes, and menuets are generally in binary form, while the chaconnes and passacailles are constructed in the form of a rondeau or with a ground bass. According to St.-Lambert, “the second half of a piece is called the REPRISE,” and each half of a binary piece is to be repeated,2 although his own example lacks the dots for the repetition of the second strain (as do a few of D’Anglebert’s small pieces). These repetitions are necessary to preserve the balance and symmetry intended in such short forms. An additional short repeat of the piece’s final measures, called the petite reprise, is often added at the end. Many of D’Anglebert’s dances have a symbol ( renvoy) to play the entire piece again without repeats, as recommended by St.-Lambert, after the normal repeats have been taken. This penchant for using the same material is perhaps a reflection of the seventeenth-century French leisurely mindset.
The only clue from D’Anglebert regarding the performance order of pieces and their doubles (variations) is found in his transcription of Chambonnières’s sarabande O beau jardin, which is constructed so that the double can serve as the repeat for each section. Nevertheless, each section of the sarabande ends with a measure that enables one to perform the piece without the double.
An important characteristic of D’Anglebert’s composition is the use of broken chords. Manfred Bukofzer’s apt description of the lutenists’ style brisé or style luthé—a technique that exploits the rapid decay of tone—applies equally to the works of the clavecinistes:
The “broken style” of lute music . . . may be called the glorification of the simplest lute figure: the arpeggio. The broken style is characterized by rapidly alternating notes in different registers that supply, in turn, melody and harmony. Seemingly distributed in arbitrary fashion over the various registers, the notes produced in their composite rhythm a continuous strand of sound.
And in a reference to Gaspard Le Roux’s Courante luthée for clavecin, J. G. Walther (1732) characterizes the lute style as “arpeggiando” or “gebrochen.”3
The many written-out examples of style luthé and the widespread use of the arpeggio symbols indicate the importance of this technique in French harpsichord music (see pp. 77-83). D’Anglebert frequently employs the written-out as well as the arpeggio-symbol form of style luthé. The close of his Gigue in G minor, for example, illustrates a broken style that results in a rhythmically active cadential treatment. François Couperin added the designation Luthé, et lié to Les Charmes (Ordre 9) and luthé-mesuré to La Mézangére (Ordre 10).
D’Anglebert’s music is distinguished from that of his keyboard contemporaries by his skillful use of harmony and dissonance (see p. 172). His adept handling of seventh chords and inversions, suspensions and other nonharmonic tones, communicates across 300 years with a profound depth of expression. But joy and gaiety are not absent from his music: D’Anglebert’s gigues, menuets, and chaconnes, with their correspondingly simpler harmonic treatment, are charming and vivacious. Nevertheless, the bulk of D’Anglebert’s oeuvre profits from a relaxed tempo that allows the listener to savor its luxuriant harmonies.
Several sources of the period provide information about the tempo of various dances, among them the dictionaires of Sébastien de Brossard (1703) and Jacques Ozanam (1691), and the treatises of Jean Rousseau (1678–1710 and 1687), Charles Masson (1699), and St.-Lambert (1702). A generation later, Abbé Demoz de la Salle (1728) lists some Italian equivalents for the French terms of tempo:
Adagio = Lent
Allegro = Gay & Léger
Vivace = Vif
Presto = Vite
Prestissimo = Très-vite
Andante = Allant or Rondement [walking briskly]
Largo = Large or à grand trait d’Archet [full bow]
Affettuoso = Affectueux4
Among the harpischord dances by Louis Couperin, Chambonnières, Lebègue, La Guerre, and D’Anglebert, covering a period of about 30 years, pieces carrying the same title are often in such disparate styles as to suggest differing tempi. The sarabande’s simple texture, for example, became much more intricate and required a slower tempo to allow the fine detailing to be heard, but the alle-mande experienced a reversal of this process. Since dissimilar forms of the same dance type are often found within the works of one composer, the more unusual examples are sometimes given a tempo marking to distinguish them from the conventional dances. Louis Couperin’s works, dating from the mid-seventeenth century, are found only in manuscript form and thus contain very few tempo markings. Chambonnières’s oeuvre contains perhaps two tempo indications. Lebègue’s first book (1677), however, makes it clear that tempos are marked when they deviate from the norm, and the same is true of D’Anglebert’s edition. La Guerre’s c.1687 imprint gives no tempo indications.
To understand tempo in seventeenth-century French music, one must first grasp the significance of the time signature. According to St.-Lambert:
The sign that one places at the beginning of a piece signifies these three things at the same time: how many notes there must be in each measure, the number of beats into which they must fall, and what mouvement, i.e., the quickness or slowness, one must give the piece.5
These signatures should convey the following mouvements:
St.-Lambert attempts to explain the difference between C and :
The two motions that one’s hand makes in beating time must be similar in their duration to those of a measure with four beats; i.e., neither slower nor more hurried. By this, it must be understood that in pieces with a signature, the notes are half again as fast [une fois plus vîte] as in those marked with a C signature, since in the same duration of a beat one performs two quarter notes instead of one.
These two sentences appear contradictory, but perhaps the first sentence means that there is not a dramatic difference between the quarter-note beat of C time and the half-note beat of time. A similar contradiction appears in Rousseau’s treatises (see p. 35). I suspect that these writers were more concerned with presenting to musical neophytes the concept of the half-note beat unit than with conveying an exact tempo. St.-Lambert consistently uses the phrase une fois plus vîte to describe the increments in speed from one time signature to the next faster one. This usage probably does not indicate an exact mathematical proportion but simply a modest increase in speed from the previous signature. Differences among signatures are relative, not absolute.
To clarify what he means by either two or six beats in a 6/4 measure, St.-Lambert notes that:
Although the measure always has the value of six quarter notes, they are distributed in two manners. In some airs, there is nearly always an eighth note between two quarter notes, and in other airs there are several consecutive quarter notes and several consecutive eighth notes, mixed indiscriminately with some half notes [Ex. 1].
When the notes are distributed in the measure in the way that I call the first manner . . . the measure is beat in two beats, each of which has three quarter notes or their value. But when the notes are distributed in the way that I call the second manner, the measure is beat in three beats—not in three slow beats by placing two quarter notes on each beat as in 3/2 time, but in three gais beats, similar in length to those of 2 [3*] time, placing only one quarter note on each beat, and thus making two measures in one, since there are six quarter notes in the measure.
. . . when one beats the measure only in two, the notes are performed much faster [than those beat in six] for these two beats must be at least as rapid as those of 2 time.
In contrast to the rather lively tempi of St.-Lambert’s 6/4 time, Michel L’Affilard (1705) refers to 6/4 time as having six beats graves. Brossard notes the dual usage of the 6/4 signature and adds that it is used “very improperly” for lively pieces.6
Signatures employing an 8 were not generally used until late in the seventeenth century, and D’Anglebert provides perhaps the earliest examples of 6/8 and 12/8 time in keyboard dances (although the Bauyn Manuscript contains a gigue in 3/8 time by Hardel). According to St.-Lambert, “the signature of 6/4 prescribes a fort gay tempo for pieces, especially when the measure is beat in two, but 6/8 time gives them a tempo half again as fast; i.e., very fast (tres vîte). Here he is probably comparing 6/8 time to 6/4 time beat in the second manner, so that the eighth note of 6/8 time would be half again as fast as the quarter note of 6/4 time and would equal that of 3/8 time (see note 5 above).
Since St.-Lambert is writing primarily for the public (i.e., harpsichord students, according to his Preface), which had decreed the clavecin a fashionable instrument at this time, he searches for a way to communicate a sense of the beats and their equality. He compares the length of quarter notes to the steps of a man walking five quarters of a league in an hour (about three miles), but hastens to add:
But this is not a rule that must be applied to all sorts of pieces, for if it were, they would have too great a uniformity of movement among them since the notes would all be performed at the same speed. But there are several kinds of mouvements; thus it is necessary that quarter notes (and the other notes in proportion) be performed in certain pieces with one speed and in other pieces with another speed.
In St.-Lambert’s view, the quarter notes of , 3, and 6/4 time (second manner), all of which he compares to a man’s walking pace, have approximately the same value. He speaks of the disagreement among musicians regarding not only the time signatures but also their understanding of various terms of tempo, and of the difficulty in communicating his views via the written page. He acknowledges that his illustration of a man’s walking pace is inadequate:
All men are not the same height. A tall man will walk less quickly to cover five quarters of a league in an hour than another who is shorter. Thus the steps of the first will be much slower than those of the second. . . . Also, I have not so much claimed by this comparison to give the true measure of the duration of quarter notes as I have hoped to give an idea of the equality that they must have. That is the most essential element of the mouvement.
St.-Lambert then lists the most frequently used signatures:
|2 beats, Graves or lents|
|2||2 beats, Gais or legers|
|3||3 beats, Legers|
The graves or lents of time are taken to mean that the beats themselves are slow—not necessarily a grave tempo, although this signature is also used for the first part of overtures and other slower pieces.
When musicians speak of an air a deux temps, they always mean one with a signature of or 2, and never one with signatures of 4/8, 6/4, or 6/8, although these are also beat in two. In the same manner, when they speak of an air à trois temps simplement, it refers to one with a signature of 3; but when they say trois temps lents, it signifies 3/2 time.
Although musicians give common time (C) a movement of lent & grave, and binary (2) and ternary (3) a movement of gay, St.-Lambert cautions that composers often find it necessary to add a clarifying tempo description, such as Lentement, Gravement, Legerement, Gayement, Vîte, Fort vîte, etc., to make up for the inability of the time signature to express their intention.
“Composers themselves do not use the proper signature consistently,” St.-Lambert observes. For example, “Lully conducts the reprise of the overture from Armide very fast and the Air on p.93 [Les Sourdines, marked gravement, and transcribed for clavecin by D’Anglebert] from this opera very slowly, although both have the same 6/4 signature and a similar distribution of notes.” Of course, “Lully is allowed this license because of his art,” but the maître wishes that “musicians would agree among themselves to correct this imperfection in which theory is contradicted by practice.”
St.-Lambert also takes issue with the long-standing practice of using a time signature of 3, instead of 3/2, for courantes. “In order to have three fast beats per bar [which the 3 signature implies], the measures would have to be cut in half. If one truly wants to have three slow beats per measure, the signature should be 3/2” (see note 5 above). While seventeenth-century clavecin composers nearly always retain the old “3” signature for courantes, La Guerre (Les Pièces de clauessin, c.1687) employs the 3/2 signature in six courantes, 4/6 [6/4] in one, and 3 in another. Two Courantes de Mr Delabarre from the Bauyn Manuscript are barred in 3/4 time, as are some lute courantes transcribed by D’Anglebert, perhaps in order to follow their original barring. For example, the courantes in Perrine’s 1680 collection of the Gaultiers’ pieces (Pièces de luth en musique, some of which D’Anglebert transcribed) are written in keyboard score and are barred in 3/4 time (see pp. 150–152 for a further discussion of courante tempo).
St.-Lambert’s tempo system is logical when one understands it as an attempt to indicate the relationship among the signatures. Perhaps in order not to burden his readers, who are after all members of the upper classes and the bourgeoisie, he does not delve into usages such as beat in four (see p. 36 below). Nowhere does he indicate that his is an inflexible system with mathematical equivalents; on the contrary, he stresses that one must apply his principles with discretion.
Jean Rousseau (1644–C.1700), a noted maître of the viol in Paris, wrote two important treatises. One, on singing, was so popular, it went through six editions from 1678 to 1710. It contains a classification of conventional time signatures similar to St.-Lambert’s, but Rousseau adds a C3 to indicate a slow tempo for a measure with three quarter notes:
|C||Major||4 beats graves|
|Minor||2 beats lents|
|2||Binary||2 beats vites|
|C3||Ternary||3 beats lents|
|3||Triple simple||3 beats légers|
|3/2||Triple double||3 beats lents7|
In the Preface Rousseau says that many people are unacquainted with the new time signatures, for the following signatures extraordinaires had only been in use for a short time:
|3/4||faster than 3|
|3/8||much faster than 3/4|
|6/4||six quick beats, or two slow beats (like two 3/4 measures in one)|
|6/8||faster than 6/4 (like two 3/8 measures in one)|
|4/8||two very fast beats|
Other time signatures are used more in Italy, such as 9/3 [sic, 9/4] (beat in 3), 12/17 [sic, 12/16] (beat in 4), and 3/16 (beat in 3), as well as 12/4, 12/8, and 9/8. . . . Every signature accompanied by a C (as in the ternary C3) must be beat gravement, by a plus légére, and by a 2 still faster. It should be further mentioned that every barred signature must be beat half again as fast as usual [la moitié plus legérement], as one sees in , which is none other than C in diminished form.
Here is the key to understanding that is not twice as fast as C, nor is 2 twice as fast as , as has been commonly supposed by modern writers. This interpretation has arisen from translating St.-Lambert’s une fois plus vîte as “twice as fast,” when in reality the French say deux fois plus vîte to obtain this meaning.
Rousseau’s other treatise, on the viol, offers a chart showing equivalent notes in different time signatures (Ex. 2).8 It seems to contradict his previous statement, but one might maintain that it presents approximations, not exact mathematical equivalents. Although occasions arise where one measure is probably equivalent to two measures, the increment is usually considerably less.
Like Rousseau, Étienne Loulié (1696) speaks of some combination signatures:
C is sometimes used with other time signatures to indicate that the pieces are to be performed as slowly as those with the C signature; e.g., C2, C3, or C3/2. Likewise, the , indicating four fast (vistes) beats or two slow beats, is used with other signatures to convey a tempo as fast as e.g., 2, 3, or 4/8.9
Demoz de la Salle, of the next generation, describes many time signatures, beginning with the old Signes simples des mesures:
|2||2 beats more or less vites according to the style of the different airs|
|3||3 beats more or less vites according to the style of the different airs|
|C||4 beats [no description]|
|2 beats graves ou lents (when there are more half and quarter notes than eighth and sixteenth notes) or 4 beats lègers (when there are more eighth and sixteenth notes than other notes)10|
Although four beats légers in time seems unusual to modern eyes, it makes good practical sense, since, for example, the first part of a Lully overture needs to move more slowly than can be achieved satisfactorily in two beats per measure. Most modern performances, it seems to me, fail to capture the sense of aristocratic grandeur and hauteur inherent in the Baroque overture. Other theorists, such as Loulie and Jacques Hotteterre,11 also refer to time as having two slow beats or four quick beats. “Quick” beats should be understood as relatively faster than slow beats, rather than literally fast. Why then did the French not use C in these instances? It appears that they were reluctant to use the C signature except for an old form such as the allemande, but employed the barred to indicate a fairly wide range of tempi (similar to their inconsistent use of 6/4 time). This practice may have been tied to the use of notes inégales, for the C time signature indicated that sixteenth notes, rather than eighths, were to be played unequally in appropriate locations.
Demoz de la Salle continues with the Signes doubles ou composez:
|2/4||two beats légers|
|4/8||two beats vites|
|4/16||two beats très-vites|
|6/4||two beats, more or less graves, according to the character of the airs|
|6/8||two beats légers|
|6/16||two beats vites|
|3/2||three beats graves|
|3/4||ordinarily three beats légers|
|3/8||three beats vites|
|3/16||three beats très-vites|
|9/4||three beats graves|
|9/8||three beats légers|
|9/16||three beats vites|
|12/4||four beats graves|
|12/8||four beats légers|
|12/16||four beats vites|
The number of signatures used commonly enough to be included in a tutorial treatise had increased dramatically in the span of a generation. Michel-Pignolet de Montéclair (1736), however, barely concealed his exasperation:
All musicians agree that all time signatures are related to two and to three beats. Why then do they use up to nineteen signatures to designate these two meters? The mesure of four beats is none other than the mesure of two beats doubled. In certain instances, produces the same effect as C, and at other times, the same effect as 2. . . . The passacaille and sarabande, which have a movement of grave, are marked with 3 or 3/4, just the same as the chaconne and menuet, which have a movement of gay. . . .
If the nineteen signatures are necessary to indicate the different movements of Airs, why don’t composers use them correctly? And if they are not necessary, why are they used? These different signatures are not capable of determining absolutely the true degree of slowness or quickness, as shown by the fact that one of the following terms is nearly always found at the beginning of a piece:
Italian. Grave, Largo, Adagio, Moderato, Allegro, Presto, Prestissimo French. Grave, Lent, Aisement, Moderé, Gay, Leger, Vite, Tres vite12
Montéclair proposes simplifying signatures by using only a 2 and a 3 for simple duple and triple meter, and a barred and for compound meter. In order to specify the correct tempo, he recommends adding one of the following terms: Tres grave, Grave, Tres lent, Lent, Moderé, Gay, Leger, Vîte, Tres vîte; and to convey the proper style or expression of the piece, one of these: Triste or Tristement, Pathetique, Douloureux, Onctueux, Tendrement, Brusquement, Vivement, Detaché, Marqué, Piqué, Mesuré, Louré, etc. Montéclair has a valid point, for the usage of time signatures in the eighteenth century became hopelessly confused. They were applied more consistently in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, but not with complete uniformity.
Time signatures were in a state of development during the last part of the seventeenth century in France. Earlier the 3 signature encompassed movement in 3/2, 3/4, and 6/4 time, but a distinction developed by the time of D’Anglebert’s Pièces de clavecin. D’Anglebert was surely one of the first French keyboard composers to introduce more variety in time signatures, for most pieces of the period use C for allemandes and 3 for courantes, sarabandes, gigues, passacailles, chaconnes, menuets, and gaillardes. D’Anglebert applied the signatures logically (except for retaining the old 3 in courantes), and his edition of 1689 shows a development from his earlier autograph manuscript (C .1660S–1670S). His Gaillarde in G major is written with a signature of 3 in the manuscript, but with 3/2 in the edition. Similarly, the Gigue in G major has a signature of 3 (barred in 3/4) in the manuscript, but 6/4 in the edition. The manuscript version of the Gavotte in G major is in the barred time, but the edition employs C time, together with a marking of Lentement, perhaps to ensure that the piece would be played slowly, since many gavottes were fast by the end of the century.
How carefully did the French follow the precepts of the treatises? St.-Lambert notes that the rules for tempo are observed so inexactly that we must not be overly concerned with his instructions:
The reader who studies here the principles of the harpsichord must not stop with what I have said on this matter. He can use the musician’s privilege and give pieces such movement as pleases him, otherwise having very little regard for its time signature, provided that he does not choose a movement directly opposed to that which the signature requires, one that could remove the grace of the piece. . . .13
St.-Lambert’s comparison of the beat to a man’s walking pace is too vague, as he points out, to be a reliable indication of tempo. It seems hazardous to assign metronome markings for individual signatures, since there appears to have been a great deal of variation in the tempo among pieces with the same signature. Rather, signatures should be understood in a relative sense; e.g., a quarter note in barred time moves faster than one in C time. The theorists were describing a complex issue to the best of their ability and probably did not intend to prescribe a strict system with mathematical equivalents. To determine a suitable tempo, one can more safely rely on the character of the pieces themselves, together with primary-source descriptions of tempo and signatures.
Other clues to tempo can be obtained from descriptions of various musical forms, such as Charles Masson’s (1699), which classifies forms from slow to fast:
Lent C, in recitatives of motets and operas, and sometimes in choruses
Lent , airs such as the Entree d’Apollon in Triomphe de l’Amour [Lully]
Legerement 2, gavotte and gaillarde
Vîte 2, bourees and rigaudons, marked with vite
Fort vîte 8/4 [4/8], such as the Entrée de[s] bergers & bergeres, Roland [Lully]
Fort gravement 3/2
Gravement Sarabande, passacaille, courante
Tres vîte Passepied14
Masson adds that gigues have the same movement as bourées and rigaudons, and canaries are a little faster than gigues. Loures, with a signature of 6/4, are beat in two lentement. Although he assigns the gaillarde a time signature of 2, the clavecinistes’ gaillarde is in triple meter. Louis Pecour explains this difference in La nouvelle gaillarde, which contains the steps for a dotted rhythm gaillarde in 2 time.15 This “new gaillarde” is also seen in Lully’s “Un Berger” from Thesée (LWV 51/66), in time, which is called a gaillarde in some sources but a gavotte in another.
Nearly thirty years later, Demoz de la Salle lists the same five degrees of tempo found in Masson’s work: Très-Lent, Grave or Lent, Legers, Vite, and Três-vite.16 He observes that the measure is beat more or less slowly according to its time signature and the character of the different airs. Compare Masson’s 1699 tempo classification of various forms (above) with that given by Demoz in 1728:
Two beats graves: march, l’Entrée de ballet, the first part of an opera overture, gavotte, loure, pavane
Two beats légers (or gais): rigaudon, branle, gaillarde, bourée, villanelle, paysane & villageoise, musette, gigue
Three beats graves (or lents): courante, sarabande, passacaille, folies d’Espagne
Three beats legers (or gais): chaconne, menuet, musette
Three beats vites: passepied, canarie[s]
Four beats légers (or gais): allemande
Masson and Demoz agree closely for the most part, but it should be noted that the gavotte had both slow and fast identities, while the allemande developed an additional faster form that may have been paramount by 1728 (see chap. 10). The Troyes organist Nicolas Siret gives lent ou grave as the tempo of his allemandes, sarabandes, passacaille, and the first part of overtures; and vif ou leger for his courantes, gigues, gavottes, menuets, and overture reprises.17 This one characterization of the courante as a faster dance is puzzling, since Siret’s courantes (one of which is entitled “La Luthée” and seems to refer to the famous seventeenth-century French lute courantes) generally employ traditional courante mannerisms and the 3/2 signature reserved for very slow pieces.
In writings of the period, one often encounters the words mesure (the number and equality of the beats, according to François Couperin, below) and mouvement (the slowness or quickness of the beat, according to Sebastien Brossard18). Jean Rousseau explains the difference between mesure and mouvement:
For the Mesure is a road that has the mouvement as its destination. But as there is a difference between the road and the destination to which it leads, so too is there a difference between the Mesure and the mouvement. Just as the voice must be led by the Mesure, the Mesure must also be led and animated by the mouvement. Thus, with the same time signature, we often perform the Mesure differently, for sometimes we hurry and sometimes we retard according to the different passions that the voice must express. That is why it is not sufficient to perform music knowing how to beat according to the different signs. One still must enter into the spirit of the composer, that is to say, into the different mouvemens that the expression of the piece demands. That is why few people know how to perform music well. . . . One will probably ask how one can know the true mouvement of a piece of music, but this knowledge is above all the discourses one can make on the subject, for it is the perfection of art that one can achieve only by practice and a gift for music. Nevertheless, if one hears a piece of music performed by different persons, some of whom use the true mouvement, but not others, it is an easy matter to determine which mouvement is the correct.19
Rousseau seems to be suggesting a meaning for mouvement that extends beyond that of tempo. François Couperin (1717) elaborates on this subject by noting one’s obligation to add life to the music, in contrast to simply playing the beats correctly:
I find that we confuse the Mesure with what one calls Cadence or Mouvement [life, animation]. Mesure defines the number and equality of the beats, and Cadence is properly the spirit and soul that it is necessary to add. The sonatas of the Italians are scarcely open to this Cadence. But all of our airs for violin, etc., designate and seem to want to express some feeling. Thus, not having devised signs or characters for communicating our particular ideas, we attempt to remedy it by marking the beginning of our pieces with words such as Tendrement, Vivement, etc.20
Couperin’s description of cadence and mouvement resembles that of a much earlier treatise by Bénigne de Bacilly:
Many people confuse Mouuement with Mesure and believe that, because one ordinarily says Air de mouuement to distinguish a piece from a very slow Air, all Mouuement of a song consists only of a certain skipping suited to gigues, menuets, and other similar dances.
Mouuement is consequently something completely different from what they imagine. I maintain that it is a certain quality that gives soul to the song, and that it is called Mouuement because it stirs up, I may say it excites, the listeners’ attention, in the same way as do those who are the most rebellious in harmony . . . it inspires in hearts such passion as the singer wishes to create, principally that of tenderness. How is it that most women never succeed in acquiring this manner of expression, which they imagine is contrary to the modesty of their sex (like the theatre); they sing in a completely inanimate style for lack of wanting to play-act a little.
I don’t doubt at all that the variety of Mesure, whether quick or slow, contributes a great deal to the expression of the song. But there is certainly another quality, more refined and more spiritual, that always holds the listener attentive and ensures that the song is less tedious. It is the Mouuement that makes the most of a mediocre voice, making it better than a very beautiful voice without expression.21
Mouvement (or sometimes Cadence) then can be more than tempo; it is also the vibrancy and expression that gives life to the notes and communicates to the listener. The words of Couperin, Rousseau, and Bacilly are as relevant today as then, for the beauty of D’Anglebert’s preludes, allemandes, courantes, gaillardes, and passacaille has often been blurred by excessive speed and mechanical performance. These pieces reflect the intimacy that Couperin claims is an important characteristic of French music. Rameau seems to corroborate Couperin’s views, for he says that it is better to err by playing too slowly than by playing too fast.22 Mr Le Gallois (1680) too is not pleased with flamboyance:
How many people do we see who are more impressed by playing that makes a great deal of noise with many passages and diminutions (badly done, by the way) than by well-controlled playing; and who admire a man whose hands create great brilliance by some precipitous and muddling tempi (but who observes neither control nor mesure in the mouvemens). These people, on the contrary, scorn another whose playing is neat, delicate, and correctly observant of the mesure.
The writer advocates a playing style sensibly balanced between legato and brilliant (perhaps lyrical and articulated?), as exemplified by that of Chambonnières:
Everyone knows that this illustrious personage excelled others as much because of the pieces he composed as because of his having been the originator of that beautiful style of playing in which he revealed a brilliance and a legato so well contrived and adjusted one to the other that it would have been impossible to do better.
Le Gallois stresses the tastelessness of excessive ornamentation and rapid execution on the one hand, and the vapidity of excessive legato on the other:
Those who possess virtuosity are subject to several defects . . . their trills are often too hurried and consequently very rough, being produced with too much energy . . . their tempo is rushed or uneven . . . they strike the keys instead of flowing smoothly from one to another. Finally, one hears nothing in their playing but a perpetual trill, which prevents one from hearing the melody of the piece distinctly. And they continually add passages, particularly from one note to its octave, which Chambonnières used to call “tinkering”. . . . We see also that the most expert musicians, following a middle path in this, as one must in everything, only use this lightness of hand and rapidity of execution with great moderation, for fear, as I have said, of muddling and confusing what ought to be neat and distinct.
But if the brilliant style has its defects, the legato style also has its own, which are easy to observe in those whom affectation causes to slur their playing in an agonizing manner . . . their playing is indeed so very legato that it sounds more like the playing of a hurdygurdy . . . because of the slurring the playing has no rhythm. . . .23
But three-quarters of a century later, Pierre-Claude Foucquet suggests that the taste of an earlier period was superior to that of his own: “Many play the clavecin, but very few with appropriate taste. Today we esteem a fleet and agile hand, and appear less moved by a graceful, tender, and warm performance.”24 Mr Ancelet too laments the erosion of bon goût, as performers and audiences preferred music of a virtuoso nature:
One must judge a musician’s taste by the choice of pieces he plays. A connoisseur is attracted to the beauty of the melody, to the choice of harmony, and not to difficult pieces overloaded with notes, which most often yield only some bizarre sounds without expression. I would prefer likewise clarity, excellence of tone, and accuracy to rapid performance. Ignorant people and mediocre students take as the newest fad the flights of imagination of a composer without talent. For each instrument, one is bent on finding some extraordinary and impractical ideas for those who have not had the patience to practice them. Certain composers of sonatas are the most complete proof of this.25
These quotations from 1680 to 1757 tell us that some things never change, for there have always been those concerned with virtuosity for its own sake. Nevertheless, most of the music left by the French masters of the seventeenth and the early eighteenth century reflects a style inimical to displays of technique. A more leisurely outlook will enable us to discover the beauty of these pieces and to understand the attraction that they held for les gens of the Splendid Century. Although many eighteenth-century clavecin pieces imitate the Italian style, others are in the best French tradition; e.g., the magnificent La Forqueray by Jacques Duphly and La d’Héricourt by Claude-Bénigne Balbastre.
The French, concerned with performing music in a tasteful manner, employed various styles listed in Brossard’s Dictionaire:26
Stile gay, enjoüé, fleury (lively, sprightly, florid)
Stile picquant, pathetique, expressif (piquant, full of emotion, expressive)
Stile grave, serieux, majestueux (solemn, serious, majestic)
Stile naturel, coulant, tendre, affectueux (unaffected, flowing, tender, warm)
Stile grand, sublime, galant (grand, lofty, elegant)
Stile familier, populaire, bas, rampant (familiar, popular, low, pedestrian)
Brossard characterizes French compositions as naturel, coulant, tendre, etc., but Italian compositions as picquant, fleury & expressif. The French and Italian manners appear to have been predominant in Europe throughout the Baroque period, so the observations of Johann Joachim Quantz (1752) are valuable for representing a foreigner’s perception of these two styles:
The Italian manner of playing is arbitrary, extravagant, artificial, obscure, frequently bold and bizarre, and difficult in execution; it permits many additions of graces, and requires a seemly knowledge of harmony; but among the ignorant it excites more admiration than pleasure. The French manner of playing is slavish, yet modest, distinct, neat and true in execution, easy to imitate, neither profound nor obscure, but comprehensible to everyone, and convenient for amateurs; it does not require much knowledge of harmony, since the embellishments are generally prescribed by the composer; but it gives the connoisseurs little to reflect upon.27
A vigorous controversy over the merits of French and Italian music raged in France around the turn of the eighteenth century, with the principal protagonists being François Raguenet in favor of Italian music (Paralléle des Italiens et des Français en ce qui regarde la musique et les opéras, 1702) and Le Cerf de La Vieville defending the French cause (Comparaison de la musique italienne et de la musique française, 1705-1706).
François Couperin implies that the French valued musical sensitivity highly:
The harpsichord is a complete instrument by virtue of its range, and sufficient unto itself. However, as one can neither swell nor diminish its sounds, I shall always be grateful to those who, by consummate skill supported by good taste, are able to render this instrument capable of expression. Such was the task my ancestors set themselves, quite apart from the fine quality of their pieces; I have endeavoured to perfect their discoveries, for their works still appeal to persons of refined taste.28
Jean Rousseau too stresses unaffected and graceful playing in French music. For him, playing melodies on the viol is an unpretentious art that requires a great deal of delicacy and sensitivity: “The viol is the closest instrument to the human voice, which all the instruments are obliged to imitate. . . . Playing melodies is most pleasant, and even touching, when one performs them well.”29
François Couperin le grand has often been cited as the quintessential Baroque composer embodying this French style. Laurence Boulay writes:
Because Couperin and Faure are, more than other composers, musicians of intimacy—I would say even musicians of the spirit—their work is addressed to an elite whose culture and refinement favor a greater receptivity. . . . The sensitivity, the reserve, the inner feeling are, with Couperin as with Fauré, dominant qualities. Need I repeat the celebrated phrase of the great claveciniste? “I will candidly admit to preferring that which moves me to that which amazes me”30
Boulay describes Couperin as “delicate, pensive, a little melancholy, and not without nobility or depth.” These characteristics seem to apply to much French composition of the period. For example, the greater part of D’Anglebert’s oeuvre can best be described as naturel, coulant, tendre, affectueux—the style Brossard says typifies French music. The French thought of their music as simple and unaffected, touching the soul, as an anonymous poet expressed it in 1714:
La musique française a l’heureux avantage
De n’enfanter jamais un son dur, ou sauvage,
La douceur et la grace accompagnent ses chants,
Ils sont tendres, flatteurs, expressifs et touchants.31
*Styles and customs change dramatically from one generation to the next, so the conclusions drawn here about France in the second half of the seventeenth century may not apply to a later time or to other countries. Translations of French and German texts, which generally tend more toward a paraphrase, are mine unless they are drawn from a modern edition (as indicated in the Notes). Accents in quoted material conform to the grandly inconsistent original French when possible, but capitalization and accents in titles have been standardized.
*St.-Lambert probably means 3 time here, since elsewhere he compares this quarter note of 6/4 time to that of 3 time.