Measuring musical time in late-17th-century Italy

This posts continues my study of a very particular repertoire featuring female composers, works by Milanese nuns in the mid/late 17th century. This investigation is associated with the performance projects of Kajsa Dahlbeck’s Earthly Angels ensemble (read more here), which are underpinned by Kajsa’s own research.

My previous article The Soul of Music in Women’s Hands discusses compositions by Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704). Now I turn my attention to Rosa Giancinta Badalla (c1660-c1710).


Badalla’s book of solo motets with continuo accompaniment, Motetti a voce sola (1684) – 10 for soprano, 2 for alto – contains pieces for Christmas, Easter, for any Saint’s day, and for the patron saint of her convent, Santa Radegunda. This fascinating collection has many interesting features for researchers and performers alike, and I’m looking forward to Kajsa’s forthcoming performances. In the meantime, this post takes Badalla’s publication as a case-study in the period notation of Tempo.

Context

The priorities of the early seicento were encapsulated by Caccini in Le Nuove Musiche (1601): “music is Text and Rhythm, with Sound last of all.” More on Caccini here. Considering rhythm, the role of the performer – all the way from the mid-16th century to the late 18th – is to find the ‘correct’ tempo, not to invent their own arbitrary speed.

During the long 17th-century, composers indicate rhythm and tempo with precise notations, and those notations change during the course of the century. Certain rhythmic freedoms are clearly described in the early seicento, notably by Caccini and Frescobaldi. Frescobaldi Rules OK here.

The performance context for rhythm – again, all the way from the mid-16th century to the late 18th – is defined by Tactus and Proportions. Tactus from 16th-18th centuries here.

The steady, slow duple beat of Tactus (around 1 beat per second) is like the pendulum of the clock, which drives the various cogs at different, but interlocked, speeds. Those cogs are the various Proportions of ternary measure.

The mathematical precision of this system is an earthly imitation of the perfect movement of the heavens, driven by the hand of God. Nevertheless, humanist music-making allowed subtle adjustments to the (theoretically ever-constant) Tactus, creating time-changes between contrasting sections – i.e. contrasting movements.

Tempo


Nowadays, we use the word tempo to mean the ‘speed’ of the music, how fast does it go. But circa 1600, tempo meant Time itself, the measurement of real-world time in seconds. And this is not Newton’s (1687) Absolute Time, it is Aristotelean Time, which does not flow of its own accord, but is dependent on movement, and upon an observing Soul. More on Aristotelean Time here.

Aristotelean Time calibrates the musical notation of the mensural system to the real world, so that the note-values on the page “come to life” with sound and duration. More about Time, the Soul of Music here.

The essential movement, without which Time cannot be counted, is provided by a human hand, imitating the hand of God to administer a constant, equal and unchanging beat – battuta – also known as the light touch of Tactus. Zacconi explains that misura, the measuring of music time in mensural notation, battuta, and Tactus are all the same thing, Time itself.

Singer (beating Tactus) and Theorbist (right hand at the bridge)

A century later, this has changed. Whilst note-values are still seen as Quantitatively precise, the subjective Quality of how the music feels is understood to be variable, and it is this emotional Quality that is now called tempo (or in French, mouvement). More about Quality Time here.

This first conceptual shift in the meaning of the word tempo – from real-world Time to emotional Quality – is happening during the period under discussion in this article.

The second paradigm shift – from Aristotelean to Newtonian Time – happens much later. Sustained, fierce resistance to Newton’s ideas prevented them becoming effective in music-making until probably the early 1900s. Newtonian Time is a pre-requisite for the modern concept of tempo as the ‘speed’ of music, since we need Absolute Time as a benchmark to measure variable speeds.

Notation

The late 17th century is a less familiar transitional phase between two contrasting notational systems that have been more intensively studied by modern-day researchers: the mensural marks of Monteverdi’s (and in Milan, Cima’s) generation; and the time signatures of Bach and Handel. This transition was gradual: some features of the mensural system were already obselete for Monteverdi; but the 16th-century concept of a ‘standard’ or ‘correct’ time – tempo ordinario or tempo giusto – remained in force throughout the 18th century.

Nevertheless, one crucial change can be seen in the nuns’ publications: that change is underway in Leonarda’s notations, and is complete in Badalla’s publication.

This change affects the notation of ternary meter. At the slow extreme, movements in three semibreves fall out of use: at the fast extreme, such markings as 3/8, 6/8 and 12/8 appear. Thus far, I have not seen the old and new notations appear simultaneously in a single work; and only once within a single publication.

Proportions

Monteverdi notates Proportions with what are undeniably mensuration marks, though much of their meaning has evaporated by the early 1600s. I have argued elsewhere that Roger Bowers’ theory that these marks retain their full and complex medieval significance is incompatible with the need for performers (working from part-books, and often with minimal or no rehearsal) to come to rapid and unanimous decisions at each change of Proportion.

Scholars agree that bar-lengths are arbitrary in this period. Note that in the 17th century battuta means ‘beat’, and not ‘bar’ as in modern Italian.

The key feature of Monteverdi’s Proportional notation is the choice of note-values. Three semibreves show the slowest Proportion (Sesquialtera); three minims show a medium-fast Proportion (Tripla); six semi-minims shows the very fast (Sestupla) Proportion. Read more about Monteverdi’s Proportions here.

Whatever Proportion is in use (and different voices may be in different meters and/or different mensuration marks), the duration of any particular note-value, a minim say, is the same in all Proportions. Carissimi (Ars Cantandi, 1696) puts it very simply: “the triple-metres all agree with regard to quantity, division and proportion, as is easily understood.” Bowers mentions this principle in passing but failed to follow up its implications.

Proportions are like the cog-wheels of a clock, regulated by the steady pendulum-like swing of Tactus. Once the Tactus is set (around minim = 1 second), there are only these three Proportions available: slow sesquialtera (3 semibreves in 2 tactus beats); medium-fast tripla (3 minims in 1 tactus beat); fast sestupla (6 semi-minims in 1 tactus beat). Any further multiples would be ridiculously slow or impossibly fast.

During the early seicento, composers increasingly used written instructions and/or such words as adagio, allegro, presto etc. to modify the basic information given by the note-values. Often, those modifiers exaggerate the contrast in activity already shown. Always, these modifiers indicate subtle gradations around a ‘ball-park’ tempo shown by the note-values.

Monteverdi’s notation

Triple Proportion uses mostly long note-values, which proceed proportionately faster than in duple time. So we recognise the final Moresca of Monteverdi’s Orfeo as Tripla Proportion (organised in units of three minims, structured as semibreve-minim), even though the ternary mensuration mark is missing. It would make no sense to play this in duple time at minim = 60.

Moresca from Orfeo (1609) “White notation”, mensuration mark missing

The note-values of ternary proportions can be written in ‘white notation’ or ‘black’.

Black proportional notation in Act II of Orfeo

Under a ternary mensuration mark, a white semibreve might sometimes be ‘perfected’ to be worth three minims. A black semibreve – a black blob – is always worth only two minims.

In white notation, a semi-minim might look like a ‘white quaver’, but more often it looks like a regular crotchet. In black notation, a black minim looks like a regular crotchet, and a black semi-minim looks like a regular quaver.

Sometimes black notation is introduced in the middle of a section of white notation. This can produce ambiguities: is this thing that looks like a regular crotchet, i.e. a blob with a stick, a ‘black minim’ or a ‘white semi-minim’? But – once you get used to the two notations – this is less confusing that it might seem at first.

Badalla’s notation

Moving on from Monteverdi and Cima to Badalla’s Motetti, we again see three sets of note-values for the three ternerary Proportions. But there has been a change. For Badalla, the alternative notations of ‘white’ and ‘black’ note-values have simplified into something that looks more like modern usage, though we still need to be careful in understanding the significance.

We can see this change in progess within Leonarda’s oeuvre: three old-style ‘black minims’ under a mensuration mark of 3 or 3/2 are replaced with (identical-looking) crotchets and a time signature of 3/4: this is the new-style Tripla.

In Badalla’s 1684 publication, the slowest ternary metre is now shown with three white minims and 3 or 3/2. This is the new notation for slow Sesquialtera: the old notation with three semibreves has fallen out of use. A new fast notation appears: six quavers with a time signature of 6/8. This is the new Sestupla.

Both Leonarda and Badalla use the mensuration mark 3 to indicate ternary Proportion in general. Since the choice of proportion is governed by note-values, this mark is not ambiguous.

Leonarda’s publications vary between old and new styles of notation. I have only seen one example of both notations within the same collection, and the two styles are never used in a single piece. Movements in three semibreves identify the old style, time signatures of 6/8 etc identify the old style. We need to know which style is at work, in order to understand the meaning of three minims (old-style Tripla, new- style Sesquialtera).

Tempo-modifying words

Any of these strict Proportions can be subtly altered by modifying words: adagio, risoluto, allegro, presto [from slow to fast]. And in a section notated in duple time, C, the Tactus can also be modified by these words. The effect of Proportional changes between duple and triple is often exaggerated: e.g. from standard C [ordinario] to 6/8 presto. Sometimes the contrast is reduced: .e.g from C [ordinario] to 3/4 adagio.

There can also be subtle changes whilst keeping the same mensuration, e.g. in C from ordinario to adagio and then back to risoluto.

I have not seen the terms giusto or ordinario in the nun’s repertoire. This is unsurprising: if we see C (or any other marking of time) without any modifying word, then the tempo should be ordinario, giusto (correct).

Following some temporary modification, a return to tempo ordinario is shown by plain C (or a proportional mark). In Badalla’s Tacete o la, Tacete it is not clear whether risoluto signifies here an entirely new ‘resolute’ feeling, or a return to what we would nowadays call tempo primo. I would suggest that it hardly matters in this case, since a risoluto delivery of the opening phrase would be perfectly appropriate.

The words giusto and ordinario are also rare in Handel’s ouevre, though he sometimes writes them (as a warning against excess, or in order to emphasise a return to normality after some dramatic extreme).

20th-century Ur-text editors often supply [Allegro] where a first movement has no modifying word: we can now understand that this is incorrect. The proper editorial comment would be [Tempo Ordinario] or [Tempo Giusto]. Allegro is not the default choice for an opening movement, rather it is somewhat faster than the usual ordinario.

Badalla uses modifiers with no change in mensuration, and to exaggerate contrast when the mensuration changes.
Badalla uses modifiers to reduce contrast at a change in mensuration.

Handel’s notation

It’s generally agreed amongst specialist scholars investigating high baroque notation of tempo that 18th-century composers continued – even increased their ability – to indicate tempo as precisely as possible. See for example Julia Doktor’s Tempo & Tactus in the German Baroque here. Indeed, very fine details of subtle differences could be indicated, by combining three levels of gradation: coarse, medium and fine.

This fine-meshed array of possible tempi was calibrated to tempo ordinario (normal time). The alternative name of tempo giusto (correct time) reminds us that composers indicated the correct tempo, it is not the performer’s role to make arbitrary decisions. Nevertheless, tempo ordinario is not defined by any mechanical device, but by the subjective, human feeling for Time itself.

Handel’s Proportions

Proportions (3/2, 3/4, 6/8) define the broad parameters for relating one movement to another. A quaver in 6/8 is nominally twice as fast as a crotchet in 3/4, which in turn is twice as fast as a minim in 3/2. In practice however, those 6/8 quavers might be significantly faster than 3/4 crotchets, but not as much as twice the speed. Similarly 3/2 minims are significantly slower than 3/4 crotchets, but perhaps not as much as twice the duration.

C and C/ are similarly a 2:1 ratio in theory, but not so far apart in practice. If we consider the minim Tactus in C as the standard, then the semibreve Tactus in C/ can be somewhat slower.

Two opposing principles are at work. Smaller note-values are expected to have shorter duration, maintaining contrast. This principle tends to favour a slower beat if the Tactus is on a greater note-value.

Contrariwise, practical considerations discourage excessively slow tempi for long note-values, or exaggeratedly fast tempi for short note-values. So the Tactus beat might be slower, if there is a lot of surface activity in small note-values (reducing contrast).

These two opposing tendencies can be traced back to the early seicento. It seems the preference is to maintain or indeed exaggerate contrasts in surface activity at proportional changes, whilst taking a slower beat for a section with decorative passage-work, for practical convenience. Within each section, the Tactus is steady.

In theory, 18th-century Tripla Proportion still assumes constant Tactus, with C minim = 3/4 dotted minim. In practice, this sets up two alternative sets of Proportions, depending on whether the fundamental duple Tactus is based on C or C/.

In French-influenced music, a great variety of subtly different triple metre tempi are found, defined by dance-type. Each dance-type has its own mouvement, which specifies not only the speed of the Tactus beat, but also the rhythmic structure within that beat, and the emotional feeling associated with music and dance-steps.

Thus Tempo di Minuetto is poorly translated as ‘Minuet-speed’. Rather, the music should ‘move’ like a minuet, ‘swing’ like a minuet, ‘feel’ like a minuet. Carissimi’s declaration that tempo and mouvement convey the Quality of music must be linked to Muffat’s explanation, in Florilegium (1698) here, of vrai mouvement in Lully’s dance-music.

Handel’s Time Signatures

In the first half of the 18th century, variant time signatures within each Proportion give medium-level information. 3/8 goes faster than 6/8, which goes faster than 12/8.

Modifying words

The information given by time-signatures is thus already quite precise. And tempo-words give the last fine adjustment. Composers are able to show both clarity and subtlety in their markings.

Tempi in Handel’s Messiah, here.

Tempi in Handel’s Orlando, here.

International online seminar about about tempo, featuring Domen Marincic & Julia Doktor, here.

FOR MODERN PERFORMERS

There are two essential principles to guide modern performers towards late-17th- and 18th-century composers’ intended tempi.

1. The same notation [time signature and tempo word] implies the same tempo.

So we can compare similarly-notated movements, to find the speed that “works” for all of them

2. There is general agreement about the ORDER (slow to fast) of the various notations.

So we can rank the various movements in order, and compare near-neighbours to establish subtle differences.

The entire spectrum might be moved one way or another, according to the size of the ensemble, venue acoustic etc. But these two principles still hold. And, combined, they leave very little ‘wiggle room’, (especially in the 18th-century).

We can have a very good idea of composer’s wishes. We do NOT need to invent our own tempi.

WARNING!

Modern performers need to be aware of a crucial difference between our own ‘instinctive’ assumptions and baroque practice. We tend to look first at the tempo word, and take little notice of the time-signature as a source of tempo-information.

Baroque practice was the opposite: the time-signature gives the basic information, which is modified only in a subtle way by any tempo word. And that tempo word influences the character of the movement, more than the raw speed.

Badalla’s Time Signatures

Badalla’s use of proportions (the “denominator” of each time signature) and tempo-modifying words is clear. Her practice lies on the pathway from Monteverdi and Cima via Leonarda towards Handel.

But it is less certain how we should understand her use of variants (the ‘numerator’ of each time signature). These time signatures were not part of earlier practice, but we have a good understanding of how they are used by generations of composers following Leonarda and Badalla (see Handel’s Time Signatures above).

My suggestion for Badalla’s generation is based on the experience of studying this repertoire with actual, physical Tactus-beating. And I assume that late 17th-century practices are likely to represent a transition between early seicento and early 18th-century practices (each of which is better understood in current scholarship than the transition in-between them).

I suggest that Badalla’s 6/8 (standard Sestupla) could be beaten with a down-stroke on the down-beat of each 6/8 bar. This is approximately 1 down-beat per second at tempo ordinario.

In 3/8, the note-values have the same duration, but the beat is now a down-stroke on the down-beat of each 3/8 bar. This is a very fast (about 2 down-beats per second), vigorous beat, creating a very different feeling.

In 12/8, the note-values again have the same duration, but with a down-stroke on the down-beat of each 12/8 bar. This is a slow, steady beat (down for one second, up for one second).

Try beating each of these in turn – 6/8, 3/8, 12/8 – to appreciate the physicality of Tactus. Physical Tactus-beating produces strong contrasts in emotional Quality, even though a quaver has the same Quantitative duration in each case (as Carissimi tells us).

In theory, the note-values have exactly the same Quantity, only the Tactus beat and the subjective Quality changes. In practice, a very energetic 3/8 beat might produce a faster speed than the calm 12/8 beat. And over the years, this tendency would lead towards to the conventions that we observe in early-18th-century usage.

RHETORIC

This article has been concerned with rhythmic notation. But we should always keep in mind the other top priority of baroque music: Rhetoric, which in vocal music can be studied directly via the sung text. Even in instrumental music, the concept of music as a Rhetorical Art implies that we play as if there is a text being sung. .

Text defines articulations from syllable to syllable; and also affetti, emotions, from word to word; and the general mood from movement to movement. Thus Frescobaldi characterised his harpsichord Toccatas as having vocal affetti and a variety of movements, passi.

To find the affetto of an instrumental movement, Frescobaldi recommends that you play it through (at standard tempo), which will reveal the emotional character. This emotional character will then subtly adjust the standard speed in the appropriate direction. Tempo-modifying words work similarly, to adjust the basic significance of mensural notation. More on Frescobaldi here.

As we have seen, Badalla has at her command a sophisticated system of proportions, time-signatures and modifying words to indicate her intentions for tempo. As modern performers, we need to reconcile our understanding of the sung text with these details of musical notation.

We can assume that the composer has already responded to the affetto of the text, so that her tempo-indications can help us appreciate how she is responding to that text. Notations of tempo help us understand the emotional content.

We can also examine the affetto directly from the text in order to understand how the music, and our performance of it, might respond. This can guide us to changes of tone-colour, intensity etc, within the steady Tactus of each movement. It might even suggest moments where the singer is early or late on the beat, whilst the Tactus continues steadily. Read more about the baroque ‘Ella Fitzgerald rule’, here.

The text can also help us understand the tempo required for an entire movement, though we should not lightly abandon the composer’s own tempo-indications. If we think that the text requires a different tempo from that indicated by the musical notation, it is probably we who are wrong, rather than Badalla!

Word by word, movement by movement

Two techniques can help us avoid imposing our own preconceptions, in order to approach the text from a period perspective.

Word by word, the appropriate manner of performance is defined by the word itself. Amore does not imply singing piano, or slow, or legato: we should sing the word lovingly. Fuoco does not necessarily imply singing forte, or fast, or staccato: we should sing the word in a fiery manner.

We should avoid blurring meanings by substuting generalised musical instructions, rather we can take the word itself and turn it into a specific adverb, the precise way to sing this particular word.

Movement by movement, we can study frequently repeated and emotionally significant words, in order to determine which of the Four Humours is in play. This reveals subtle distinctions (love is Sanguine, desire is Choleric, unrequited love is Melancholy), and also gives general guidance to prevent us being misled by modern-day assumptions.

Leonarda’s dulcis flamma et ignis es (you [Jesus] are sweet flame and fire) might lull us into the expectation of a sweet, gentle mood, if we focus exclusively on the word dulcis, ‘sweet’. And certainly that individual word should be sung sweetly. But flamma and ignis clearly define the Choleric Humour, as the mood for this phrase and its repetitions as a whole.

17th-century music thrives on such short-term emotional contrasts dulcis flamma, whilst it is structured on the longer-term mood contrasts. This phrase is Choleric, but the movement (and the entire motet) ends in Sanguine hope, spes.

Summary

The baroque priorities of Rhetoric (i.e. text) and Rhythm were carefully observed and precisely notated by Badalla, as well as by previous and later generations, albeit in slightly different ways.

As performers, we do not have to summon up our own emotional response to the words nor choose our own tempo for the music. The text itself defines the emotions on both short and long-term levels, and the music notates the appropriate tempo.

The challenge, in this and all HIP music-making, is to understand historical information, rather than inventing our own ‘truth’!

‘All the World. For any Saint.’ THE END of Badalla’s (1684) Motetti

Altri canti senza battuta: Madrigals of Love, War & Tactus

Altri canti d’Amor, tenero Arciero… di Marte io canto.
Others sing of Love, the tender Archer… I sing of Mars!

Altri canti di Marte e di sua schiera… io canto amor.
Others sing of Mars and of his army… I sing of Love!

set by Claudio Monteverdi

Others sing without Tactus…

ALK

Modern-day performances of the concerted madrigals of Monteverdi’s Eighth Book Madrigali Guerrieri ed Amorosi (1638) usually adopt one of two strategies: a modern onductor; or no conductor at all, perhaps with some leading from the first violin. Tempi are chosen at the performers’ whim. None of this corresponds to period practice.

This repertoire is precisely the ‘difficult’ genre of ‘modern madrigals’ discussed by Frescobaldi, where there are contrasting movements (passi) and passionate vocal effects. Frescobaldi Rules, OK? here.

In this period, rhythm was almost always directed by Tactus-beating from within the ensemble. The Tactus-beater is usually a singer, because instrumentalists’ hands are occupied.

Nevertheless continuo-players have the role of ‘guiding and supporting’ the entire ensemble of voices and instruments [Agazzari 1607, here]. And Frescobaldi’s rules – formulated for keyboard players – remind us that Tactus is present as a guiding concept even when it is not physically realised. Many sources recommend that instrumentalists beat Tactus with a foot.

All this matters because the sound and feeling of Tactus-led music-making are very different from modern conducting AND from modern-day chamber-music playing. Tactus-beating maintains a minim-pulse that is “regular, solid, stable, firm, clear, sure, fearless and without any perturbation.”

In contrast, most modern conductors make a free choice of which note-value to beat, and apply rallentando and other speed variations (deliberately, or otherwise!). The requirement to synchronise with a steady Tactus guards ensembles against rushing or dragging, and against the lurching changes associated with the oft-heard comment “this phrase goes towards such-and-such a note”. The concept of “goes towards” is not found in period sources: rather the Tactus is stable, and within that stable beat individual notes are Good or Bad, Long or Short. The Good, the Bad and the Early Music phrase, here.

So much for the canti senza gesto – the songs without action. But Monteverdi’s Book VIII also includes some ‘short episodes’ in genere rappresentativo, in show-style, in theatrical style. For those pieces, the convention was not to use any visible Tactus-beating, since the singers were representing dramatic characters. They might well use their hands to gesture expressively, but nobody beats time. This devolves the responsibility for time-keeping to the continuo, who in this style ‘rule’ or ‘regulate’ (reggono) ‘guide’ or ‘drive’ (guidano) the singers.

The genere rappresentativo in Monteverdi’s Book VII Concerto (1619)

Read about the difference between the ‘tempo of the hand’ and the ‘tempo of the heart’ in the Lamento della Ninfa, here.

Fundamental Tactus: minim = 60

In all these pieces, in both chamber-music and dramatic genres, Monteverdi’s notation indicates a basic tempo which might be tweaked to exaggerate contrasts of affetto (mood, emotion) and of musical activity. This basic tempo is regulated by a fundamental Tactus in mensuration mark C of approximately minim = 60: a human (and therefore subjective) feeling for the misura of Time itself. The usual way to beat was simple: down for a minim, up for a minim.

Proportions

Altri canti d’amor is one of the few pieces to include all three triple-metre Proportions: slow Sesquialtera, medium-fast Tripla and fast Sestupla. As Carissimi observed, the note-values in each of these proportions have the same quantitative duration, but the emotional quality of the movement is very different. More on Quality Time here.

Sesquialtera Semibreve = 90 Movement based on semibreves

Others sing of love…

Tripla Dotted semibreve = 60 Movement based on minims

The proud choir…

Sestupla Dotted semibreve = 60 Movement based on semi-minims

The audacious battles…

Binary Tactus – ternary metre

Altri canti di Marte has a short section with an unusual notation that creates the impression of ternary metre, but in the steady speed and black notation of regular crotchets.

The triumphs of death…

The Tactus beat here is the standard down-up at minim = 60, but the word-accents do not coincide with the Tactus beats. Reading from unbarred part-books, singers are not threatened by the ‘tyranny of the bar-line’. Similarly in the choral recitation of Hor che ciel e la terra.

Now that heaven and earth and the wind are silent…

Another binary notation with ternary effect is seen in Act II of Orfeo. Again, the beat is the standard minim = 60, producing a slower movement than would result from Proportional notation.

Look, I really do return to you, dear woods and beloved shores…

Tweaking the Tactus

Frescobaldi recommends listening to the music (with the standard Tactus and Proportions) before deciding how to tweak the Tactus between sections, according to the emotional quality, or affetto. In Monteverdi’s madrigals, we can discern the intended affetto not only from the sound of the music, but also directly from the sung text.

Words with particular emotional content can help us position the affetto within the historical framework of the Four Humours: Sanguine (love, courage, hope, enjoyment of good things), Choleric (anger, desire), Melancholic (pensive, unlucky in love, sleepless, ‘the blues’), Phlegmatic (cold, damped-down, a ‘wet blanket’).

The composer will already have responded to the affetto, with appropriate melodies, harmonies and rhythms. Jacopo Peri explains that in dramatic monody, the affetto is composed into the continuo bass: the singer’s pitches and rhythms represent (in musical notation) the way this text would be declaimed by a fine actor in the spoken theatre. More on Peri here.

None of this is ‘improvisatory’: it is not a ‘sketch’ to be completed by the performer. Rather, the composer has written down in musical notation the period conventions of dramatic delivery. Monteverdi, ‘the divine Claudio’, was acknowledged by his contemporaries to be the master of moving the audience’s passions by his expressive harmonies and precisely notated rhythms. Much more about Monteverdi’s genius for word-setting and theatre in Tim Carter’s inspiring book on Monteverdi’s Musical Theatre, here.

Changing the Tactus according to the affetto

When we (as performers) respond to the affetto, we should expect to find ourselves adding to the contrasts that the composer has already written in. If the affetto of the text is agitated, the composer will have written fast notes, and we should perform these with a faster Tactus. If the affetto of the text is calm, the composer will have written slow notes, and we should perform these with a slower Tactus.

Even (especially) if the affetto is extreme, the change to the Tactus can only be small, since the composer will already have used extreme note-values, This famously agitated moment in Monteverdi’s Combattimento simply cannot be taken very much faster than standard Tactus, which is already 16 syllables per second!

Offence irrates anger into revenge….

So the performers’ tweaking of the Tactus is subtle, and should be percieved by the listener as an emotional change, rather than an alteration of tempo as such. These changes happen between contrasting movements passi – section by section, not word by word.

The change of Tactus between sections is managed by means of the Tactus itself. Frescobaldi explains how: the Tactus hand is momentarily suspended on the upstroke, and then the new beat begins ‘resolutely’. No rallentando or accelerando, rather a decisive ‘gear-change’. Exciting, disturbing…. this is how to muovere gli affetti, move the listeners’ passions.

Change of affetto word by word

Zacconi explains how to manage changes of affetto for a particular word, within one movement, i.e. within a section at steady Tactus. The singer can delay the expressive syllable, but the Tactus (and the continuo) continue steadily. The singer should be back on track by the next Tactus beat. Read more about this c1600 ‘Ella Fitzgerald rule’ here.

A tender affetto is expressed with accenti (read more here). A robust affetto avoids acccenti, but might encourage passaggi (though not in theatrical music, where passaggi were generally discouraged). It is important to sing passaggi in tempo, i.e. according to Tactus. More on passaggi here.

Words full of expressive affetto can be ornamented with effetti: the single note trillo, an exclamatione (diminuendo-crescendo on a single note), a gruppo (two-note trill and turn). These ornaments are used sparingly in the theatrical style.

And we should avoid not only that ornament, but the entire modern-day habit of ornamenting the final cadence. What? Really? Yes, really! Read more here.

Caccini explains how to manage small notes within the steady Tactus: in syllabic melody, the good syllable is slightly longer, the bad syllable slightly shorter; in melismatic passaggi, long notes can be extra long, short notes exta short; ornaments accelerate from slow to fast. More on Caccini here.

Caccini also defines the priorities for music-making in this style: “text and rhythm, with sound last of all (and not the other way around!)”. So instead of obsessing over vibrato, pitch and temperament, let’s engage with the period priorities of text and rhythm. Read how Music expresses Emotions here.

My advice to modern-day rehearsal directors is to begin with the text, and coach performers to manage that text in Tactus-rhythm. When the music is difficult, follow Frescobaldi’s Rules, and use the omnipresent Tactus to facilitate the performance, tweaking that Tactus (subtly) when a new movement starts, when the mood (affetto) changes..

In a forthcoming series of short articles, I’ll apply that advice, i.e. these historical principles to some favourite Libro VIII Madrigals. LInks will be posted below.

ALTRI CANTI D’AMOR

HOR CH’EL CIEL E LA TERRA

LAMENTO DELLA NINFA

MOVETE AL MIO BEL SUON

ALTRI CANTI Di MARTE

GIRA IL NEMICO

COMBATTIMENTO DI TANCREDI E CLORINDA

BALLO DELLE INGRATE

Madrigals: Warlike, Amorous & Theatrical

Passaggi: Della Casa & Bovicelli on the True Way to make Divisions

When we study Ornamentation c1600, it is an over-simplification to view Divisions (also known as Diminutions, passaggi – replacing a long note, or a phrase in long notes with many short or very short notes) as ‘Renaissance’, Graces (effetti – trills etc applied to a single note) as ‘Baroque’. Caccini’s Le nuove musiche (1601) read more argues against pasaggi and in favour of effetti, but his written-out musical examples include substantial passaggi. Monteverdi’s (1607) Orfeo (see The Orfeo Page by Il Corago) famously presents an aria passeggiata at the heart of the drama, when Orpheus attempts to persuade Caronte to grant him admission into Hell. Conversely, there are 16th-century indications of expressive vocal effects being applied to a single note (see Zacconi on the accento, here).

But it is useful – I would say, essential – to keep the distinction between these two types of Ornamentation constantly in mind. Divisions fulfilled one of the three aims of Rhetoric by delighting the ear – delectare. But they risked spoiling communication of the text – the aim of docere. And they were regarded as emotionally unpersuasive – ruining the aim of movere gli affeti (moving the emotions). Significantly, Caronte is ‘delighted’ by Orpheus’ passaggi, but is not moved to pity. Graces, (effetti, vocal special effects), were used sparingly, so as not to compromise transmission of the text. And effetti were so closely linked to emotions (affetti) that the two words came to used almost interchangably: effetti produce affetti. Only when we understand this difference between pasaggi and effetti can we make appropriate choices of when to apply each type (see Ornamenting Monteverdi here).

Too often, we attempt to add Ornamentation in rehearsal, a day or so before the performance, encouraged, guided or resrained by the Musical Director. But Divisions require specific techniques of execution, and skills of invention/application, which cannot be acquired in a few minutes of rehearsal time, with the whole ensemble sitting there waiting for you. You need to prepare in advance. And if you intend to improvise, even more advance preparation will be needed.

Studying Ornamentation by ear is certainly a valid historical approach – many period sources recommend this – but CDs are not primary sources. Learning from CDs carries a high risk of copying everyone else’s mistakes and misunderstandings. If you want to learn by ear, then record yourself (or a trusted teacher) performing examples from period treatises, and listen to those. And this is a good moment to recommend Helen Robert’s Passaggi App, which brings the historical method of aural study into the 21st century.

Certainly, you can only learn about Divisions by practising how to do them, in advance. This article introduces two essential late-16th-century sources, and summarises their approach.

Dalla Casa was a cornetto-player at St Mark’s, Venice. His (1584) Vero modo di diminuir (True Way to make Diminutions) focuses on wind instruments, but is also offered to keyboard- string- and bowed-string-players and to singers. A particular feature are settings for viola da gamba that move around within the polyphonic texture, ornamenting any of the voices or adding an extra voice., in a style called viola bastarda. Bovicelli was a boy-chorister and later sopranist at Milan Cathedral. HIs (1594) Regole, Passaggi (Rules, musical Divisions, Ornamented madrigals and motets) concentrates on vocal Divisions. The first part of his Rules deals with the sung text, often displacing syllables from the original underlay to make more graceful Divisions. The second part deals with the notes: the arrival on the written note is often delayed.

Dispositione – technique

Bovicelli does not offer any advice to help singers acquire the dispositione – what we would nowadays call ‘vocal technique’ required to execute these ornaments. For wind instruments, Dalla Casa describes and gives musical examples of various tonguing syllables, and modern-day singers might try these with the voice. Otherwise, the best period advice comes from Caccini, who identifies the single note trillo (speeding up from slow to fast) as the gateway to any kind of ornamentation.

I coach singers to put Caccini’s method into practice, by repeating the same note on the syllable a, going from slow to fast. We can understand his ribattere con la gola (literally, beating with the throat) as creating fast repetitions by relaxing the throat whilst maintaining steady support from the diaphragm. Don’t try to sing loud, but rather cultivate a feeling of fun – Bovicelli describes such fast singing as the Art of playing around with nature.

Once you can switch the fast notes on and off, on a single pitch, step two is to move the pitch up and down. And step three is to synchronise the changing pitches with the ‘beating’. This is the same challenge of synchronisation that awaits wind-players (fingers and tongue) or bowed strings (left and right hands).

Dalla Casa similarly leads his wind-players through divisions in crome – quavers (8 to the semibreve – whole-note beat), semicrome semiquavers (16), treplicate triplet semiquavers (24 to the semibreve) and quadruplicate (32). His ‘true way’ leads to Mixed Diminuitions applying all four note-values.

Both writers provide countless short examples of Divisions, taking long notes across each interval (second, third, fourth etc) upwards and downwards and dividing the first long note into many shorter notes. These short examples are to be learnt, applied and imitated, and the student can combine several of them to create longer divisions.

Dalla Casa: Example of semibreve ascending by step divided into semiquavers

Such combinations of many individual divisions are demonstrated in the books by ornamented settings of complete pieces, madrigals by Rore, motets by Palestrina and Vittoria. We are accustomed to hearing these sacred repertoires nowadays with the “pure lines”, extreme legato and stand-alone conductor of the 19th/20th-century aesthetic. Bovicelli refers to performing divisions not only as da concerto – as concert-pieces – but also da capella – in church. Just imagine the effect of this soprano-line in Palestrina’s Ave verum corpus

Style in peformance

In Early Music studies, we try to avoid the modern binary of Technique/Interpretation. Nevertheless, these two sources offer valuable advice for good style in performance, discussed as portar la voce or portar la minuta – delivering (literally ‘carrying’) the voice, or the Division. Bovicelli’s Rules gives many specific style indications, all worth studying in detail. Dalla Casa’s Preface to his second book is short, just four paragraphs. The first paragraph offers his work to all kinds of musicians, and repeats his preference for Mixed Diminutions, and there is a paragraph each for the Viola da Gamba and the Human Voice.

The longest paragraph emphasises the importance of ‘Performing the Divisions in Tempo

Del portar la minuta a tempo.

Our modern-day understanding of tempo as the ‘speed of music’ differs from the period concept in which musical tempo means Time itself. Time is measured by a human estimate of how long one second lasts, it is notated by the written note-values within the duration of a semibreve, it is shown by the slow steady beat of Tactus. For Zacconi Time, Measure, Beat and Tactus (tempo, misura, battuta, tatto) are synonymous (read more here). Dalla Casa’s words and musical notation confirm a semibreve beat, notated with the mensuration mark C/.

For Zacconi, Time is the Soul of Music, and Dalla Casa gives tempo similar importance in his music of Divisions.

“About delivering the dimunition in time.

“I say it is a difficult thing to deliver the diminution in time, and this is the most important for everyone who follows this profession of making diminutions with all kinds of instruments. Therefore let each person take notice in their study to beat Tactus, and never to study without this regulation, and to accustom themselves to the beat; because doing otherwise would not be a good thing. And take notice of the four note-values, that the semiquaver (as is known) is performed twice as fast as the quaver, i.e. 16 to 8; the triplet-semiquavers – treplicate – are performed as 24 to 16, which is a third more than the semiquaver; and the demisemiquavers – quadruplicate – are performed still once again as fast, i.e. 32 to 24. Everyone should take note to accommodate themselves to the Tactus, and beat their diminution note by note; like this for those who play a wind instrument and also for those play keyboard instruments, and not to rush ahead as many wind-players do who make runs with a dead tongue (slurring), without tonguing the diminution, in order to make it easier; or those who cannot keep a brake on their tongue, as with reverse tonguing (see the Preface to Book 1) which is difficult to brake. Therefore let everyone beat the diminution note by note, and deliver the four note-values with their proper timing, if they want to do well.” [Dalla Casa]

Beating ‘note by note’ refers to the Tactus-value of the semibreve in the original composition: there is no suggestion of beating time for every 32nd note! Bovicelli also recommends nel Passeggiare star obligato al tempo giusto – to keep to the correct Time when making Divisions. Within the semibreve beat, quavers can be taken long-short:


Caccini (1601) suggests short-long:

Bovicelli shapes a long run of semiquavers elegantly, by sustaining the first note:

Hold the first note, then run!

In modern-day performances, we often hear the contrary, where performers rush the beginning of the division and then wait before moving to the next note. But Bovicelli mentions several times that it is more graceful to flow directly from the fast notes into the following principal note: often, he adjusts the underlay, or continues the run into medium-fast notes to get a smoother transition.

Another option is to hold the top note:

Sustained notes in the midst of short notes can be given a tremolo, marked as /\ :

The general tendency is for ornaments to go from slow to fast – this habit is instilled from the first exercise that Caccini teaches, and Bovicelli applies it to a two-note trill gropetto that crams in more and more little notes before arriving at the following principal note. The effect is that – as the notes go faster and faster – the subsequent arrival feels ‘delayed’ – rafrenato.

The much-desired quality of leggiadria (lightness) comes from the contrast of sustained long notes and lightly-touched short notes. We can summarise this principle as “long notes long, short notes short”.

“But in this, take note, that the more you hold the first note, and the second is faster, the more gracefulnessis given to the voice. This gracefulness cannot exist, if the notes all have the same value. For leggiadria of singing, as we said above, is nothing other than the varation of notes of greater and lesser value, as you will also see below.” [Bovicelli]

Caccini is guided by the same principles of gratia and leggiadria in his examples of rhythmic alteration within the steady Tactus.

Bovicelli requires that Diminutions suit the character of the words, whether bold or tender.

A

“Just as it would be most reprehensible for a composer, if the words are sad [this must be a typo for meste] , to set them with happy notes, or to set sad notes under happy words: similarly in singing we must as much as possible imitate the words: that is, sad words must not be decorated with Passaggi, but set (as we might say) with accenti and a tenderly emotional, lamenting voice; if the words are happy, use Passaggi, and give them extra vivacity, making varied notes (dotted notes, leaps, diverse note-values), as you see.” [Bovicelli]

Ave! means ‘Hail!’ – As a cathedral chorister, Bovicelli is probably thinking of the liturgical texts Ave Maria, gratia plena, or Ave verum corpus (see above).

Bovicelli’s linking of bold texts with passaggi, tender words with accenti is supported by Zacconi’s advice to avoid accenti where the words are powerful (read more here). And Bovicelli’s ’emotional voice’ voce flebile hints at Caccini’s oft-repeated recommendation of crescendo and/or diminuendo on a single note as the most effective way to convey emotions (read more here).

Zacconi explains that the expressive accento produces a delay in the arrival of the second note, but the Tactus itself (and therefore the accompaniment) is not altered (read more here). And after being late on one beat, the singer is expected to be back on the beat for the next semibreve. Bovicelli and Monteverdi notate similar delays and anticipations for solo singers.. Their clear explanations and precise notation seem to clarify Caccini’s evocative but enigmatic use of the terms sprezzatura and senza misura which [in the context of expressive syllabic setting, as opposed to melismatic Divisions] he links also to a ‘cool’ style of voice-production, something ‘between singing and speaking’. Read more here.

In contrast to the soft flebile effect and ‘cool’ rhythm of accenti for tender words, Bovicelli characterises Passaggi as on the beat semibreve by semibreve, impressing the audience ‘stupendous’, ‘marvellous’ and ‘having fun’ scherzando. This is supported by Aggazari (1607), who describes two ways of improvising from a bass-line: his ‘fundamental’ style is continuo accompaniment, and he characterises the ‘ornamental’ style as ‘having fun and improvising counterpoint’. Read more here. In circa-1600 music-drama, an aria passeggiata (a strophic song over a ground bass, with elaborate passaggi) heralds the entrance of some god or mortal with superhuman powers: Caccini’s sorceress who makes the moon fall from the sky; Peri’s dolphin-riding super-hero-singer Arion (both in the 1589 Florentine Intermedi), Orpheus arriving at the gateway to Hell in Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607).

Tactus for Divisions

It is clear that Divisions are not performed with the malleable tempo and vacillating rhythm of 20th-century rubato. Both Bovicelli and Dalla Casa insist on Tactus. Indeed Tactus is so essential that it is the only question of style in delivery (what we would nowadays call ‘interpretation’ as opposed to ‘technique’) that Dalla Casa addresses. Nevertheless, that Tactus might be faster or slower in particular circumstances. Whilst discussing disjunct quavers, Bovicelli informs us that the Tactus for passaggi was slower in a chamber performance – da concerto – than in church – da capella.

“… singing not in church, but in concert, where the Tactus should be slow.” [Bovicelli]

There are other period sources that indicate a slower-than-usual Tactus for passaggi. We gain a very different impression when we read their remarks, not in the context of 20th-century rubato, but in the light of Zacconi’s, Dalla Casa’s and Bovicelli’s insistence on Tactus. Read more in my next article: How il Signor Organista waits for il Cantate.

How il Signor Organista waits for il Cantante?

Time for ‘Messiah’

It’s one of the best-loved and most well-known pieces in the Early Music canon, but what would you focus on, if you were asked to direct it, with the first rehearsal starting in a few hours time?

The beginning of Handel’s ‘Messiah’

Finding myself in precisely this situation, I went to the autograph MS (here), in order to strip back all the accretions of generations of editors, and to check the original tempo markings: at the beginning of each movement, where there are any changes within a movement, and whether there is any fermata for a cadenza, or perhaps a final adagio [both these last surprisingly infrequent].

There are many movements of course, and Handel uses a large number of fine gradations of tempo-detail: andante larghetto, andante & andante allegro; allegro larghetto, allegro moderato, allegro.

This grand spectrum of tempo-marks is centred on tempo ordinario and time-signature C. There are cross-links to alla breve C/, and to triple 3/4, and 3/8, and to compound 6/8 and 12/8. In principle, we expect to find proportional relationships: smaller note-values indicate definitely faster tempi, so 3/8 is significantly faster than 3/4, perhaps twice as fast. Tempo-words might also produce a proportional change: in the Overture, allegro moderato might be twice as fast as the opening grave. But in practice more beats in the bar suggest a slightly slower tempo, so 12/8 is somewhat slower than 6/8. And subtle shifts in character or changes in articulation create small adjustments to mathematical proportions.

Given all this information, there is a simple, but surprisingly powerful performance-research technique: take all the markings, and assemble a list, in order from slowest to fastest. Handel uses so many different markings, that once you have them in order, there is not much ‘room for manouevre’ in deciding the actual tempo for each marking. Read more about Handel’s tempo-markings Of course, you may want to bias the whole spectrum to the slow end, or to the fast end, depending on performing forces and venue acoustics. See a recent international discussion about 18th-century tempi.

Most significant of all, and a good way to apply this research-technique in first rehearsal, are the groups of movements that have precisely the same combination of time-signature and tempo-word.

Messiah: movements in Allegro 3/4

Simply trying each of these movements, and searching for the tempo that “works” for all of them, produces some surprising results, surprises which clearly reflect Handel’s wishes.

Messiah: movements in Larghetto C
“Comfort ye” shares its Larghetto C marking and repeated-note quavers with “Blessing and Honour” – implying the same speed!


So last night I made the ordered list, and this afternoon I compared several groups of movements that share the same combination of tempo-information.

Messiah tempo-markings ordered by speed from slow to fast
Messiah tempo-markings continued

And now I’m off to first rehearsal. Where’s the dog?

18th-century rehearsal: continuo, soloists, on-lookers and a dog!












Making Time for beautiful singing: a lost practice

From renaissance to early Baroque

Published just before the year 1600, Luduvico Zacconi’s monumental treatise on Practical Music Prattica di Musica (1592/1596) here – straddles the divide between the prima prattica of Palestrina’s renaissance polyphony and the emerging new style, Monteverdi’s seconda prattica of dramatic solo singing accompanied by basso continuo. The virtuoso singers of the first ‘operas’ of the early seicento – Jacopo Peri, Vittoria Archilei, Giulio Caccini, Francesco Rasi etc – were trained in the 16th-century traditions of eleborate ornamentation – passaggi – and of cantar con gratia (singing with grace; i.e. beautiful singing), a concept of vocal beauty described in detail by Zacconi.

A fundamental, but unwritten, element of beautiful singing, analysed by Zacconi and carried forward into dramatic monody, is a way of ‘adding beauty and decorum’ with certain ornaments ’caused by sustaining and delaying the voice’. Read more about Zacconi’s accento here

Whether in renaissance polyphony or in baroque monody, the fact that such frequent ‘delays’ were introduced by individual singers begs the question: how was ensemble-unity maintained? Nowadays, singers of Palestrina, Vittoria and Lassus are not permitted to decide for themselves when to add a beautiful delay to their particular voice-line, even if modern conductors sometimes slow down the whole ensemble (which is not what Zacconi describes).

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c1525-1594)

Singers of Monteverdi often expect the continuo to follow their free rhythm, but this is contradicted explicitly by Agazzari (1607: continuo instruments ‘guide/drive’ the entire ensemble) & Gagliano (1608: continuo players rule/direct the singers), and implictly by Peri (1600) (more about Peri’s bass-lines here).

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)


And Zacconi himself describes the Tactus as ‘regular, solid, stable, firm… clear, sure, fearless, and without any pertubation’. So how can we reconcile this steady beat (somewhere around 60 bpm) with the requirement for ‘beautiful delays’ from this or that singer?

Zacconi’s answer offers exciting new possibilites for renaissance polyphony and – hallelujah! – an end to the arguments between singers and continuo-players which have rumbled on for the last half-century of HIP Monteverdi, even to the point that some modern-day performers treat Rhythm and Rhetoric as the opposing horns of a dilemma.

Singers can sing off the beat

In Chapter XXXIII, concerned with delivering the Tactus, Zacconi confirms what we have already understood from his remarks on cantar con gratia, that singers can delay their pronunciation of a certain note, for the sake of vocal beauty, and that this is always a possibility. Discussing the accento, he warns singers not to delay too often, but the word sempre (always) in this chapter confirms that delays were nevertheless very frequently employed (see how and when to do this, here).

Tactus (and continuo) continue steadily

Zacconi instructs ‘the person delivering the Tactus’ clearly. Whatever delays the singers might introduce, the role of the Tactus-beater is to maintain the steady beat, and to bring the singers back onto that beat. In renaissance polyphony, the Tactus is delivered with an down-and-up movement of the hand. In baroque monody, there is no visual tactus-beating, and the role of maintaining Tactus, of guiding and directing the whole ensemble, is taken by the continuo.

We might think of this as the ‘Ella Fitzgerald rule’. Like the rhythm-section of a jazz-band, the role of the continuo is to maintain the steady swing, whilst the singer floats elegantly around the reliable beat.

There is more to it than this, of course. Frescobaldi describes how the beat itself can change, in specific situations, between sections of a piece (more Frescobaldi here). There may be reasons to take a generally slower Tactus, or to slow down the Tactus where there are elaborate passaggi. Caccini describes how singers can stylishly enhance rhythmic contrasts within the steady pulse of the Tactus (more Caccini here). Zacconi associates delays with gentle Affekts, and requires the singer to re-connect to the Tactus soon afterwards. Delays would seem to be associated with the Good syllable.

Chapter LXIII characterises certain delays as a fundamental element of good singing, and chapter XXXIII specifies how to manage these delays within the steady swing of Tactus. Zacconi provides us with a penetrating insight into the general sound, the rhythmic feeling and the ensemble communication that operates throughout late renaissance and early baroque music-making.

Implications

Zacconi’s sound-world is very different from what we have become accustomed to in modern-day performances and recordings of circa 1600 repertoire. Polyphonic lines are not always vertically aligned – soloists might not be “together” with the continuo, a vocal ensemble might not pronounce consonants unanimously. But – like good jazz – it has a strong sense of swing, and everyone knows where the beat is, even if they choose not to be on it.

There are profound implications for continuo-playing. We have brought up a generation of continuo-players with two impressive, but un-historical skills: fitting-in discreetly with the results produced by a modern conductor, and following solo singers. We need to retrain continuo-players to show the Tactus boldly and clearly, and to guide and regulate, to maintain steady swing, whatever the singers might do over the top. In short, we need continuo-players to acquire the skills and habits of a good jazz rhythm-section. More about Monteverdi, Caccini and jazz here.




And to make this work, we probably need to remove that gross anachronism in today’s Early Music, the modern conductor. Otherwise, we might as well accompany Monteverdi on a Steinway piano.

Meanwhile, which renaissance vocal ensemble is ready to attempt Palestrina with passaggi and accenti, with beautiful delays AND with steady Tactus? I’m very eager to hear this.






Isabella Leonarda 400th anniversary

Isabella Leonarda:

the Soul of Music in Women’s Hands



This article celebrates the 400th anniversary of Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704) – Ursuline nun, singer & composer – in connection with the Earthly Angels performance and recording project.
Listen to her music here.

An extended version of this article will be published on this blog soon.



 

The Soul of Music

 

In 1601, song-composer Caccini proclaimed the Baroque priorities of his ‘New Music’ as ‘Speech and Rhythm’.

Tempo


The first character to sing in the first opera (1600) was Tempo – the personification of Time – commanding: “Act with the hand, act with the heart!” For us today, tempo is the speed of music, but for Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704) it was Time itself, defined by Aristotle as a ‘number of movement’ perceived by the Soul.

The up-and-down hand-beat of Tactus connected musical notation to real-world Time. Period iconography shows singers beating Tactus, even in solo songs.

 

 

Zacconi (1592) characterises Tactus as ‘regular, solid, stable, firm… clear, sure, fearless, and without any perturbation’. Mersenne (1636) calibrates Tactus as 1 second per minim, shown by a 1m pendulum. At the end of the century, Carissimi (1696) defines tempo as subjective ‘quality’, the way time feels.

 

17th-century ‘time-signatures’ are relics of much older Mensural notation. Long notes are divided by 2 or 3 to create short notes. Signs of Proportion recalibrate note-values in triple time. Within these fixed multiples, Leonarda employs modifying words to specify fine gradations of tempo.

 

Amidst ‘passionate vocal effects and contrasting movements’ Frescobaldi (1615) shows how to ‘guide Time’, using Tactus. Transitions between movements are made by keeping steady Tactus (no tempo change, or strict Proportion), or by 

suspending the Tactus-hand in the air momentarily, then starting the new movement with modified Tactus, steady time that now feels adagio (literally ‘easy’) or allegro (happy).

 

For Leonarda’s contemporaries, ‘Time is the Soul of Music.’ Read more here.  Zacconi explains that Time breathes life into dry notation: a minim is a dead symbol, until we animate it with the Divine Hand, symbolised by Tactus. Carissimi’s tempo is perceived as an Aristotelian ‘affection of the Soul’, an emotion. Leonarda’s precise notation contradicts 20th-century assumptions that performers choose their own tempo, or that expressiveness requires rubato.

 

Rhetoric

In Baroque speech and music, Rhetoric aims to ‘move the passions’. Read more about musical rhetoric here. Sensual love-lyrics arouse fervour that Leonarda’s music re-directs towards the Divine. Delightful hand-gestures explain the text and communicate passionate contrasts. Rhetorical Delivery combines Pronunciation of words and music with Action of gestures and facial expressions, to channel Enargeia, the emotional power of detailed description. Read more about Enargeia here

 

 

Poetic imagery brings a scene to life, as if the audience could see it with their own eyes. ‘Here’, ‘Now’, ‘Behold!’: Gesture directs the audience’s attention to significant details of the imagined vision. In baroque Madrigalism (word-painting), the music sounds like what the words mean. Fragments of melody create ‘passionate vocal effects’ corresponding to gestures of the hand.

 

Period Medical Science categorises emotion into Four Humours: warm Sanguine (love, hope), dry Choleric (anger, desire), dark Melancholy and cold, wet Phlegmatic.

 

In Leonarda’s Volo Jesum (1670), ‘you fly’ (volate) up a triple-proportion fast-note scale to ‘love God’ on a long high note. After a tempo change to happy allegro, a contrasting 64 movement cites the love-sick Melancholy harmonies and descending bass-line of an operatic lament: ‘the heart is burning’ amidst Choleric ignis et flamma  (fire and flame) with high notes and flickering vocal effects. A ‘happy mountain’ of Sanguine ‘joys’ rises boldly, Phlegmatic ‘rivers’ flow smoothly down, Paradisi has the highest note of all. Descending notes move Choleric passion to Sanguine Humour – et in flammis es dulcis spes – whilst Leonarda’s hand shows the Holy Spirit coming down to earth as Christ: ‘in flames, You are sweet hope’.

 

 

Poetic detail, moving passions, vocal effects, contrasts of tempo, expressive gestures: Leonarda does ‘act with the hand, act with the heart’. The composer’s hand notates subtle tempo changes, in which the serene movement of the Divine Hand is reflected in the diverse pulse-rates of a lover’s human heart. Violinists’ and continuo-players’ hands give life to instrumental music, a microcosm of heavenly perfection, yet swayed by the human passions of the Four Humours. All this is guided by Tactus and expressed by gestures.

 

 

Invisible music

 

Nevertheless, all Leonarda’s handiwork – composition, Tactus, instrumental-playing and rhetorical gestures – remained unseen. Hidden from the congregation by the grille that closed nuns off from the world, the woman who simultaneously embodied an ardent lover and a religious mystic communicated energia (the baroque spirit of performance), by the aural Enargeia of detailed text and precise tempo. Unlike an opera or court singer, she ‘moved the passions’ and warmed her listeners’ hearts to love by evoking ‘affections of the soul’ in sensual visions that were entirely imagined, not seen.

 

Invisible to her 17th-century listeners, almost unnoticed by musicologists until recently, women’s hands are the heart and soul of Leonarda’s music.


Listen here

 

 

Baroque FAQs for Modern Musicians

This is the last in a series of articles following up classes on Early Music on Modern Harps that I taught this semester for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London. Although our case-studies come from harp repertoire, the principles we explored are relevant for any Historically Informed performer. This article could make a useful introduction for any modern instrumentalist or singer.

Previous articles in the series discuss Historical Principles & Online ResourcesPrinciples & Practice, Ornamentation and Dance Music. Our focus was on the 18th century (specific works by J. S. Bach, Handel, C.P.E. Bach, Mozart) and the principal sources consulted were the three Versuch publications around the middle of the century (Quantz, CPE Bach, Leopold Mozart), the Essai for harp by Meyer, and (back in 1698) Muffat’s remarks on French dance-style in Florilegium Secundum. Links to all of these sources and more, in the previous posts.

The questions below were asked by students in the final class, and/or arose from work-in-progress recordings of their baroque pieces that they sent me for private comments. Whereas in previous articles, the agenda was set by the historical priorities of period sources, in this post the questions were posed by today’s students. This is a significant distinction: what we today think is a high priority may not have been so important back then. It’s always good to assess from historical sources how significant your question was, in the dialetic of the period.

 

What are Good & Bad notes, are they just loud & soft?

The concept of Good/Bad notes is fundamental to renaissance and baroque music, and is given a lot of attention in historical sources. The underlying principle is that instrumental music imitates the human voice, playing as if the music had a text. In vocal music, the sung text is of paramount importance. Caccini (1601) writes that Music is “text & rhythm, with sound last of all. And not the other way around”. The structure of each mid-18th-century Versuch is a short introduction to musical fundamentals, followed by a large section on what Early Musicians call “articulation”: how to start a note, how to join or separate notes into short groups. For flute, this articulation is done with tonguing syllables; string instruments do it with bow-strokes; keyboard and harp do it with fingering patterns. This is a high priority question for period writers. See Principles & Practice.

 

Good & Bad Syllables

Good/Bad notes in music correspond to Good/Bad syllables in speech. In music and in poetics, these syllables are sometimes called Long/Short: Good is Long, Bad is Short. In modern terms, we would say accented and unaccented syllables. In the mediterranean languages, the accented syllable is not hit suddenly on the intial consonant, but gets its accent from a sustained weight on the vowel: this corresponds to Leopold Mozart’s description of a slow start to the bow-stroke, even on a loud note.

Thus, baroque violin teachers will often coach modern string-players to use a slow bow-stroke where an “accent” is needed. Similarly on the low-tension strings of early harps, a Good note can have a slow finger-movement. This is not so easy to apply to modern harp, where the heavy strings need a certain amount of snap in the finger-action. But imagining that the note has a slow bloom, rather than a percussive attack is already very helpful.

Comparing Good/Bad to language gives us the clue that it does not have to be exaggerated: it just has to be the right way around. When we say the word “around”, we do not make a large, or conscious accent on the second syllable. But we would notice immediately if someone accented the first syllable instead. This is what is needed for our Good/Bad notes too.

Good & Bad Beats

During the 18th century, the idea developed of an intrinsic heirarchy of the bar. Today, we learn this in our elementary music education. In common time, beat 1 is strong, beat 2 is weak. Beat 3 is medium-strong, but less than beat 1. Beat 4 is weak, or could be energised as an upbeat. This is the basic shape of Time, although particular pieces will make artistic variations around this underlying structure. The principle extends to sub-divisions of the beats: ONE + two + THREE + four + And to the next level of subdivision:  ONE a + a two a + a THREE a + a four a + a. In 3/4 time: ONE a + a two a + a THREE a + a.

Good/Bad is definitely not forte/piano. But there is something of Long/Short about it, in two inter-related ways: how long is the note, and how long is the time-space it can occupy.

If we think about the repeated quavers in the Left Hand of CPE Bach’s Sonata, we could beat Tactus as quaver-down, quaver-up. These gives a pair-wise groove of Good-Bad. Time itself has this groove, so that ONE is imperceptibly longer than +. This intrinsic hierarchy of the bar gradually becomes the main focus of 18th-century discussions of Good/Bad, for example in Marpurg (1755).

Good & Bad Notes

Meanwhile, the notes we play into this grooved Time have a patterning of their own, the ONE is definitely a long note and the + is a short note. This relationship between notes was the focus of 17th-century discussion of Good/Bad, for example in Muffat  (1698).

These two effects combine so that ONE is a long note fully occupying a long space; whilst + is a short note only partially occupying what is anyway a shorter space.

Quantz gives two ways of counting a slow 3/4, in quavers or in crotchets. If we count in crotchets, the groove is ONE two THREE, or Long Passive Short. So the downbeat quaver is a long note in the longest space; beat two has a long passivity; beat three is a long note in a short, actively upbeat space. All the offbeat quavers are short/bad. We could pronounce as a mantra something like the words “PLAYer, Silence, BEATer” to get the feeling of the combination of pairwise quavers with triple-metre crotchets.

And we need to practise the Left Hand, with any continuo realisation we might add, until this fundamental rhythm is absolutely correct.

Whilst it’s easy to grasp the intellectual idea of Good/Bad, it needs lots of practice to acheive it effortlessly and without exaggeration. That practice is training the ears to listen for Good/Bad and to spot any wrong-way-around relationships; and training the fingers to execute the phrasing as if automatically, and at a very subtle level. Ears and fingers must be trained in partnership.

A particular case of Good/Bad, and similarly linked to the scansion of poetry, is the idea that the last Good note in a phrase has the Principal Accent. Usually, this is not the very last note of the phrase, one or more Bad notes follow. A useful general rule therefore, is that for almost every phrase, the Last note is short and un-accented.

 

How to create ‘mini-phrases’?

In Baroque music, long passages of semiquavers are not ‘moto perpetuo‘, but are built-up from many short phrases. CPE Bach calls these Figuren (figures) the most short-term units (say 3 to 5 notes), and Gedanken (thoughts, ideas), perhaps linking two or three Figuren. One passage of semiquavers may contain several Gedanken, each containing several Figuren. Just as in Rhetorical Speech, we need to join together what belongs together, and separate each group of notes from the next group. These words occur very frequently in the Versuch, this is an important concept in this period.

Typically, this joining and separating creates rhythmic patterns that are maintained until there is a clear change. But from one unit to the next, even whilst the basic pattern is maintained (i.e. the same number of notes starting with the same relation to the Tactus, on-beat, after the beat, or before the beat) the sequence often continues by contrasts. A legato group is followed by an arpeggio group, a staccato group etc. See Principles & Practice.

Useful guide-lines are: “Last note short“, “Breathe after the one“, “Stepwise motion ~ legato, jumps ~ staccato“. A jump can also show the place for a mini-break. The mini-phrases are defined by mini-breaks, often between two successive semiquavers: the Tactus beat in crotchets or minims continues without faltering.

If the notes are not whizzing by too quickly, it may be possible to shorten the last note of a mini-phrase by damping, create an actual silence, and start the next mini-phrase with the appropriate Bad or Good articulation.

In allegro semiquavers, there will not be time for this. But the separation between one mini-phrase and the next can be communicated with an unaccented last note of the old phrase, a sliver of time for a mini-breath (but without disturbing the Tactus), an energised re-start of the new phrase, and a clear sense of repeating a unit, and of any contrast between the previous unit and the new one.

 

What about historical fingering?

This is another crucial concept for this period. After a short introduction, CPE Bach’s Versuch devotes almost a third of the book, pages 15-50, to fingering.

For harps and keyboards, 18th-century fingerings often clarify join/separate: the principle is to move the hand only in the mini-breaks, and keep each mini-phrase ‘in the hand’. This principle is utterly different from the modern concept of fingering, which seeks to make a passage as safe and efficient as possible. On the contrary, historical fingerings introduce deliberate ‘inefficiencies’, in order to discourage smooth joining of what is supposed to be separate.

In the following examples of harp-fingerings, I apply the principles of historical fingerings (from Meyer 1763 – see Online Resources – and  – specially recommended, and now available free online – Cousineau 1784)  to examples from CPE Bach’s harp Sonata and Mozart’s flute & harp Concerto.

[My Cousineau link takes you to the second ‘imperial’ edition, c1803. The Fuzeau facsimile publication states 1784 for the first edition, the US Library of Congress (who have online images of each page) says ‘1786?’ The title pages are undated. At the time of writing, an original second edition was being sold for €1,000]

An efficient modern fingering for CPE Bach second movement facilitates joining the third note D to the next G, with a hand-movement before the B [as shown by the square brackets].

EXAMPLE 1 CPE Bach

 

The guideline “breathe after the one”  would suggest a separation after the D, making three upbeats to the middle of the bar. This is supported by the Figur in the LH, which has three upbeats at the end of the bar. So my historically informed fingering moves the hand “after the one”.

EXAMPLE 2 CPE Bach/Cousineau

 

In red, I show the Abzug (phrase-off, forte/piano, see below) in the Appoggiatura, recommended by many sources. CPE himself says that it is the most important element. Quantz gives detailed dynamic contrasts for each note within ornaments. Leopold Mozart instructs violinists to hineinschleifen (sneak into, slide into) the main note (piano).

After the second appoggiatura, we should also observe the good/bad relationship of F#-G, especially because the ornamented F# is the Principal Accent of the phrase, after which the guideline applies: “last note short, no accent”.

For a scale, Meyer gives two alternative fingerings. If there is nothing else afterwards, the standard fingering jumps the thumb to make the long note different from the run of short notes. Notice that within the scale, the hand jumps “after the one”. This is his default fingering. The alternative, more familiar to modern eyes, can be applied when the notes are very fast, but it lacks the detailed phrasing of the default option.

EXAMPLE 3 after Meyer & Cousineau

 

But the alternative becomes preferable, if the top note is not to be distinguished as ‘different’, but joined into the scale, with a break “after the one”. See Example 4.

In this passage from the first movement of the Mozart, the first note of the scale (treble C) is on the beat, so it is a Good. The next note D is also a good. For flautists (after Quantz): “Di diddle”, for – old fashioned – violinists (after Muffat): Down, down-up. (Leopold Mozart would probably apply some interesting slurred bowing). For harp, perhaps 4 4321321 encouraging a separation after the first note; rather than the ‘more efficient’  4 3214321, which would join irrevocably after the first note.

EXAMPLE 4 Mozart

 

 

 

I have adjusted the beaming. The fingering follows the smallest units of Figuren, and // marks the caesura between one Gedanke and the next.

The pattern of “breathe after the one” continues with a caesura after the high a, facilitated by fingering, and similarly after the g in the third bar. But the music imposes a new pattern, also clarified by my historically informed fingering,  at the beginning of the last bar. Red f_p shows two more examples of Abzug.

Between the 1760s and the 1780s, the standard Good/Bad descending fingering for harp 12323232 (familiar also from 17th-century Spanish harp technique) is gradually superseded by Join/Separate fingerings using all four fingers. You start with the thumb, and the last, lowest four notes get 1234. In between, you use as many fingers as needed for the number of notes you have. So a seven-note descent would be 123 1234.

The adjustment takes place at the upper end of the scale, so that the last, lowest notes use all four fingers 1234. This results in a distinctive fingering for a five-note descent, in which you hop the thumb: 1 1234. [Fully-fingered sources feature a LOT of repeated thumb-strokes in this period.]

 

EXAMPLE 5 Mozart/Cousineau

 

In Example 5, I apply Cousineau’s (1784) fingering principles to Mozart’s (1778) descending scales in parallel tenths: This fingering encourages “breathe after the one” between the two Figuren of the first bar, shown by my changes to the beaming. The octave leap indicates a stronger “breathe after the one” between two Gedanken, shown by my // caesura mark.

It would not be inappropriate to use ‘old-fashioned’ 32 descending fingerings. These would ensure correct Good/Bad relationships, but would leave the player to create Join/Separate between Figuren.

EXAMPLE 6 Mozart/Meyer

Contrariwise, ‘fashionable’ Cousineau-type fingerings (mentioned as an alternative by Meyer 20 years earlier, so certainly not excluded from Mozart’s Concerto) prioritise Join/Separate, and leave the player to take care of Good/Bad. As Leopold Mozart makes clear in his detailed instructions for varying the pressure from note to note, within a single bow-stroke, 18th-century music requires both Good/Bad and Join/Separate.

What about the Bass?

Period sources pay great atttention to the continuo bass. The second edition of CPE Bach’s Versuch has an additional and longer book, 355 pages entirely devoted to Generalbass, including a final chapter which extends realisation of a continuo-bass towards improvisation of a free Fantasia.

Modern harpists tend to focus on the right-hand melody, viewing the music from the top down. Baroque music is constructed from the bottom upwards: the bass is no mere accompaniment, but rather provides the fundamental framework of rhythm and harmony that defines the structure for the ornamental melody. The heritage of Renaissance polyphony is that music is woven from the strands of individual ‘voices’; each strand has its own integrity, character and logic. The typical texture of Baroque music is the polarisation of treble and bass, i.e. 2-voice polyphony with a continuo-realisation filling-in the mid-range.

From the beginning of the Baroque period (Agazzari 1607) to the transition into the Classical (Leopold Mozart 1756), period sources assign to the bass the role of maintaining Tactus.  The continuo does not follow the soloist, rather the bass creates a dependable rhythmic structure – like the rhythm section of a jazz-band. As with a jazz-band, it is acceptable for a baroque soloist not to be together with the bass, for the sake of elegant expressiveness around the steady groove: it is not acceptable for the groove to falter. See Monteverdi & Jazz. This is of course the opposite of today’s standard practice, even amongst most Early Music ensembles.

Harpists, lutenists and keyboard players must combine the roles of soloist and bass-section in one person. Modern players might need reminding to play the bass more strongly (as an equal partner), and to maintain the bass rhythm in Tactus (whatever technical challenges, complex ornaments, or expressive moments the melody might have).

Flow

My research in Consciousness Studies suggests that the optimal strategy could be to place one’s conscious attention on the bass, focussing on tight connection to the steady Tactus. Assuming sufficient advance practice, the melody can be better left to the unconscious mind, letting the fingers ‘do it for themselves’. Trills, for example, go better when you don’t think about them.  Like a hypnotist’s swinging pocket-watch, or a meditation mantra, the constant down-up of Tactus (physically enacted in rehearsal, or imagined in solo performance) entrains the mind into Flow.

The paradoxical instruction to “Listen more than you play” can help the mind find that state of consciousness where mindful Observing facilitates ‘personal best’ performance, without a conscious sense of Doing. In baroque music, you can achieve this by “being the continuo-player”, creating the rhythm whilst listening to the solo (even though, you are actually playing that solo yourself).

Imagining, or even physically beating, a complete Tactus (down-up) to start yourself off (i.e. give yourself “a bar for nothing”) is an excellent way to connect yourself to the power of Tactus, to the Music of the Spheres, as you start to play.

 

What to do with Long Trills?

In a word, practise. Long trills are described in detail in all the mid-18th-century sources under discussion here. Harp sources admit that they are difficult, and they are more difficult still on modern harp.

So practise. Practise trills non-metrically, with a long appoggiatura, and then repercussions accelerating from slow to fast and all the way into the final turn and last note.

Then practise this beautifully shaped trill, whilst playing a simple bass in crotchets. The bass maintains Tactus, the trill is not aligned note-for-note with the bass, but you find the last note simultaneously. If the trill is long enough, combine it with messa di voce. But don’t try to be super-loud whilst trilling, and don’t try for too many reiterations. Shapeliness in the trill, and Tactus in the bass, are the priorities.

 

Frederick the Great plays a flute concerto in Sans Souci Palace. CPE Bach accompanies at the harpsichord, Quantz looks on at his pupil’s performance.

 

 

What is Abzug?

This is another central concept in period discourse about ornamentation. Literally “pulling off”, Abzug is the forte/piano contrast between an appoggiatura and its main note.

Leopold Mozart describes it as sliding into, sneaking into the main note (see the music examples above). Quantz describes a slight swelling of the sound on the ornamental note (so not an aggressive attack, but a slow-blooming sound; for violin a slow bow-stroke), with a smooth, soft transition into the main note.

On lute, one could literally “pull-off” from the fingerboard with a left-hand finger, in order to play the main note without any plucking action of the right hand. On harp, we can imitate this with a slow but firm finger-movement on the ornamental note, and a very passive action on the main (second) note, avoiding any articulate start-noise whatsoever.

Practise it.

The same forte/piano effect is needed every time from dissonance to resolution, as well as for any melodic moment with a pair of notes that function like a written-out appoggiatura. In the first music example above, as well as the Abzüge marked in red for explicit appoggiaturas, a subtle version of the effect is needed in the second bar on the high c-b, a-g, and (especially) f#-e pairs, and on the b-a pair at the end of the previous bar.

You need Abzug again and again. CPE Bach considers this the most important element of ornamentation. Indeed, the entire repertoire of the Empfindsamkeit period is characterised by the sensitive gesture of Abzug: every piece is full of opportunities to apply it. A missed Abzug is like marching into San Souci Palace in your muddy boots – you have just trampled on what should have been an occasion for the most elegant sophistication.

 

Don’t forget to pull them off!

 

Appoggiatura onto a Triplet?

The standard rule is that the appoggiatura takes half of the value of the written note (two-thirds, if the written note is dotted). So the realisation of an appoggiatura onto a triplet divides the first note in half. But the more important element is – all together now: the Abzug. The appoggiatura itself needs a slow bloom, and the written note is soft; the remaining two notes of the triplet should be light, since they are Bad notes.  It should sound like “Play-a Trip-let”, not “Da doo-ron-ron”!

 

EXAMPLE 7 CPE Bach

 

The (appropriate) tendency to lengthen the appoggiatura results in a rhythm that approaches the sound of a quadruplet, though still with the first note louder and slurred to the second. Some sources recommend this quadruplet realisation, others condemn it. Best practice is probably to keep some semblance of a triplet, but with a nice long appoggiatura and plenty of Abzug.

 

How to play a Short Trill?

There are lots of short trills in this repertoire, and longer or turned trills can legimately be simplified into short trills. So it’s a significant element of the style and a most useful skill to acquire.

The historical fingering is 2311, and the Abzug requires a decrescendo from first note to last. CPE Bach recommends you to schnellern (quicken, enliven) the first note, to make the ornament crisp and light. It should sound like “Tickle my toes!” and not “before the beat“.

EXAMPLE 8 Short Trill

 

Short Trills in Mozart

Practise this until you can fire off a whole chain of ‘flying short trills’ as Genlis (1802) teaches and Mozart requires. [The link is to the second edition of 1811].

 

Genlis’ second example (above) is not a realisation of the first example, but a preliminary exercise for those ‘flying trills’, at half speed and with extra time between each Figur.

As Genlis explains: ‘the two slurred notes are done by sliding the thumb on these two strings’. What I deduce from the third thumb stroke that follows each time (where one might have expected finger 2), is that after the two slurred notes, the sliding thumb comes to rest against the next string (continuing the movement onto the next string helps the slide flow nicely). At this point the exercise takes extra time, to teach you to apply a caesura here, before starting the next Figur. When you do restart, your thumb is already placed on the string you are going to need.

For the real thing, the full speed ‘flying trills’, each Figur starts with an upbeat, continuing the pattern of the first two notes. As one would expect from Muffat and others, the trills are on the Good notes – this is confirmed at the end of the sequence.

EXAMPLE 9 Genlis/ALK

 

Mozart introduces his flying trills with a preliminary longer trill, turned so that its Figur ends on the second (crotchet) beat of the bar. The autograph staccato on this d indicates “Last note short”, allowing you to “Breathe after the one”. The staccato on the following c indicates it is an upbeat, and the Gedanke is now Genlis-style flying trills, each Figur having an upbeat to a Good-note trill.

EXAMPLE 10 Mozart/Genlis

This upbeat pattern continues into the next bar, which has rapid Alberti 64 harmonies in the left hand and bold downward leaps in the right (first you must “breathe after the one”), leading to a whole bar Long Trill over the same rapid Alberti pattern, now on the dominant seventh.

All these fireworks signal the end of the movement. After this comes the improvised cadenza (Quantz’s Easy and Fundamental Instructions show how 2 players can improvise together)  and final tutti.

 

Short Trills in Handel

There is a tricky short trill on a dotted note in the Handel Concerto. Although it is difficult to execute this correctly in the time available, it should start with upper auxiliary (not the main note) on the beat (not before), so that the complete Figur has the crisp sound of a demanding publisher: “Prrrint today!”  [the rolled r represents the repercussions of the trill] and not a lazy: “What about next week?”.

 

EXAMPLE 11 Handel

 

How should I damp?

This is a harp-specific question, and is discussed in several period Harp treatises, but with insufficient detail. The suggestions below are based on my personal experience.

For modern harpists, you might first consider threading a strip of felt through the very lowest strings – you don’t actually play these in Baroque pieces, and it might be better to lose the excessive resonance that they add.

Second, learn the Baroque way to damp by having your finger (and/or thumb) return to the string after playing (same finger, same string). This allows you to damp specific notes really quickly, rather than moving both hands to cuddle the strings and damp the whole instrument, which is very slow. You can damp individual notes or entire chords, in either hand.

Sometimes you can add rhythmic energy by damping where a rest is written on the beat. Damp crisply, precisely on the beat, even get some percussive noise from your fingers contacting the sounding strings.

 

EXAMPLE 12 Handel

 

Sometimes you need to damp to control bass resonance. If you damp between each note and the next, you produce a staccato effect: this would not be the optimum phrasing for movement by step.

But if you play, play the next note and then quickly damp the previous one, you produce a strong effect of legato.

You can mix these two ways to damp [legato, staccato] in order to create legato pairs, each pair separated from the next. This long-short sound is appropriate for Good/Bad.

EXAMPLE 13 Handel

The last note of any phrase could be damped, to make it short. If you play it without accent (as you nearly always should), the damping will be less abrupt, and might not even be necessary.

Any upbeat could be damped to create a “silence of articulation”, this throws the accent onto the next note.

Often you will need to damp to clarify a rising melody in the bass. This frequently applies at perfect cadences, if the dominant rises to the tonic; but it can also occur at the beginning of the phrase.

The bass cadence with an octave leap on the dominant implies staccati for that octave leap.

In every instance, you can adjust the damping [legato or staccato, and how much] to produce the most appropriate phrasing.

EXAMPLE 14 Handel

Combining all these techniques results in a LOT of damping, subtly adjusted, for various desired results. Such frequent damping is supported by the (limited) historical information available. The greater resonance of the modern instrument makes damping even more necessary than on baroque harp.

Damping with the left hand can establish the “groove” of a dance, or a dance-like movement. In the third movement of the Handel Concerto, the groove is the reverse triple metre, short-long, quaver-crotchet. You can make this energetic and clear by playing the downbeat strong and damping crisply, to produce a repeating groove effect that sounds like the words “Short Phrases”.

Notice how the semiquavers create a Figur across the bar-line, “breathe after the one”: both hands have a short note in the long space of the downbeat, but for different reasons.

EXAMPLE 15 Handel

All this takes practice. You need to train your ears and hands simultaneously, to hear the need for, and effect of damping, and to create the effects you want.

 

How to simplify Ornaments?

Period sources recognise that it is harder to play trills on harp, than on harpsichord. It’s even harder on modern harp than on baroque instruments. So it can be a great help to simplify ornaments. Certainly, it is better to simplify the composer’s ornament, than to omit it, to play it wrongly, to play the wrong type of ornament, or (heaven forbid!) to play an ornament without Abzug.

In place of a long trill with initial appoggiatura and final turn, you can make things easier for yourself with these three steps (in this order of application):

  1. Reduce the number of reiterations of the trill.
  2. Omit the final turn
  3. Omit the initial appoggiatura

If you needed to apply all three three steps, you will be left with a Short Trill, and you should have practised this sufficiently to be confident in it for any eventuality.

If you are really under pressure, you can convert a turned Trill into a simple Turn (upper auxilary, main-note, lower-auxiliary, main-note). Make the first (upper) note long and remember the Abzug.

It’s not so good to change a Short Trill into a simple Appoggiatura, because the Short Trill is meant to sound lively and brilliant, whereas the Appoggiatura should melt, languishing. A Turn could be a better solution: there are still four notes to play, but the fingers can manage them faster. For a fast Turn, try 1231, which should come out crisper than 1232.

 

How does Continuo-experience help one’s Solo-playing?

The great harpsichordists and composers of the baroque were also expert continuo-players: JS and CPE Bach lead the way!

The best way to progress rapidly as a harpist or keyboard-player studying baroque repertoire is first to acquire basic continuo skills. Playing in ensembles will inform your ears and mind, with the opportunity to hear the same fundamental principles applied in subtly different ways by different instruments and voices. Ensemble-playing also provides an energetic group dynamic and a supportive social group, and gives access to exciting large-scale projects. Don’t miss the chance to play in a baroque opera or orchestra.

As a continuo-player, you can adjust realisation to your (gradually increasing) level of skill, contributing something useful right from the start, without needing to be exposed as a soloist until you are ready.

For harpists, a single-action harp is likely to be accepted by HIP training-ensembles, even in 17th-century repertoire, and for a modern player presents less of a barrier to immediate gratification: double and triple harps are more challenging. It is to be hoped that an open-minded training ensemble would admit a keen student even on modern harp, either as a stepping stone towards baroque harp, or as a way to gather experience for solo-playing on the modern instrument.

The experience of playing continuo will transform your view of the role of your left hand. And the continuo-player’s view of ensemble music, from the bottom upwards, is the best approach to baroque solo-playing.

Familiarity with figured and un-figured basses will consolidate your understanding of baroque harmony, and help you recognise the character of dissonances and sequences: the excitement of rising 5 6, the subtleties 6 5 and 5b dissonances, the sweet melancholy of chains of 7s.

EXAMPLE 16 Handel

 

How can I give my performance more clarity and more character?

See above: Tactus, Good/Bad, Join/Separate.

For harpists: damping. For modern harpists, a basic position somewhat près de la table: for baroque harps, this position is standard.

For anyone: “Long notes long, short notes short”, and “Last note short, no-accent”. Ornaments on the beat. Contrast one Figur with the next.

 

How can I make my performance more expressive?

See above. Sensitise yourself to the flavour of each dissonance, and show the tension-release of each dissonance-resolution.

For harpists, move your fingers down, even more près de la table, for a dissonance, and up (higher than normal) for resolution. A basic position somewhat près de la table results in small changes down or up making a big difference to tone-colour.

Apply Abzug to appoggiaturas. Search for the particular character of each Figur.

 

Should I play marked Repeats?

Yes.

 

Should I add Rallentando?

No.

Muffat and Leopold Mozart clearly state that the same tempo should be maintained from beginning to end. There is historical evidence for rallentando, but not in dance-music, and perhaps only when it is specifically notated. It tends to occur where the note values get smaller and smaller at the end of a section; or where there is a final cadence after a silence (e.g. Hallelujah Chorus). Meanwhile, Leopold says simply, keep exactly the same tempo from beginning to end.

Remember, “what everyone does today” and “my favourite CD” are NOT historical evidence. Leopold Mozart is.

If you are keen to add rallentando, find a source to support your wish. [Student challenge!] But… also beware of the temptation to look into the sources to support a decision you have already taken. A better strategy is to read the sources with an open-mind, and then decide. If you read the whole of Leopold Mozart, you will have plenty to think about and apply, before you need to go looking for another source in order to explore exceptional cases and outlier opinions.

 

Summary

18th-century style calls for a enormous amount of short-term detail, many contrasted Figuren, many presentations of dissonance-resolution, and many, many Abzüge. All the while, you maintain the groove of steady Tactus in the bass.

Harpists: see my article on Empfindsamkeit and Single Action harp.

Historically Informed Performance is not what I say, not what Early Musicians do today, not what you hear on CDs, but performance based on historical information. Use IMSLP to get original scores, and use the mighty Versuch publications as reference books to answer your performance practice questions. Harpists: read Meyer, Cousineau and (for elite soloist-level skills) Genlis.

Try to establish a habit of checking what you are told (including what you have read here!), and checking your own assumptions. The state of knowlege advances when someone has the courage to question the status quo.

Dare to be different!

 

 

 

To beguile, or not to beguile: Purcell’s ‘Music for a while’

Music for a while is one of Purcell’s best-known and most loved songs, published posthumously in Orpheus Britannicus, Book 2 (1702). Listen here.

The tortured chromaticism of the ground bass and dark references to Alecto, the Fury from Hell with snakes for hair and a whip in her hand. indicate that there is more here than just a pretty melody.  So it comes as no surprise to discover that the song was written for a revival in 1692 of Dryden & Lee’s 1679 Tragedy Oedipus, loosely based on Sophocles.

But what was the function of this music in the play? What is happening on stage ‘for a while’? And what happens next, when Music can no longer ‘beguile’? Whose ‘cares’ and ‘pains were eas’d’?  The clue is that Alecto should indeed ‘free the dead from their eternal bands’.

At the time of writing, the best secondary sources freely available online were a couple of GCSE commentaries, which fail to address these questions and mislead on the placement of the song within the play, as well as by hinting that Alecto might even be a character in the drama. She is not, but the mythological reference to her is utterly appropriate for the dramatic situation.

 

 

A dark Grove

Fortunately, a primary source is only a click away. The library of the University of Michigan has made the full play-script of Oedipus, including the song-text (divided amongst several singers), available free online.

Purcell’s Music was composed for Act III, set in a dark Grove.

 

 

Following an argument and sword-duel between Creon and Adrastus, Haemon sets the scene:

Nor Tree, nor Plant

Grows here, but what is fed with Magick Juice,

All full of humane Souls; that cleave their barks

To dance at Midnight by the Moons pale beams:

At least two hundred years these reverened Shades

Have known no blood, but of black Sheep and Oxen,

Shed by the Priests own hand to Proserpine.

 

The blind prophet Tiresias enters with a group of aged Priests, all clothed in black habits. In rites “full of horrour” Tiresias invokes the ghost of Lajus (Oedipus’ father) to declare who it was who murdered him. A trench is dug near Lajus’ grave and a black, barren heifer is sacrificed. Blood and milk are boiled together.

And now a sudden darkness covers all,

True genuine Night: Night added to the Groves;

The Fogs are blown full in the face of Heav’n.”

Tiresias calls for “such sounds as Hell ne’re heard / Since Orpheus brib’d the Shades” and the Priests’ first song evokes tormenting demons:

 

Taskers of the dead,

You that boiling Cauldrons blow,

You that scum the molten Lead.

You that pinch with Red-hot Tongs;

You that drive the trembling hosts

Of poor, poor Ghosts,

With your Sharpen’d Prongs;

Music for a While itself is addressed to the rising ghosts, who are then ordered to “Come away… obey, while we play”. Sure enough, in a flash of lightning, ‘Ghosts are seen passing betwixt the trees‘.

The Priests and Tiresias call on Lajus to “hear and obey”, and ‘The Ghost of Lajus rises arm’d in his Chariot, as he was slain. And behind his Chariot sit the three who were murdered with him.’ Lajus refers to his “pains” in hell  (recalling the line from the song, ‘wondering how your pains were eas’d”), and accuses Oedipus of parricide.

 

 

The Ghost descends, as Oedipus enters asking “tell me why My hair stands bristling up, why my flesh trembles.

 

To beguile, or not to beguile

 

 

 

In this play and in this scene, there are many parallels to Shakespeare’s Hamlet (c1600). Dryden’s introduction make it clear that public taste insisted upon a Ghost and a Murder, and Oedipus was a great success.

In The Player’s Passion (1985) published by the same University of Michigan whose library makes Dryden’s play available online, Joseph Roach describes Shakespeare’s ‘most celebrated scene played by the greatest actor of his time, perhaps of all time’:

The name of Perkins, hair-dresser and wig-maker, enters into the history of the eighteenth-century stage on the strength of a technical contribution to David Garrick’s Hamlet… When other spectators marvelled that Hamlet’s hair actually seemed to stand on end as the ghost appeared, they testified to a fact. The ingenious Perkins had engineered a mechanical wig to simulate the precise physiognomy of mortal dread. On the line “Look, my lord, it comes”, the hairs of this remarkable appliance rose up obligingly at the actor’s command.

 

 

In Purcell’s semi-operas and incidental music for plays, incantation scenes are often the excuse for songs, and ‘priests’ with few or no spoken lines are brought on stage to do the singing. The first scene of King Arthur is a good example: “Woden, first to thee a milk-white steed in battle won, we have sacrificed“. And like the Ghost of Lajus, the Cold Genius similarly comes  “from below“, is made to “rise, unwillingly and slow’ in chromatic harmonies, and then allowed to “freeze again to death“.

 

The power of music to ‘beguile’ cares and ‘soothe the savage breast’ is part of the historical Science of the Four Humours. Music is Sanguine: the live-giving flow of warm blood, open-handed and generously offering love, courage and hope. Music frees us from the cold, dry grip of Melancholy cares and pains.

At least, for a while…

 

Listen here.

 

 

 

 

Vrai mouvement – Introduction to French Baroque dance-music

This is another in a series of posts following up a course on Early Music for Modern Harpists that I am teaching for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, but it should serve any performer as a first introduction to French baroque dance-music and the movements of the Suite. See also Introduction to 18th-century Ornamentation, Principles & Practice, and Online Resources.

 

To a great extent, Baroque dance-music is French, and French Baroque music is dances. French style is also associated with the delicate subtlety of ornamentation, so that the energy and physicality of the dance co-exists with the intricate sophistication of precise control. As Muffat writes for violinists in Florilegium Secundum (1698),

‘In spite of so many retakes and down-bows, one never hears anything harsh or crude, but on the contrary one finds a marvellous combination of great speed and long bow-strokes; of an admirable consistency of Tactus and a diversity of movements; and of a tender sweetness and vivacity of Play.’

Muffat’s essay, originally printed in French, Latin, Italian and German, is probably the best period Introduction to this style, which he associates with Lully’s violinists. In spite of the preference of modern opera houses and baroque orchestras for Rameau (1683-1764)  and Rebel (1666-1747), Lully’s music remained the reference in 18th-century France. And the instrument most associated with the noble style of French baroque dance was the violin: the dancing-master’s minature pochette or the 24-strong violin band (with all sizes of violin-family instruments).

Even if you are not a string player, consideration of the implications of Muffat’s rules for Lulliste bowing is a fast-track to creating appropriate short-term phrasing (what Early Music players call ‘articulation’) for French dance-music on any instrument.

Each dance-type has its own characteristics, and in performing this repertoire, getting a feel for the family resemblance between all Menuets (for example) is more important than trying to ‘interpret’ the particular minuet at hand. Muffat again:

Concerning the different dance-movements, three things are required. 1: To know well the true movement of each piece. 2: Having recognised it, knowing how to keep it as long as one plays the same piece, always with the same consistency, without change of slowing or accelerating. 3: To adjust and compensate for the value of certain notes, for greater beauty.

Muffat’s vrai mouvement is much more than just the speed, though finding a suitable speed is important. Quantz (see Online Resources) gives tempi based on a notional MM 80 ‘pulse’ for various dance-types in Versuch (1752) from page 268 , and Saint-Lambert (Lully’s father-in-law) calibrates his indications to an average walking pace, see Les Principes du Clavecin (1702).

The French term mouvement also implies the Affekt, the emotional character, and (as Muffat’s requirements indicate) this depends on finding rhythmic subtleties and maintaining them consistently all the way through each piece. So in addition to the regularity of Tactus, in dance-music we have additional consistency of patterning within the Tactus. And this patterning is subtle – every note is not the same, smaller-note values may be unequal within the beat – but it is maintained consistently from bar to bar. We can think of this as the rhythmic “groove” of each dance-type: the pattern is distinctive, possibly assymmetrical, often subtle, and this pattern is established from the outset and kept strongly throughout.

There are four levels of rhythmic patterning. Often the whole bar corresponds to the early 17th-century concept of Tactus, and you can beat time one bar down, one bar up. This beat is equal and regular, though with the subtlety of arsis/thesis, see The Practice of Tactus.

Phrases are nearly always symmetrically organised in 4-, 8-, 16-bar groups, with repeats of each section. Don’t omit repeats, and don’t vary them either. Rather play the whole dance a second time, with repeats again, but in a varied version – French sources call this a Double.

Within the bar, the individual beats (often crotchets) have a characteristic organisation of good/bad and join/separate. So in a Sarabande beats 1 and 2 are Good; in a Chaconne one links together beats  2-3-1. These beats usually correspond to dance-steps, and the connection between feet and beat in French music led to a concentration on this level of rhythmic organisation. So the Menuet can also be beaten with an unequal (but reguarly maintained beat), 1-2 down, 3 up.

At the next subsidiary level of rhythmic organisation (often quavers), equally-written note-values are performed unequally, pair-wise, usually long-short. The amount of swing in this inégalité is crucial for establishing (and maintaining) the character of each dance: robust country-dances get a vigorous swing, sad noble dances get a very subtle swing. The bible of baroque swing is Betty Bang Mather Dance Rhythms of the French Baroque (1997).

Muffat’s word mouvement also reminds us that Baroque dances were not just music: there was dancing, too! The best way to understand any dance-type is to learn to dance it, even if you think you have two left legs! I would regard an introduction to historical dancing as an essential element to any HIP musician’s training – and as great fun, too! The standard introduction to the physical embodiment of this music is Hilton Dance and Music of Court and Theatre (1997).

Court and Theatre were the principal milieux for the noble style of dancing, but many of these dances had their origins in the street or the countryside. Mattheson describes the contrasting characters of various dance-types. You can develop your own feeling for the area of emotions associated with each dance-type by reading song-texts set to particular dance-metres, and simply by playing many examples of the type you wish to study.

For each dance-type, you need to have a feeling for tempo, metre (duple or triple), groove, social milieu, area of Affekt and typical dance-steps. Some dances are essentially stylised walking, others are mostly leaps, others mix leaps, spins and held balances. The New Grove Dictionary entry on a particular dance-type can be a good jumping-off point for further reading.

Dance-music was often published and performed as chamber-music in Suites, linked by a common tonality. The core of the baroque suite is the AllemandeCouranteSarabande group, often with a Gigue afterwards. A Chaconne might be added at the end; a Prélude or Ouverture at the beginning; Bourée, Rigaudon and other country-dances towards the end; and theatrical or programmatic pieces were introduced for variety. For social dancing, long sets of a single dance-type (especially minuets) were often needed.

Handel’s first opera, Almira (1705), listen here has a ball-room scene, set at a French-style Assemblée, in which a sequence of dances is interspersed with conversational recitatives and arias, a theatrical presentation of social dancing at court.

Case-study: the Menuet

The Menuet was a court dance, each couple would have to dance their formal minuet in front of the judgemental gaze of their aristocratic superiors, as they entered the hall of an Assemblée. The step is a stylised walk, and the dancers’ paths trace out geometrical patterns on the floor. There are also many theatrical minuets, and many pieces that feel minuet-like, even though they are not actually dances: the slow movement of Handel’s Harp Concerto would be an example.

 

 

Muffat’s rules for violin-bowing can help us find the vrai mouvement, the ‘groove’ of this dance, and I take Christian Petzold’s well-known menuet copied into the Anna Magdalena Bach Notenbuch as a case-study.

 

 

Baroque violins have lower string-tension than modern instruments. And French baroque violins had even lower string-tension. French violins were significantly smaller, but had lighter strings and were tuned a tone or a minor-third lower than in Italy. All these differences combine to produce very low string tension: it’s like playing on rubber-bands!  And to coax these slack strings into sound, they had very short bows.

Long & Short notes

At this point, you can experiment for yourself, by using a pencil as an imaginary, short French-style violin bow. To sustain a long note, you will have to be very sparing with the bow, and the string will take some time to ‘speak’. The result is a very drawn-out messa di voce, with a lot of intensity and a sensation of tension waiting to be released as you hope that you can get through such a long note with such a short bow.

For a short note, you’ll have to move the bow with a sprightly action, to get the floppy string to speak promptly – it’s almost like a bowed pizzicato. So the first result is that long and short notes are utterly different from one another: a long note is not just a short note sustained, it’s a completely different animal!

Bowing and inégalité

Muffat’s detailed bowing rules can be summarised as

1. Down-bow on the down-beat;

2. Down/Up bows for Good/Bad notes, respectively.

So French violinists would take the first note of Petzold’s minuet with a down-bow (Italians would play it Up). The next note is a Good, so it might seem also to require a Down-bow.  With a short bow, two successive Downs will require lifting the bow back Up again in-between (what violinists call a Retake), and this necessarily shortens the first note, creating a staccato effect. Nevertheless, this is acheived with elegant lightness, like a dancer leaping high but landing lightly.

However, in the fine detail of Muffat’s bowing rules, he gives precisely this rhythmic pattern (crotchet quaver-quaver) at the beginning of the bar, marked ‘down up push’. The preference for up-bow on the second note of the bar outweighs the desirability of down-bow on a Good note. Nevertheless, the downward leap of the fifth d’-g supports a detached first note.

The quavers that follow would be played pair-wise long/short, good/bad and down/up, quite legato within each pair, but with a small separation between one pair and the next. Within each pair, the second note is unaccented – the swing is gentle and elegant, not spiky!

Groove: le vrai mouvement

We  can beat Tactus bar by bar, down/up. This gives us the first level of equal movement, corresponding to the dotted minims that we find in the bass from bar 2 onwards. In general, we expect to find the fundamental rhythmic structure in the bass, and subdivisions in the treble.

We can also beat Tactus in crotchets, 1 2 down, 3 up. This gives us minim-crotchet unequal movement, that we see in the bass of the first bar and elsewhere.

The harmonic rhythm of bar 15 is the reverse of this: crotchet-minim. The mixture of these two patterns, long-short and short-long, is characteristic of the Minuet.

Baroque theorists linked these structural patterns, often heard in the bass-line of dance-music, with the metrical “feet” of poetic scansion. Long-short is Trochaic, and short-long is Iambic: the combination of these two feet creates the essential structure of the minuet’s vrai mouvement.

In the melody, the initial leap followed by stepwise movement produces a crotchet-minim Iambic structure for the first bar, with the minim sub-divided into swung quavers. So in this bar, the minim-crotchet, Trochaic bass has one of the Minuet’s two typical structures, whilst the melody has the other.

In bar 2, the bowing would be Muffat’s standard: down-up push. This might tend to create a joining between beats 1-2, and a separation before beat 3. But the downward leap again suggests a detached first note. Although I’m accustomed to hearing this bar structured Trochaically minim-crotchet, perhaps the downward leap should encourage us towards Iambic crotchet-minim again.

Bars 3-4 have the same structure in the melody as the first two bars. The ornament on the second note of bar 3 confirms the Iambic crotchet-minim structure of this bar, so similar to bar 1.

The next three bars have the note-values of the first bar, but without the initial leap. This suggests more legato between first and second note, whilst the harmonic shift on the second note of each bar implies a crotchet-minim Iambic structure.

In bar 8, Quantz’s rule for Appoggituras tells us to make the ornamental note two thirds of the length of the written note, and to resolve quietly and smoothly into the written note. The structure is therefore Trochaic minim-crotchet, breaking the pattern of the previous 3 bars. There are couple of bars with swung quavers all the way through in the melody and a Trochaic minim-crotchet structure in the bass, and the harmonies show the structure of the penultimate bar also to be Trochaic minim-crotchet.

There are no other patterns in this minuet. Muffat’s strictly maintained mouvement can be understood by superimposing all the allowed patterns, and ‘weighting’ them according to how often each is heard. You can listen to the result here.

As you listen, imagine yourself dancing with elegant steps and graceful balances along the floor, in smoothly curved patterns, wearing 18th-century courtly dress, and with the assembled aristocracy looking on, and subdued conversation in polite French, with period pronunciation of course. By now you are well on the path towards developing a feel for the vrai mouvement of the menuet.

 

Beyond Versailles

 

We find French dances in English, German and even Italian music, and of course in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, see Jenne & Little Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach (1991/2009). Their first publication addressed works by Bach that bore the names of dances―a considerable corpus. In the second, expanded version they study also a great number of his works that use identifiable dance rhythms but do not bear dance-specific titles.

There is a glossy online Introduction to French Baroque Music presented in English by the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. Their view appropriately contrasts French and Italian approaches, but they seem unaware of the richness of Spanish dance-culture, which brought together Old and New World, even African music, popular and courtly styles.

Hispanic culture contributed one of the most famous dances of Baroque France, Les Folies d’Espagne as well as the Canaries dance-type. As in France, so in Spain, Portugal and the New World, standard dance-types and (more than in France) the ground basses associated with them defined the territory for much chamber, theatrical and (also more than in France) even sacred music. Ribayaz’s 1677 book Luz y Norte offers a ‘guiding light and North star by which to explore all Spanish music’ – listen here.

English late-17th-century Country Dances became well-known in the 20th-century folk music revival. With simple steps and formulaic group choreographies, they were much, much easier for amateur dancers than the technically demanding solo dances in which French aristocrats emulated professonal theatre dancers. Country dances became popular in France as contredansesLes manches vertes is Greensleeves.

This article can only be a brief Introduction. The next step is to become familiar with various dance-types, by reading more about them, and – even better – by playing and dancing them.

For a slightly different take on Muffat and French Baroque Dance, see the 2021 approach to this subject here.

Movement & Baroque Music: Mind, Body & Spirit

MUSIC
In 17th-century philosophy, the movement of the stars creates a perfect Music of the Spheres, which is reflected in the harmonious nature of the Human body, and imitated in actual music, played or sung.
This is a hierarchical connection, with heaven at the highest level. Human-beings are a microcosm, the cosmos reflected in minature. Musical performance imitates the perfect movement of the cosmos.

 

“Ex motu Armonia” – “The movement of the heavens creates Harmony” Detail from the frontispiece of Agazzari’s “Del sonare sopra ‘l basso” (1607).

Read more about Agazzari & continuo here.

TIME

The movement of the stars also defines Time, which is measured in musical notation, perceived as the feeling of tempo and the quality of movement, and indicated by the beat of the Tactus-hand. [All of these were far more precise than period clocks.]

Again, there is a hierarchical connection with heavenly time at the highest and slowest level of years (Sun), months (Moon), days (Earth). Embodied time (pulse, heartbeat and the Tactus-hand) imitates cosmic perfection at a human level of seconds. Music sub-divides this time into even shorter durations, faster movement.

Musical notation – i.e. Measure – is calibrated to real-world Time at the level of the Tactus-Beat (Zacconi 1596).  Tempo literally means Time – not the ‘speed’ of a performance, but the duration in real-world Time of a Measure. In this philosophy, musical Time imitates the constancy of cosmic Time.

There is a gradual change during the 17th & 18th centuries from this Renaissance concept (that musical notation is a representation of real-world Time, defined by the cosmos) towards the modern assumption that Tempo is subjective, a perception of speed. Another modern assumption takes hold in the 19th century, that performers can choose their own speed, even vary the speed from bar to bar.

MOVEMENT & SOUL
Baroque Time is not Newton’s Absolute Time, “like an ever-rolling stream”, it is Aristotle’s “time as a number of motion”. In Aristotle’s Physics, this movement (and therefore, Time itself) can only be perceived by a Soul.
When Baroque writers call Time “the Soul of Music”, they mean that Time gives the dry numbers of musical-notation meaning in the real world, transforming them into living sound, what we would call ‘live Music’.
LIFE, MOVEMENT & PASSIONS
Music seeks to ‘move the Passions’, to sway emotions, which are ‘the affections of the Soul’, Affekt (German), affetti (Italian). The effects of soul-musical emotions are felt in the mind and in the body.
17th-century Pneuma, mystic breath, is the divine energy giving the breath of life (from heaven), and also the networked energy connecting mind, body and soul (human, rather like oriental Qi), and also the artistic Energia that communicates between musician and listener (in performance). This is the same hierarchy as in Music.
CAUSE & AFFEKT
Perfect heavenly Movement creates Time, which gives life to Music, which moves the Passions. Perfect heavenly Movement also creates Music. The heavens are turned, and the human soul created, by the Divine Hand. These relations are causal: one creates another.
MIND, BODY & SPIRIT

If you keep this in mind, whilst you move your hand in the embodied time of Tactus, you may feel something of the baroque Spirit of Music, maintaining a constant connection to cosmic Time, Music & Pneuma in order to communicate every-changing Passions to listeners.

This connection is also causal and embodied. It’s not enough to think about it, you also have to beat Tactus, otherwise it won’t happen.