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).
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).
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 characterisescertain 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.
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.
Around the year 1600, singers were expected to deliver more than just the bare notes written by the composer. There was a well-established practice of dividing up long notes into elaborate swirls of short and very short notes – passaggi. The new aesthetic of solo song accompanied by a plucked instrument favoured short-range vocal effects – effetti – the one-note trillo, the two-note trill and turn grupetto etc. These effetti were intended to convey emotions – affetti – and were used sparingly: period sources show less frequent application of effetti than we hear in most modern-day performances. The change from old-style polyphony and passaggi to seconda prattica monody and effetti was gradual, so that these four categories overlapped considerably during the early seicento.
But in his (1596) Prattica di Musica (Libro Primo, Chapter LXIII) here Ludovico Zacconi describes in detail a way to ‘sing gracefully’ that is not merely an ornament, but rather an essential characteristic of fine vocal delivery. First he emphasises the importance of pronouncing the words schiette, intelligibile & chiare (cleanly, intelligibly and clearly), and intoning the musical notes accurately (giuste – in tune) and briskly (allegre), not forced or slow. Loud high notes should not be shouted; it’s better to take a high piano notes in falsetto (fingerle – fake them) than to strain. All this takes about a quarter-page.
The remainder of the chapter (more than 2 pages) is introduced as a detailed analysis of how to carry the voice across intervals of a third or more, a particular skill in repertoires that generally favours movement by step. Zacconi’s goal is the ‘grace and poise … demonstrated by the ability to perform effortlessly, and with agility, adding beauty and decorum.’ (si ricerca gratia & attitudine…quando in fare un attione dimostrano di farla senza fatica & all’ agilita, aggiungano le vaghezze e’l garbo).
‘This can be recognised as akin to the difference between seeing on horseback a Cavalier, a Capitan, or a ditch-digger and a porter; and with what ease an expert and fine standard-bearer handles, displays and moves the flag, compared to a shoe-maker. (In questo si conosce quanta differenza sia nel vedder star a cavallo un Cavaliere, un Capitano o un Zappaterra & un Facchino: & con quanta leggiadria tenghi in mano, spieghi e mova lo stendardo perito & buono Alfiero: che vedendola in mano a un Calzolaio…)
Highlight by delaying & sustaining
Intervals of a third or more ‘are delivered with certain accenti caused by some delays and sustaining of the voice’.
(Le dette figure s’accompagnano con alcuni accenti causati d’alcune rittardanze & sustentamenti di voce) The term accento does not mean ‘accent’ in the usual modern sense of a sharp, hard intensification of the start of a note – Zacconi is looking for a ‘beautiful… sweet’ effect, and his accento is not applied to strong, powerful texts. Nor is it a particular way of pronouncing words, a ‘foreign accent’. Nor does it mean the accented syllable of the word – the period terminology for this crucial concept is the Good or Long syllable. Nevertheless, we would expect to find the accento on a Good syllable.
Rather, accento means a “turn of phrase” in poetry or music, a brush-stroke in fine art, or a “highlight”. We recognise this meaning in the lines ‘O let me hear Thee speaking / in accents clear and still’ from an 1869 hymn by John E Bode. And we hear it also in the Prologue to Monteverdi’s (1607) Orfeo: ‘I am Music, who with sweet accents can make tranquil every troubled heart’. Io la Musica son, ch’ai dolci accenti so far tranquillo ogni turbato core.
Zacconi’s characterisation of the accento as a fundamental element of vocal delivery explains why scholars have struggled to understand it fully in studies of treatises on ornamentation. Bruce Dickey’s excellent survey of Italian ornamentation in The Performer’s Guide to 17th-century Music (1997) here admits that ‘the actual form of the accento is somewhat elusive’ but continues to give several illuminating examples from Zacconi, emphasising that the period intention is ‘rhythmically vague and subjective’. Zacconi’s description of ‘delays’ and ‘sustaining’ defines the essential nature of this practice, giving a broad hint that we should include such rhythmic subtleties in our realisations of accenti from ornamentation treatises.
Zacconi states explicitly that this accento is an unwritten obligation: ‘the composer who writes the notes is only concerned with managing those notes according to what is convenient for harmonious progressions; but the singer who delivers them is obliged to perform them with the voice and make them resound according to Nature and the decorum of the words’. Il cantore nel sumministrarle e obligato d’accompagnarle con la voce, & farle rissonar secondo la natura & la proprieta delle parole. We should expect to hear these accenti frequently across intervals of a third or more, even though we do not see any indication in the written composition. Although Zacconi warns against excess, and mentions particular words that are unsuitable for accenti, it is clear that they were used more often than not.
Actually, there are some notations of accento-like delays in dramatic monody, in the published scores of the first ‘operas’. And this customary practice from the 1590s would have been part of the training and vocal habitus of the singers who performed in genere rappresentativo (in theatrical style) during the following decades. ’17th-century ornamentation practice is a blending of traditional of traditional practices bequeathed from the 16th century and innovative techniques developed in connection with the new monodic singing style fashionable after the turn of the century.’ [Dickey 1997]
Although we can certainly apply accenti to early-17th-century dramatic monody, the context in which Zacconi writes is prima prattica polyphony.
Nowadays, the best-known ensembles for renaissance a capella polyphony – many of them English and strongly influenced by their singers’ training in Oxford & Cambridge college choirs – maintain an aesthetic of “pure vocal lines”, homogeneity and legato that has its origins in the late 19th century. We rarely hear Palestrina, Lassus or Victoria with florid divisions, and the highlighted delays of Zacconi’s accento are unfamiliar even to historically informed performers.
Even though he warns against excessive sustain, the subtle delaying effect that Zacconi finds so beautiful must also strike modern ensemble-directors with alarm: how can the singers keep together, if one or another part frequently sustains the written note to arrive late on the next one, and even ‘highlights’ this effect? The insistence on vertical alignment that has been a central tenet of modern-day Early Music (particularly amongst CD-producers) seems to be contradicted by this unwritten, but fundamental and obligatory element of period practice.
How to carry the voice
Since Zacconi’s context is vocal polyphony, it is well worth considering text (which he has emphasised in the previous paragraphs). In the transcriptions that follow, I have added a plausible text to Zacconi’s untexted examples. My assumption is that the note that takes the accento also carries a Good syllable. The shift in text-pronunciation produced by these accenti further highlights the effect of delaying.
We can expect that instrumentalists would have imitated singers in all these unwritten subtleties. ‘Singers… were the model for instrumentalists as well, who were to imitate the human voice as much as possible’. [Dickey 1997]
I have also added examples from Monteverdi’s (1607) Orfeo of written-out accento-like ornaments, and of situations when an accento might possibly be applied.
The accento is not applied to Ut-mi, nor between two hexachords sol-mi (e.g. G – B natural). But it can be applied to the major third fa-la (i.e. F-A, C-E, Bb-D, depending on which hexachords are available).
As Dickey (1997) remarks, the rising-third accento is similar to the intonazione on a good-syllable initial note, described by Caccini and notated by Cavalieri. In both practices, accento and intonazione, the central semiquaver is touched only very lightly.
Zacconi’s notated durations are approximate: the desired effect is ‘delightful and sweet’. The delay should not be excessive or heavy. The accento is subtle, beyond the limits of notation.
‘I’ve put a dotted quaver and semi-quaver so that singers see how to ascend; because there are some who – even though these beauties should seem natural – in pronouncing them, pronounce them so slow and late that by their languor they make a strange effect and do not give any good satisfaction to the ear. These are things that are difficult to demonstrate and make understood in writing. It’s necessary for the alert and diligent singer to adjust them according to what their own ears tell them is delivered well or badly.’
The accento should not be applied to every possible note.
‘This way of singing is a delightful and sweet way, and sweetness – although a friend to nature – is also cloying, and used too many times will produces disgust and boredom. Therefore it is not a good idea to use them always, in order to avoid giving listeners disgust and dissatisfaction.’
Accenti for seconds
Nevertheless, Zacconi moves on immediately to show how to apply accenti even to the the interval of a second, i.e. to notes that move by step! However, he rules out mi-fa and ut-re ascending, similarly avoiding fa-mi and re-ut descending.
My underlay is conjectural – other solutions are available! Where I have indicated alternative rhythms, the ideal may lie in subtlety of rhythm somewhere in-between the two notated versions.
Accenti for fourths & fifths
For wider intervals, Zacconi requires a different style. The running semiquaver in the middle of the previous examples only works if it runs to an adjacent note, not across a leap. Again, Zacconi struggles to describe in words the subtle effect that he intends: ‘the little notes in the middle are pronounced beautifully without making them resound like a real note.’ Nel mezzo pronuntiarli con la voce quelle vaghezze senza farle rissonar per figure.
Whilst the accento delays the composer’s second note, the whole thing (i.e. both written notes) fits into the regular Tactus. ‘From beginning to end, the notes do not have more duration than they normally require’. Dal principio al fine non habbiano piu valore di quello che per natura ricercano.
Zacconi adapts his running formula for a rising fourth to give an alternative for a rising second mi-fa.
Zacconi concludes: ‘All these examples can be adapted and used as models for further possibilites. But as I have said, it is difficult to make these things understood without a sung example. For this reason, I will skip many vague things that might be said around this subject to say only this: when the Singer hears the beauties of a performer (I’m not talking about gorgie and passaggi…) he should try to imitate them as far as possible.
‘Singers should be warned that in imitative polyphony- fughe or fantasie – one should not delay any note, so as not to break and spoil the well-ordered imitation. Rather one should sing on the beat – equale – without any ornamentation.
‘There are also some notes that for the sake of the words do not need any accento, but only their natural and lively force, as when one has to sing Intonuit de Celo Dominus; Clamavit; Fuor fuori Cavalieri uscite; Al arme al arme [God thundered from heaven; he cried out; Go out, go out Cavaliers; To arms, to arms] and many other things.The discreet and judicious singer must decide’
This should remind modern readers that the accento is not a sharp accent, nor bravura display, but a sweet and subtle beauty.
‘On the contrary, there are other words that from their own nature demand these beauties and these lovely accenti, as when one is to say Dolorem meum; misericordia mea; affanni e morte [my sadness, have mercy on me, sorrow and death]. Without any further sign to the singer, these indicate how they must be sung.’
This instruction reinforces the impression that accenti are used very frequently, even if not always.
Other ways to beautify
The accento gives a subtle, soft highlight by delaying the main note. Zacconi now considers how to enliven the written notes, with simple divisions, which do not require the full inventiveness and technical proficiency of more extended passaggi.
‘We can also break up the notes with vivacity and force, which makes a very grand good effect on the Music’.
My assumption would be that these divisions would usually produce no shift of word-underlay, and certainly not the delaying effect of the accento. But in Zacconi’s second example (four notes descending by step), a lively effect might be created by anticipating the new syllable, placing it on the previous short-note.
Zacconi comments that these are just a few examples, many others could be given. Nature itself is the best teacher, and this is just an ABC for beginners. But since some students leave school not knowing these beauties and these accenti, Zacconi wants to get a few things down on paper for those who don’t have any decorum, or any good way of singing. He writes them down, not because they should be notated, but so that they can be added with the voice.
‘Finally, I must say that masters who teach these accenti and beauties should be warned to control the scholar so that they do not apply them too often, as if they would be done always. Because just as too much sugar spoils a fine, delicate meal, similarly so much sweetness and beauty placed together produces boredom and disgust. And for this reason we add so many dissonances to the Music, just because they redouble the sweetness of the consonances.’
Published at the very moment that the Baroque aesthetic of dramatic monody and continuo emerges from renaissance polyphony, and positioned in this crucial treatise as the first step towards beautiful singing (with a quick reminder to take care of the text, not to shout, not to strain) this chapter has enormous significance for today’s Historically Informed Performance. But it has been almost totally forgotten.
Although Zacconi warns us not to use the accento on every possible occasion, and limits it to words that do not contradict its natural property of sweetness. it is clear that around the year 1600 it was used very frequently indeed. In training and in performance, our modern-day Early Music seems to have lost sight of this fundamental element of beautiful singing – and playing.
It is also clear that the essential features of the accento are sustain and delay, even in polyphonic music. So how is ensemble synchronicity to be managed, if any voice might introduce a delay on any note (even if not on every note)?
Zacconi’s answer to this practical question of timing calls for a revolution in our understanding of ensemble music-making in this period, and – at last! – an end to the early 21st-century struggle between proponents of rhythm and of rhetoric. See my next post.
After this article about a forgotten ornament, you might like to read about another ornament, that perhaps we wish we could forget. Yes, THAT ornament.
Of course, there are plenty of alternatives available from historical sources, but if we are looking for better cadential ornaments, might we be asking the wrong question? Read more about ornamenting Monteverdi here.
This article is a personal summary and commentary on the Colloquium presented online on Sunday May 2nd 2021 by Aapo Häkkinen and Domen Marinčič and hosted under the aegis of the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra in collaboration with the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts – more details, and a video of the live event, here. Where I have reproduced citations given by presenters, I ask the reader to bear in mind that I was taking hasty notes from a live talk, and to consult the video and the original sources for authoritative details.
The event’s subtitle Tempo Rubato – Use, Flexibility and Modification of Time deserves further comment (see below), appearing to threaten a presentation of only one side of a debate which – like discussions of Vibrato in Early Music – all too often features campaigning for fixed personal opinions, rather than investigation of historical evidence. But as various speakers gave their papers, there was ample consideration of temporal structures, and if anything was missing, it was investigation of how rhythm might be ‘malleable’ (to use a word that emerged during the event).
In general, questions of What and When were examined carefully, and Jed Wentz gave an impeccably concise and impressively persuasive account of ‘How to do Affekt‘ in the mid-18th century: otherwise, questions of how to apply the rich information provided were left for another occasion.
One such future occasion might be my presentation on Music of an Earlier Time for Amherst Early Music, which will offer participatory exercises exploring how the period philosophy of Time can be applied to practical music-making, using historical terminology, conceptual frameworks and embodied practices: Saturday June 5th 2021, read more here.
The event image was an 1851 illustration of the motto Tempus fugit (Time flies). The metaphor dates back at least to Classical Antiquity, and is cited in the opening phrase of the first ‘baroque opera’, Cavalieri’s Anima e Corpo (1600) read more here. The context of this motto, in Virgil’s Georgics (29 BC), Cavalieri’s drama, and in general (including this 19th-century illustration) is memento mori, a reminder that our life-time is short, with the implied challenge to use time well.
Other images from earlier periods address the specific question of the relation of Time and Music (significantly, Movement is usually – always? – also featured). One of my favourites is Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time (c1635), rich with iconographical symbolism: you’ll notice Time playing his music on Earth, but don’t miss Apollo’s Time-Chariot in the sky above.
I also have a favourite early 20th-century image which would seem to express most aptly the ‘malleability’ of Tempo Rubato in this period, Dali’s The Persistence of Memory (1931). And indeed the first paper at this Colloquium examined the strong focus on metronomic precision in this very period, but with little mention of the strong advocacy of Tempo Rubato in precisely the same period.
We should take great care with the term Rubato. Paderewski’s views on Tempo Rubato were first published in 1909: the term is also strongly associated with Chopin (1810-1849). In a very quick online search, the earliest dictionary reference I found was 1883.
The standard work on the subject is Hudson Stolen Time. Hudson (from page 43) declares Tosi (1723) to the be the first to use the term, in the phrase rubamento di tempo, and in the context of the aria patetica (passionate aria): Tosi specifies that this happens ‘exactly on the true motion of the bass’ (as translated by Galliard in 1743). Hudson cites Roger North’s terminology of “breaking and yet keeping time”, found in several sources, the earliest being an untitled MS c1695, shortly after Tosi’s visit to London.
It is clear that these citations c1700 refer to occasional freedom for a soloist to anticipate or (more usually) delay, whilst the bass continues steadily. Galliard’s mid-18th-century footnote draws attention to Tosi’s repeated insistence on regard for, and strictness of Time, and to the ‘singular’ [rare, unusual, isolated] application of ‘stealing the time’: again we read that “the bass goes an exactly regular pace” and that the soloist “returns to exactness, to be guided by the bass”.
The bass goes an exactly regular pace (Tosi/Galliard 1743)
Hudson also cites Quantz Versuch (1752) illustrating eine Art vom Tempo rubato, again with anticipations and delays to the solo flute, whilst the continuo-bass remains steady.
Froberger’s c1710 marking a discretion and the notation of preludes non mesurées show that some music was indeed unmeasured, and more work is needed to explore how such music would have been realised, for example by careful examination of sources that combine specific note-values with (seemingly contradictory) indications of being ‘un-measured’. See my take on Senza misura in baroque music, here (scroll down the article until you see the Cuisenaire Rods!)
Even with an improved understanding of how to play unmeasured music, the case has certainly not been proven that such an approach should be applied to measured music. Indeed, the quality of being ‘measured’ is the essential defining quality of most early music. See Time:the Soul of Music, here.
Before 1800, the concept of ‘using Time’ seems to be found exclusively in the context ofhow one makes best use of one’s lifetime, rather than in music-making. Thus Herrick’s (1648) Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may / Old Time is still a-flying concludes …. use your time for love and marriage, following the motto carpe diem. In the musical context, Time is characterised as measuring music, indeed for Zacconi (1592) the terms tempo, misura, battuta and tatto (Tactus) are synonomous.
But the word ‘use’ also had a particular meaning in the context of 17th-century Arts. ‘Art’ itself was defined as a collection of rules, a set of organising principles. What we nowadays mean by ‘art’ – those mysterious, ineffable beauties that transcend everyday experience is renaissance ‘Science’. In this period terminology, ‘Use’ is the nitty-gritty of what was actually done in practice – we might almost think of it as ‘technique’. In general, period sources tell us more about period ‘art’ – the rules – than about period ‘use’ – how to do it. More about Science, Art, Use here.
In this particular sense of ‘techniques related to Time’, the ‘use of Time’ is a fascinating topic for historical investigation: we should be careful not to equate this with any period assumption that Time was a commodity available for musicians to use as they chose to.
Historical discourse rarely (if ever?) characterises Time as ‘flexible’, before the period Paderewski, Dali and Bergson, whose interlinking of psychological Time and Freewill dominated the philosophy of culture in the early 20th century. Read more here.
Although ‘modification’ of Time has come to be an accepted phrase in modern-day discussions of Metre in Music (see for example George Houle’s essential book (1987) here), this is not historical terminology nor a period concept of the relationship between humans and Time. There is no doubt that something of this nature was practised – as Domen Marinčič showed in his presentation – but the period phraseology was of “guiding” or even “driving” Time: the Italian word guidare is also used for driving a chariot. We can catch a glimpse of the period concept when we consider the myth of Phaeton, who seized the reins of Apollo’s time-chariot, but was unable to control it and crashed spectactularly. Early Music welcomes careful drivers…
Careful consideration of terminology is vital, if we are to avoid imposing modern-day assumptions when we glibly apply modern-day vocabulary to earlier periods; and if we wish to understand how the rules of period ‘Art’ were embedded in historical philosophies, in order to appreciate how those old rules felt ‘natural’ to musicians back then.
In discussions of Historical Performance Practices related to Musical Time, there is also a need to distinguish clearly between two – interlinked – questions: tempo as the ‘speed’ of music; tempo as the regularity or otherwise of rhythm at any given speed. In both these aspects, tempo is closely related to Affekt. And underlying all of this, but not addressed in this Colloquium, is the question of Time itself, since Science, Philosophy and general perceptions have changed significantly over the centuries that separate Aristotle, Newton, Einstein and Hawking.
Alexander Bonus on ‘metronomic’ Tempo
This paper was concerned with the use of the metronome to establish rhymthic regularity, not with questions of ascertaining musical speed. Although Maelzel’s metronome was patented in 1815, and Loulié’s chronometre was describle in 1696, AB made the point well that the use of machines to train musicians to play in ‘metronomic rhythm’ became prominent only in the early 20th century. He did not address the prominence of discussions of Tempo Rubato in this very same period: surely these two phenomena are closely interlinked.
AB’s message seemed rather to be that ‘metronomic’ playing is undesirable, but is a phenomenon of the 20th century. It is hard to disagree with those points, although I readily confess that I greatly appreciate the excitement and emotional power of late 20th-century rock music (but my favourite vintage pre-dates the routine use of click-tracks in popular music, and this may well be crucially significant).
AB was greatly concerned that “the belief that tempo is defined by clock technology” is “so central… to performance… even to the reading of notation”. I would agree that this is largely a 20th-century phenomenon, as is the contermporary (over-) reaction against any kind of rhythmic regularity. Both are a feature of modern-day Early Music, and that is regrettable in both instances.
Citing Hofmann in 1905 “keeping of absolutely strict time is thoroughly unmusical and deadlike”, AB also gave highly negative spin to such phrases as “the inexorable beat”, and “the beat is the steady pulse”, even to the whole notion of musicians being beholden to “external tempo”, to rhythm “not depending on the will”,
Here AB went too far, in trying to limit regularity to the 20th-century alone. The inexorable character of Time itself is expressed by Virgil (the tempus that fugit – flies – does so inreparabile, unrecoverably), and the steadiness of the renaissance Tactus beat is strongly characterised in many period sources, for example Zacconi.
Zacconi’s person who administers the Tactus’ would create an ‘external tempo’ for all other members of an ensemble. And the ancient concept of the Music of the Spheres, still current in the 17th century, implies that human ‘free will’ is a lower priority than the divine perfection of heavenly music, which we should imitate in our earthly performances. According to the religious views of the time, “free will” is in general a concept fraught with dangers.
The concept of the Music of the Spheres also connects good music-making to physical, spiritual and moral health. AB noted that in 1895 regular rhythm “equates to good, healthy behaviour”. No doubt, Dowland would approve.
AB also mentioned a crucial distinction: in 1889 “by accurate rhythm is not meant metronomic accuracy”.
Here is the gateway towards a much more productive approach than mere trash-talk about metronomes. In what way was Zacconi’s and Dowland’s measure ‘equal’, and precisely where was there room for what we would nowadays call ‘freedom’?
Julia Dokter on German organ music c1700
Julia Dokter’s presentation outlined the central conclusions of her book, published in the last few days, Tempo & Tactus in the German Baroque, here. Her approach was an exhaustive survey of theoretical sources, applied to case-studies of various musical compositions, all within a specific genre. She was most properly cautious about extending specifics from this particular repertoire and genre to other countries, periods or genres. Nevertheless, the concepts she introduced seem to reflect fundamental practices related to musical time in this period. Notably, her results were strikingly parallel to those presented in Aapo Häkkinen’s paper, addressing another repertoire and with different methodology.
JD focussed on Tempo transitions, informed by three types of period notation: time-signatures, note-values and tempo-words.
Looking at Baroque time-signatures, as they evolved from renaissance mensuration marks, she first cited Michael Praetorious in the early 17th century, explaining two notational systems for duple metre: Motets in C/ time, counted as two semibreves; and Madrigals in C time, counted as two minims. These two notations are NOT proportional: the minim-beat in C is neither twice as fast, nor the same as the semibreve-beat in C/. Rather, the difference is ‘about one and a half’: we should bear in mind that the period concept of a ‘half’ is not necessarily as strictly 50%, but rather more loosely as some part less than the whole and more than nothing. So we beat C/ somewhat slower (and that beat represents semibreves), and C somewhat faster (and this beat represents minims). This is similar to what we read in Zacconi, who warns that the Tactus-beater should not mistake his mensuration marks and give the beat at the ‘other speed’, as this would probably crash the entire ensemble.
JD explained that this is consistent with a general principle in Baroque practice, that time signatures denominated in smaller note-values (i.e. 3/8 compared to 3/4) have a slower Tactus, so that the small note-values go faster, but not twice as fast. Her later examples extended this principle to a general principle that passages in very small note-values would be assumed to require a slower Tactus – in order to be playable at all!
JD applied another early 17th-century practice, the triple-time proportions of Sesquialtera (slow), Tripla (medium fast) and Sestupla (very fast) to her case-studies in high Baroque organ-music.
Her conclusion is that there were effectively two systems of notation (and execution) of duple Tactus, each with its three associated triple-time Proportions. Similarly, each faster Proportion might be only somewhat faster, not necessarily twice as fast as the slower Proportion.
So whether in duple or triple, smaller denominations of time-signatures and smaller note-values in what JD calls the ‘surface activity’ both suggest a slower Tactus. The result is faster surface activity, but not so much as twice as fast.
This is a principle we see at work as early as Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, where at Et exultavit in the Magnificat there is the marking va sonato tardo, perche li doi tenori cantano di semicroma (will be played slowly, because the two tenors are singing semiquavers).
Nevertheless, as became clear in Domen Marinčič’s presentation (below), this period principle is contra-indicated by other early 17th-century indications also observed by Julia Dokter in the later repertoire, that changes to faster surface activity may require a faster Tactus, to heighten the contrast.
JD noted that the “demise of the Proportional system” described by Kirnberger in 1776 can already be seen in the music of J.S. Bach c1740. As C becomes a quadruple metre, with four crotchet beats (whereas c1600 it was a duple metre with two minim beats, see above), the old system of proportions collapses. I would add that the emergence of fashionable French dances, many of them in triple metre but with subtly different speeds, rhythmic structures and subjective affekts, also contributed to the slipping of the gears of the old Proportional system.
Nevertheless, JD proposed strict proportions for JSB’s Eb Major “St Anne” Organ fugue (the associated Prelude has passages in alla Francese ‘overture’ style), with the constant beat transferring from semibreve to dotted minim to dotted crotchet.
I would add to this, citing Carissimi’s comment in Ars cantandi published in German translation in many editions around 1700, about the affektive quality of proportions:
The triple-metres all agree with regard to quantity, division and proportion, as is easily understood, but in the slow or fast quality, known by the Italians as tempo and by the French as mouvement, they are utterly different.
Carissimi Ars Cantandi (1692 etc)
Here Carissimi contrasts the quantitative – “mathematical” – elements of beat (constant), note-values (consistent between different triple mensurations), proportion (simple ratios of the underlying duple metre) with the affektive quality that results. Although the duration of any given note-value (e.g. a minim) is the same in Sesquialtera, Tripla or Sestupla, the contrasts in harmonic motion and surface activity create very different feelings for triple metres of three semibreves, three minims, or twice-three crotchets. And this qualitative, affektive element is ‘known by the Italians as tempo and by the French as mouvement‘. And in German, Bewegung.
So we are considering not only speed of beat, and the surface activity within that beat, but also the affektive quality that results. Read more on Quality Time here.
Depending on context, we may choose (or be encouraged by tempo words) to exaggerate contrasts by over-doing Proportional changes (see DM below). Or we may need (with the support of tempo words) to reduce the contrast as calculated mathematically, whilst (presumably) still acheiving an effective contrast of Affekt.
In the conference, JD expressed the opinion that – in the later repertoires she studied – tempo words that appear to suggest heightened contrast merely warn against a more common practice of automatically reducing contrast. DM gave clear evidence – mostly in earlier repertoires – that tempo words exaggerate the expected contrasts. I would suggest that we have evidence to show that proportions could be precise, lessened or heightened in various contexts, and that tempo words help us judge which way to go, with affektive contrasts as the end-goal, and playability as an inevitable limitation.
Domen Marinčič on variations in Tactus speed
Domen Marinčič summarised his excellent paper on Now faster, now slower, citing sources that incontravertibly show changes of Tactus speed, starting with Vicentino (1555) changing measure according to the text. He suggested that this practice of changing the Tactus was only one of many options, such as “agogic freedom”, “rubato”, “managing rhythm expressively”, but he did not cite evidence for or discuss in detail these other options.
Whilst Mersenne (1636) gives a default tempo of around one beat per second (i.e. a one-metre pendulum), DM reminded us that Mersenne also considered the pendulum an ineffective tool, since so many different lengths would be required for the slightly different speeds that are required. Nevertheless, DM’s suggestion that it is left up to performers to choose their own tempo is unsatisfactory: the period discourse asssumes that there is a correct tempo, and the performers’ job is to find it, not choose their own. Of course, we don’t always have enough, and clear enough, information to find the tempo for sure, but nevertheless, that is what we are supposed to try to do!
I would add here that Frescobaldi gives us a practical method for finding the correct tempo, a method that is quite different from the mathematical calculations and abstract musical analysis that we tend to use nowadays. Frescobaldi’s instructions are to play the music through (in some default tempo, presumably considering a standard Tactus and the apparent surface activity): as one listens, one will understand what Affekt the music has. And for how to proceed from Affekt to execution, see Jed Wentz’s paper (below). More on Frescobaldi Rules OK?, here.
Frescobaldi also gives us vital information and essential practical advice. The information is that even ‘difficult’ music with changes of Tactus is facilitated by using a Tactus beat. This contra-indicates any assumption of general rubato in this repertoire, replacing it with highly specific instructions for when and how to change the beat. The practical advice is therefore to study by physically beating Tactus with the hand, and play keyboards etc whilst physically beating Tactus with the foot. Tactus is not just a theoretical concept, it is an embodied practice.
DM cited Glareanus increasing the speed (not necessarily in strict mathematical proportion) by changing mensuration mark. Banchieri beats both C and C/ with a minim-beat, but at different speeds. Other sources change the note-value associated with the Tactus beat (e.g. Zacconi, who also changes the beat-speed accordingly). Praetorius uses a variety of time-signatures to indicate different tempi. An Entrée in L’Amour Malade has exceptionally many changes of time signature, and therefore, tempo.
DM pointed out exampes in very well-known repertoires where even highly respected modern editions have ‘rationalised’ or suppressed differences in time signatures that would seem to indicate tempo contrasts: between successive Minuets and Bourées in J.S. Bach’s Cello suites, and the Minuets in the first Brandenburg Concerto. This idea was echoed, from a very different approach, in Jed Wentz’s paper.
In discussion amongst the presenters, AB reiterated his central points, that the intense application of the metronome to music education, the mimicking of the ticking metronome as the model of rhythm, and the concept that a mechanical standard should be followed, are all 20th-century phenomena.
JD added a fascinating observation from her comparisons of sources of J.S. Bach’s works, that the composer seems to have changed his priority from trying to notate speed, to trying to notate Affekt. This fits well with Carissimi’s ideas of durational Quantity and affecktive Quality (see above).
JD also suggested that strict mathematical proportions might be just the outline structure and the theoretical basis: “in practice, it becomes more malleable”. In the sense that the proportional change itself might be slightly greater or less than the mathematical ratio, this suggestion is thoroughly supported by period evidence, including many citations presented during this event.
A written comment by an online listener expressed disappointment at so much talk of notation and structure, opining that all this had been heard before from Willem Retze Talsma in 1980, and interested to hear about “freedom, departing from those “absolute” tempi… that is the accelerando and ritardando from the basic tempo, gradually”.
Certainly, all the evidence heard during this Colloquium fitted excellently with the notion of well-structured Tempo Giusto, though with different quantitative speeds according to mensuration marks; and with systems of Proportional relationships for triple metre, but with the possibility of ‘tweaking’ those mathematical ratios one way or another in particular circumstances. No evidence was presented at this event for any general “freedom”, nor for gradual changes of accelerando/ritardando. Indeed Frescobaldi clearly states that changes of Tactus are executed by suspending the Tactus momentarily in the air, and then starting the new movement resolutely. Based on all the evidence I have seen, my coaching mnemonic for ensembles and students is “use the gear-shift, not the accelerator/brake”.
I had the opportunity to meet, hear and talk with Talsma in the early 1980s, and this was my first encounter with the concept of Tempo Giusto. Of course, the ‘double-beat metronome’ theory for Beethoven etc has by now been totally exploded more here, but my research findings utterly support the fundamental concept of a (more-or-less) fixed speed (but ‘fixed’ subjectively, not with any kind of clock) in mensuration mark C [although this changes during the 17th-century from a duple to a quadruple measure, see above]. Indeed, Beethoven himself comments on this concept, wishing to be free from it (and thus confirming its strong presence until then).
But, in spite of the remarks of the online listener, the application of Tempo Giusto nowadays differs sharply from Talsma’s version in the 1980s, in that we measure the ‘correct tempo’ with a slow Tactus, avoiding the ‘sewing-machine’ effect of Talsma’s measuring of small note-values. During recent decades, there was even an idea that counting in ever-larger note-values might be better and better (still supported by Robert Hill amongst others). Roger Mathew Grant’s excellent book on Beating TIme and Measuring Music (2014) shows that measuring (by the Tactus hand) was done at a particular note-value (c1600 the minim in C, and the semibreve in C/; c1700 the crotchet in C).
Inja Stanovic‘s paper on the technologies of early recording, though valuable and interesting, seemed to me to belong to another occasion. Of course, the recording industry has had a most powerful effect on modern-day Early Music, supporting it immensely, especially with the arrrival of the CD in the 1980s. But my personal experience is that the technologies of the late 20th century had less influence on performer choices than did record producers. Almost invariably, young HIP ensembles making their first recordings were supervised by more senior ‘classical’ producers, and the process was dominated by seeking to control tuning, vertical unanimity of rhythm, and the avoidance of any surprises. We used to joke that our task was to play until something woke up the producer and he called “Cut”.
By the time a new generation of producers with Early Music experience emerged, the expectations of record companies, the listening public, and even of performing musicians, had been firmly set in a certain path. Seriously, we can well consider how today’s Early Music might have turned out, if all those thousands of CDs had been commanded by jazz producers, who might have prioritised groove and swing over vertical unanimity, drama and emotion over bland smoothness.
One of the presenters (AB?) cited Roger North’s remark that chronometers are very ‘whimmish’, that there is nothing better than a roll of paper in the [human] hand. Daniel Friderici (editor of the 1625 print of the Finnish Piae Cantiones, more here, and recent Finnish recording here) was also cited “some beat time like a clock, and this is an error”. All this encourages us to investigate precisely how the practice of Tactus-beating differed from clockwork, given the overwhelming weight of evidence that the character of the Tactus was steady, equal, unchanging etc.
Jed Wentz on ‘the Art of Acting’ (1753)
This was an inspiring and well-structured presentation, summarising Aaron Hill’s instructions to mid-18th-century actors on how to acheive the appropriate body, facial and vocal expression for a particular Affekt. JW began with Kirnberger’s re-iteration of the doctrine of ‘moving the Passions’ i.e. that motion and emotion are connected (in German, Bewegung and Gemüthsbewegung], with Bewegung as ‘what the French call mouvement‘ i.e. musical Tempo (see my remarks on Carissimi, above): “and the composer must properly hit on this Movement, according to the nature of the feeling” – Die Kunst Part II page 106 – and my thanks for JW for his exemplary citations during a speedy online session). “This is a study that lies outside the music.”, a study which “the composer shares with the poet and orator”.
Hidden in these citations is a vital point: whilst both composers and performers must employ the art of Rhetoric, they each have different responsibilities. The determining of Tempo (in response to the Affekt of the text) is the responsibility of the composer, who notates it as precisely as the period systems allow (and though more precise indications by chronometres were available, it seems they were not wanted): the performer’s responsibility is to understand the composer’s notation and follow it. We read in Quantz that the performer should also be like an orator, and Quantz’s highly detailed instructions on how to do this do not suggest altering the notated tempo, or any kind of general rubato, but rather explain how to structure musical time with a ‘pulse’ around 80 bpm.
JW cited Coeffeteau’s requirement in A Table of Human Passions (1621) page 17 that there should be ‘perceptible changes to the body and voice” of the person feeling the emotion. JW then showed the methodology of theatrical director Aaron Hill, who also produced Handel’s Rinaldo in 1711, as published in the first (posthumous) edition of his Art. The actor should not attempt to ‘imitate a passion’ (by speaking his lines) until “fancy has conceived so strong an image or idea of it…. as to move the same impressive springs within his mind”. Imagination must conceive a strong idea, which (by the action of Energetic Spirits of Passion transmitting from the brain to the body) impresses its form on the muscles of the face; instantly the same impression is felt in the muscles of the body; and the those muscles (whether ‘braced’ or ‘slack’) transmit their own sensation to the sound of the voice and the disposition of the gesture.
Extending the ancient doctrine of the Four Humours, Hill categorises 10 Dramatic Passions (and Love, the ancient Quintessential, can be mixed with any of these): Joy, Grief, Fear, Anger, Pity, Scorn, Hatred, Jealousy, Wonder, Love. JW referred to Hill’s concept of the “quality of the eye”, and the sequence of this technique: reflecting on the idea in the mind, feeling it idea in the body; a physical response of the eyes and nerves; only then should the actor speak.
In this way, the actor avoids the danger of “overleaped distinctions” – missing emotional contrasts. And on stage, these “beautiful and pensive pausing places will appear to be the natural attitudes of thinking”. Without the application of this technique, the audience will remain unmoved.
JW concludes that pauses in performance are therefore essential.
I would comment that Hill’s methodology contrasts sharply with the usual operating procedure in most modern-day HIP productions of ‘early opera’. Usually the focus is on teaching hand, and perhaps body, movements, with the danger that these – however beautiful – strike the audience as being ‘stylised’ and passionless, not genuine expressions of emotion. But Hill’s concepts are ancient, based on Quintilian’s theory of “visions” and the doctrine of Enargeia. Rather than manipulating the voice or the body directly, the first step is to create an imagined Vision of what is described in the text.
In first rehearsals of a new play, actors often struggle to ‘change gear’ quickly enough. But good coaching, effective private practice and sufficient rehearsal should empower an actor to make strong changes of Affekt as quickly as needed. Indeed, many sources on Early Opera emphasise how powerful an effect such sudden strong contrasts have on the audience, see Cavalieri for example. It requires careful judgement to decide how much ‘beautiful and pensive pausing’ to allow in performance.
And in theatrical music (or indeed any passionate musical performance), that careful judgement has already been exercised by the composer, and the appropriate amount of pause has been notated. Samuel Pepys praised Henry Lawes for his precise notation in musical rhythm of ‘every pointing comma’. Monteverdi varies how each speech starts: with the continuo directly, before the continuo, shortly after, after a longer pause. Cavalieri notates the space for affektive changes during the silences at the end of each phrase [last notes notated long are conventionally sung short, seeDoni – giving time for reflection, gesture etc within the regular Tactus].
I would argue that since the composer has already notated the appropriate Movement for the emotion at hand (as described by Kirnberger, also in 1600 by Peri and by Pepys in the late 17th-century), the performer’s task is as Hill requires, to create the response in his body and voice before singing, yet to do so within the dramatic timing carefully notated by the composer. Otherwise, we risk spoiling the pauses and continuations carefully notated by the composer: think of a waiter enthusiastically adding salt to potatoes that were already salted to perfection by the chef! More on Pavans and Potatoes here.
But see also JW’s discussion on Mattheson, below.
Aapo Häkkinen on 18th-century tempo relationships
It was most interesting to note that AH reached very similar conclusions to Julia Dokter, albeit in somewhat different repertoire and with an utterly different, yet properly thorough, methodology. His approach was to examine large-scale works and construct – not a pyramid of tempi, based on the slowest tempo – but what he called an ‘hour-glass’ of tempi, centred on a fundamental Tempo Giusto in C-time in the area of 60 to 80 bpm.
From this starting point, the denominators of time-signatures indicate for example that 3/8 is faster than 3/4. And then Tempo words modify (to a lesser extent) the broad indication given by the time-signature. Both these principles are well accepted in modern-day musicology, and the speed-order of the Tempo words is not significantly in doubt. And during the course of say a Handel opera, there are so many movements, each carefully marked with time-signature with or without additional tempo word, that we end up with a large number of tempi in a well-defined order.
If we seek the central speed of Tempo Giusto, and avoid impossible extremes of fast or slow, yet create an appreciable distinction (at least a few bpm) between each and every tempo, there is, as AH put it “very little leeway in choosing tempi if one takes all the tempo words into account”.
And his findings indicated sets of tempi related by proportions, just as JD found by her, rather different, investigation.
For the application of this methodology – ordering the tempi of a large-scale work, and hence determining a fairly precise tempo for every movement – to Handel’s Orlando see here.
In their parallel, but independent, investigations, JD and AH implicitly relied upon two essential period principles, which have guided all serious study in this area, but which many performers are reluctant to accept. Firstly, the historical role of performers was not to choose their own tempo, but to find the correct tempo, which the composer’s notation was intended to convey. And secondly, two movements from the same large-scale work, or two pieces from the same repertoire, that have the same indications of tempo (mensuration marks or time signatures, level of activity i.e. characteristic note-values, time words, dance type etc) are intended to have the same tempo, as near as humanly possible.
One can make a lot of progress in any well-defined repertoire, by looking for as many pieces as possible with the same indications, and finding the range of tempi in which all of them work. As AH put it, if you have enough data, there is usually very little “leeway”. It is possible to find the correct tempo, if we take the trouble to look hard enough, rather than just inventing our own.
The Colloquium’s halfway point was marked with a musical performance from Domen and Aapo, before each presenter gave a second talk. In this segment there was also discussion between the various presenters, and some questions posted by online listeners were answered.
Jed Wentz again
JW warmed to his theme, emphasising the embodied experience of affektive performance. “The Actor feels the Affket in his body”.
JW looked at Mattheson’s discussion of Affekts. I note that Mattheson, as with Hill and other 18th-century sources, goes beyond and even contradicts the 17th-century categorisation into Four Humours. As JW reported, Mattheson describes Joy as a spreading out of our animal spirits (an outward, sanguine humour – ALK), whereas Sorrow is a contraction (ALK – inward, Melancholy); Love is based on a scattering of the spirits (outward, sanguine – ALK).
JW turned to Mattheson’s analysis of Hope, famously applied to an innocent little Courante. Hope is an elevation of feeling, whereas Desperation a complete collapse of the same [outward, warm sanguine humour, inward cold phlegmatic – ALK]. These Affekts can be very naturally represented with sounds, above all when the other factors, especially Zeitmasse (the amount of Time, a different word for a different shade of meaning of Tempo – ALK) play their part.
Mattheson shows how the Affekt might change to Desire in certain phrases of the Courante, which as JW pointed out, might suggest a pause for transition and/or a different tempo for the new Affekt. JW was also properly cautious with this suggestion, since it contradicts the instructions for dance-music found in many period sources. I would also mention that Mattheson’s switch to Desire implies a gross change to a Choleric Humour, that earlier sources would not regard as consistent with (Sanguine) Hope.
One possible approach that might square these circles is to follow JW’s advice and apply the historical technique for creating Affektive contrasts. Modern-day performers tend to make an intellectual decision to change the tempo, “because there is a change of Affekt”. But the historical practice was to feel the Affekt in the body, and allow changes of timbre, tempo etc to happen as a consequence. I would translate this as “you try to keep steady measure, and you genuinely believe you are doing so; but the changes of Affekt you experience create a change of tempo, as measured by a dispassionate observer (or indeed, a metronome, that most dispassionate observer of all!”
Sources cited by JW are very firm that conventional tactics (e.g. changing tempo) alone will have little emotional effect on the listeners. The essential first step is for the performer to change their own affektive state, and this is what moves the passions of the listeners. My comment is that if this goes well, both performer and audience will feel that the tempo was the constant, it was their affektive state that changed.
JW continued with various citations: one can form an emotional [Sinnliche] idea of all the emotions [Regungen] and form one’s inventions to it – this was directed to composers.
Dealing with Sorrow, much more than with the other emotions, anyone [ALK, this is addressed to composers, but could well be apposite for performers also] who would represent sorrow in sound must feel and experience it himself; otherwise all the so called loci topici [musical clichés] are useless. I would read this as a warning against the kind of Rhetorical Studies that focus on finding and naming those clichés, as if this alone will make the performance more communicative for listeners. Very few courses on Rhetoric spend time teaching students to imagine and feel within the body each of the Four Humours: though I consider this essential fundamental training in Historical Performance.
For example, coaching Continuo-players (on theorbos, lutes, harps etc) to respond to text, I show how obvious cues from the text can be realised with simple changes to instrumental timbre (corresponding to Hill’s “braced” or “slack” muscles!): nearer the bridge/soundboard (more gritty) or further up the string (sweeter); relaxed or tensed fingers etc. But the more significant technique is just to create mental visions of the text as it goes by, as if creating a video-film to the sung text as a script, and allow those mental visions to change the physical aspect of your fingers, so that the sound of the instrument changes as a result. This is hard to specify in technical detail, but has a stronger effect for listeners.
JW cited Diderot Memoires (1748) page 192 as opposing the use of clock-like tempo devices for anything more than a few bars to establish the tempo. After that the player should continue alone: “nothing more than the pleasure of the harmony suspends him”. I’m reminded of Frescobaldi’s advice: if you want to know how a piece of music feels, than just play it (see above).
Domen Marinčič on Tempo words
DM referred to Milan El Maestro (1536) as an early example of tempo words that modify the effect of the musical notation. This is in the context of a particular style of fantasia, that contrasts harmonies in long notes – consonancias – with fast passagework – redobles. As DM mentioned, vihuela sources contain a lot of information on tempo, and Milan gives a specific tempo – in words – for each of his fantasias. More on Milan here. More on the 16th-cent Spanish Art of Time here.
DM cited sources stating that purely mathematical proportions fail to observe decorum, text, or harmony.
Decorum is a technical term of Rhetoric, the requirement that every detail be consistent with the Rhetorical purpose – ALK.
In some English 17th-century sources, ‘soft’ is linked to ‘drag’. In 1619, Praetorius links ‘piano’ to slowly. A 1613 source asks for certain passages to be softer and faster. Türk (1789) asks for certain passages to be softer and slower.
Much more in DM’s published article.
Julia Dokter on Tempo words
JD had a slightly different take on the effect of Tempo words. “Tempo words either reiterate or modify information otherwise communicated” i.e. by changes of time-signature and/or note values.
This idea, that Tempo words might merely reiterate what the musical notation has already told us, is controversial. DM considers that a tempo word that ‘goes the same way’ as a change of notation does not simply reiterate, but rather intensifies the change. I am inclined to agree with DM, as I see this usage going back all the way to Milan 1536, where the wording is unambiguously about changing the Tactus to exaggerate the change in note-values.
It could be interesting to look for examples of a single work with proportional changes, some with modifying tempo-words, others without such words, to see whether proportional changes were always ‘tweaked’, or might sometimes be left plain and ‘mathematical’.
And perhaps this is the moment for me to add that the sung text itself can be full of “tempo-modifying words”. It would indeed lack decorum, to sing ‘Drop, drop slow tears’ in a ‘default tempo’ un-modified by slow, lacrimose affekt. My take on this is the “LY” principle: how do you sing any given text? Take the emotionally significant word and add “LY”. So we sing “Drop, drop slow tears” not necessarily softly, but certainly slowly and tearfully. We sing “Awake sweet love” not necessarily louder, but certainly wakefully, sweetly and lovingly. And so on.
Conventional dynamics, mp, mf, piano and forte are hopelessly gross and unrefined – no wonder they are little used in 17th-century music. But the sung text provides highly specific performance instructions. And – as reported by JW – treatises on the Art of Acting tell us how to put those instructions to work, by applying techniques of Vision and Enargeia (the emotional power of detailed description).
JD emphasised that in passages of Stylus Phantasticus, the Tactus Tempo is drastically slower, whilst note-values are much shorter.
I questioned JD’s assumption that Sytlus Phantasticus should be performed with ‘malleable tempo’. She mentioned Mattheson’s characterisation of the style as full of all kinds of surprises and changes, including temporal effects. But surely – these are notated already. Nobody is proposing to create additional harmonic surprises by treating the notated pitches as ‘malleable’…
And I think this comparison of notated pitch, and notated rhythm, is most useful. There is a 20th-century tendency to treate notated pitches seriously, whereas tempo and rhythm are the performer’s free choice. Rather like Autobahn driving: we respect the one-way signs, but choose our own speed, unless the Authenticity Police are present. 🙂
Seriously, we now understand that the written pitches can be changed historically (history of A) systematically (transposition according to chiavette) or creatively (divisions, according to style rules and historical models). I would suggest that tempo and rhythm are notated to a similar extent, and that any changes a performer introduces should be historical (the changing speed of Tempo Giusto etc over the centuries), and within one repertoire either systematic (as JD, AH and DM all showed) or – if creative – should follow style rules and historical models (as JD and DM are investigating). There is no ‘freedom’ for rhythm, any more than there is for pitch: just a lot of historical information to be understood and applied.
JD’s other argument for ‘malleability’ in Stylus Phantasticus was subjective, and none the worse for that, based on her rich experience of this repertoire. When you play this stuff, some adjustments seem necessary, to make sense of the wierd music. I’m sure she is right. But I suspect that those adjustments can be made within a steady Tactus – there is plenty of space to do this, since the note-values are so very small and the Tactus beat (crotchet, presumably) so very slow. Indeed, with such very slow Tactus, and so much surface activity, one’s perception/control of the Tactus diminishes.
DM noted a sequence of markings adagio – a battuta, which might imply ‘malleability’ in the adagio. I would be inclined to take this literally, that the singer would not beat time with the hand during the adagio, and would start again – for beating time was the standard practice – afterwards. I would link this to the prohibition on beating time in theatrical music (since it distracts from the stage action, and from believing that the onstage character is ‘real’), which is gradually extended to passionate solo songs in general. And it’s also practical – whilst you are singing small note-values and/or affektive ornaments etc, you don’t want to be beating a super-slow Tactus with your hand, it’s physically inconvenient and distracting for everyone.
Alexander Bonus mentioned the boom in sales of pocket-watches in the time of Roger North. There is a far bigger story here of the circa 1800 glorification of machines, musical machines, dolls etc that moved by mechanical means, and the imitation of natural and human movement by machines. The admiration of the semitone mechanism of the late 18th-century pedal harp, harpe organisée is part of this story. Such machines were prized because they successfully imitated the perfection of the Clockwork of the Heavens. This is an uncomfortable topic for the anti-metronome brigade, as is the desire of earlier philosophers to make astronomy more regular than it really is. The wish that planetary orbits be circular blocked scientific advance until Kepler established ellipses beyond doubt, and Newton provided a mathematical model for this.
Just as with the Vibrato debate, we cannot hide behind over-simplistic black-and-white positions. Historical Tempo was both regular and irregular – we have to understand how this worked in each repertoire, and we are unlikely to find a ‘one size fits all’ solution. But just as Jed Wentz made the case for an embodied approach to Affekt, I would suggest that we can only begin to understand Tempo if we embody it as they did back then, with the physical movement of the Tactus Hand. If we try to solve problems only by abstract thinking, we are certainly going to ‘overleap distinctions’…
AB cited Brower (1929) advocating a “metronome in one’s head”. I’m not so appalled by this: but what I want to have in my head is a vision/memory of a Tactus Hand, with visions of the changing, text-based Affekts projected onto it!
Descartes comments on the particular significance of ‘first part of the measure’ were cited. Good stuff, and let’s also keep in mind the influence of French dance, Lully’s down-bow on the down-beat etc on how time felt for his contemporaries. We cannot generalise 18th-century concepts of the hierarchy of the bar back into the early 17th-century, when most music was unbarred anyway.
Nevertheless, we do need to seek an (embodied) understanding of how time felt for musicians of the past. This Colloquium made a valuable contribution to advancing such understanding, and the organisers and contributers should be warmly thanked for their work.
This article was written for a course on HIP for Harps taught for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. It offers a very brief introduction based on Muffat (1698) and focussed on the typical movements of baroque suites.
Period discourse about music around the year 1700 was much concerned with contrasts in National Style, specifically Italian and French. Italian style (imitated also outside Italy, of course) favoured drama and virtuoso display in such genres as Opera, Toccata, Sonata & Concerto. French style (also imitated abroad) preferred descriptive character pieces to abstract sonatas and celebrated above all the noble art of Dance.
French theatrical music (especially Ballets), chamber music (in particular, Suites) and social activities were unified by the elegance and energy of dance, and depended for variety on the contrasting characters of distinctive dance-types. As modern-day performers of these repertoires, our understanding of the music is enormously increased if we know something of the dancing that inspired it.
I strongly recommend every student of Historically Informed Performance to go to class and learn some dances from the appropriate period of music. It isn’t necessary to become a great dancer: right from the beginning you will start to notice from the inside what it feels like to dance the music you love. No amount of teaching or demonstration can replace this personal, embodied experience.
At the very least, watch as much baroque dancing as you can, so that you have a clear visual inspiration to guide your playing. Play for dance rehearsals, in order to learn what their art requires of your delivery. The ideal in this period was that the music should appear to be produced by the action of the dancers’ feet striking the floor. Strong moments in the dance move upwards, preparatory energy is gathered by sinking in order to expand and rise again. And watching good baroque dancers, we can imagine that our sustained notes are similarly suspended in the air as if weightless, like a elegantly poised dancer, balanced and seeming to float almost off the ground.
French period sources suggest that many subtleties of le bon gout – Good Taste – can only be acquired by studying with a fine teacher, born into the culture of Louis XIV’s France. As foreigners from the 21st century, we can all be thankful for Georg Muffat’s (1698) systematic analysis of French style, describing le bon gout in terms of a coherent set of principles, just as grammar-books describe the use of language. Indeed, this concept of a collection of rules is precisely how Art itself was defined, in this period. Read more about period philosophy of art here.
Muffat’s First Observations on the French style of playing dance-tunes according to the method of Monsieur Lully are presented in four languages (Latin, German, Italian, French) as the introduction to his second Florilegium collection, available free online here. The four versions are not identical, and it is worth studying fine points of detail across all four texts. David Wilson’s English translation is here. My summary below follows the French text.
“Here you can discover the principal secrets in a few words”
“Two functions admirably well linked together:
“To charm the ear
“Simultaneously, to mark so well the movements of the dance, that one recognises immediately which type each tune represents, and one feels irresistibly inspired to dance.”
This is Muffat’s reworking of the classic Three Aims of Rhetoric: to delight, to explain and to move the passions. The musician’s purpose is literally to move listeners’ feet, and thereby to affect their emotions.
The word mouvement has a wide semantic field that includes the physical movements of dancing, contrasting formal sections (e.g. the movements of a suite), the speed of the music, the emotional Affekt of the music and the dancing, and the rhythmic structure of a particular dance-type. All these elements are interdependent.
“To play in tune”
“To keep constantly/constant the True Movement of each piece”
“To observe certain usages of repeats, notations, style and dancing”
Muffat’s insistence on le vrai Mouvement – True Movement – goes further than simply keeping the beat and maintaining constant tempo. This mouvement is also what a jazz musician would call the ‘groove’ of the dance, a characteristic rhythmic pattern, not necessarily strictly mathematical (often the first beat of the bar needs to be long), but established from the beginning and maintained until the end, and strongly linked to the particular physical movements and emotional Affekts associated with each dance-type.
For example, the Chaconne is usually a celebratory, festive, theatrical ‘party’ dance often marking the happy ending of a music-drama, or associated with the comedy clown, Harlequin. It is usually constructed in double-units of four-bar phrases featuring a descending bass-line, with hemiola at significant cadences, and a groove running across the bar-lines: 2 3 1, 2 3 1. The first beat is long, giving space either for a breath between mini-phrases, or for an expressive dissonance on the first beat resolved on the second.
The Minuet is a formal social dance, often marking the presentation of a couple to the assembled company. It is usually constructed with a great deal of symmetry: four-bar and eight-bar phrases; eight-bar or sixteen-bar repeated sections etc. The basic unit is two bars, which corresponds to one minuet-step. The groove mixes, often alternately, rhythmic patterns of crotchet-minim [short-long] and minim-crotchet [long short].
Both these dances are usually notated in 3/4, and could plausibly be played within a similar range of tempi according to circumstances. In this, they might appear very alike. But once you’ve played a few of each type, and (ideally) learnt to dance them too, you will be able to distinguish them from the very first few notes, just as Muffat writes. This is the significance of vrai mouvement, much more than just ‘constant speed’.
“Play in tune”
Muffat singles out the diatonic semitone mi-fa as the usual source of problems for inexperienced players. At an elementary level, violinists have to learn to position their fingers to create a narrower spacing for the semitone than for the tones. Failure here is a serious assault on the listener’s ears.
At a higher level of sophistication, Muffat’s hint to raise the mi may be linked to the ongoing transition from the pure thirds of Quarter-comma Meantone towards the slightly wider thirds of Sixth-comma Meantone, as the accepted practice for ‘being in tune’. Most 18th-century ‘circulating temperaments’ (for keyboard instruments) were derived from Sixth-comma Meantone, so it is highly plausible that slightly wider thirds became generally accepted.
Muffat also mentions that ornaments should not be false. Sometimes ornaments require chromatic alteration to fit within the local harmonies, and whichever notes one chooses to play, they must be in tune, of course. Playing an ornament in the wrong place also offends the ear. Squeaks and noises are also to be avoided.
In contrast to the lengthy debates amongst today’s Early Musicians on the subject of Temperament, Muffat writes that there is only one accepted way of being in tune. He deals with the whole subject in 14 lines.
Muffat devotes about 100 lines – more than two pages, plus two pages of musical examples to this crucial topic. Bowing for string instruments corresponds to tonguing syllables for wind-players and fingering for keyboards, harp, lutes and guitars. Strict rules of style create characteristic patterns of articulation: Good and Bad notes, legato or separation between one note and the next, contrasting qualities of onset-attack for individual notes.
Muffat states that unanimity of bowing is essential. This translates for harpists and others into a requirement for intense scrutiny of note-by-note articulation patterns.
In this French style, the first beat is always given a down-bow, even if the previous note was also down-bow. This creates silences of articulation before some down-beats. But Muffat marvels how, “in spite of so many down-bows and retakes” (lifting the bow up again, to facilitate two successive down-bows with the very short French Baroque bow), “one never hears anything disagreeable or coarse, but rather a wonderful combination of speed and the length of the bow-strokes; of admirable equality of measure and diversity of phrasings; of tender sweetness and vivacity of playing”
What I have translated here as ‘phrasings’ is yet another appearance of the word mouvemens, here suggesting the movement of the bow, as well as of the notes and of the dancers’ feet, and of the emotions that all these work together to produce.
This rule of “first-beat = down-bow” takes precedence. After this, Good and Bad notes get down- and up-bows respectively, as far as possible. In triple metre, three crotchets to the bar (for example), the last note could be taken down-bow (in slow tempo) or up-bow (in fast tempo). Two successive up-bows can be divided – craquer – to articulate the final note clearly. In very fast tempo, a group of notes can be played ‘upside-down’ if necessary. In a passage of dotted notes alternating with short notes, one should not slur short-long, but might slur long-short.
If you have any skill at all on the violin, it’s worth playing through Muffat’s examples to see how they feel and sound. If not, you can create a similar effect by singing Frank Sinatra style with dooby-doo. Use ‘doo’ for a Good note, down-bow. Use ‘bee’ for a Bad note, up-bow. Advancing in sophistication, you can imitate craquer with the syllables ‘beeper’, making more or less of a seperation between ‘beep’ and ‘per’ as you judge appropriate.
Muffat avoids down-bow on the second beat, so the combination crotchet and two quavers at the beginning of a bar forces you to craquer the two quavers. Thus the famous Minuet from the Anna Magdalena Bach Notenbuch would not go “Doo dooby dooby / doo dooby” but (more elegantly) “Doo beeper dooby / doo beeper”, when played in the French style.
Muffat gives a few examples of how Italian violinists played Minuets, often starting with an upbow on the first note. The Anna Magdalena Minuet comes out very nicely with alternate bows, starting up-bow, but sounding very different in that Italian style: “Bee dooby dooby / doo-bee-doo”
The mesure (a bar, yes, but also the time-span measured by the regular down-up movement of the Tactus hand-beat) can have different mouvements. A jazz-musician might express this by saying “a steady count can have all kinds of different grooves”.
Muffat gives “three requirements:
“Understand well the vrai mouvement – the groove – of each piece
“Once you’ve understood it, be able to keep it for as long as you play the same piece, always with the same regularity, without changing, slowing or rushing it.
“Give certain notes some swing, to make it sound more cool.”
“To understand better the groove of each piece… knowing how to dance is a great help. Most of the best violinists in France are very good dancers, so it’s not surprising that they are so well able to find and maintain the groove of the beat.”
“Having understood and started the beat, not everyone is able to keep it precisely constant for the entire duration of the piece.”
Muffat does not accept playing the whole piece slower or faster one time than another [his next paragraph suggests that this refers to playing a dance several times through consecutively, rather than to separate performances on different occasions] He also disapproves of alterations to the groove bar by bar or note by note.
“Reject the abuse of playing whatever kind of piece the first time very gently, then gradually faster and faster, and the last time very fast and rushing”
“Don’t wait at the cadence more or less than the note-values indicate”
“Don’t rush the ending”
“Don’t panic when you see short note-values”
“Don’t shorten the last note of the bar”
Playing for dancers is an excellent way to learn how to ‘phrase-off’ and ‘breathe’ at cadences, without disturbing the vrai mouvement. Muffat’s 5th rule is equivalent to ‘Don’t crowd the downbeat’.
Muffat defines precisely – “diminutions of the first order” – which note-values should be ‘swung’, with examples for various metres. A succession of short notes written as equal are performed long-short, approximately as if the first, third, fifth note etc were dotted, and the following notes shortened accordingly. We should keep in mind that a Baroque Dot is itself a variable quality, according to context we might over-dot or under-dot. The appropriate amount of swing varies with the dance-type: more vigorous for a fast dance with popular origins, more subtle for a slow, courtly dance.
I consider that Muffat’s insistence on conserving the vrai mouvement implies maintaining the same swing for the duration of a particular piece, as jazz-musicians tend to do nowadays. Many of my illustrious colleages disagree with me on this, but it must be said that most of them choose not to maintain vrai mouvement at all. Muffat makes it abundantly clear that vrai mouvement must be maintained: but there is room for legitimate debate as to whether the ‘swing’ of notes inégales comes under this rule or not.
The complete rhythmic identity of a given dance – its characteristic vrai mouvement – is thus constructed on several levels. The slow count of Tactus, the mesure, is steady (as in all Baroque music, with the exception of préludes non mesurées and plainchant). The principal division of the bar (into two or three) also carries the groove. So a Gavotte typically has two minim beats per bar, and the principal division structures the groove as short-short-long (crotchet crotchet minim). If you tap your feet and clap to this groove, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to sing We will, we will rock you! The quavers are swung – waving your banner all over the place. The emotional power comes from the dance-energy, which is stoked by maintaining the count, groove and swing steady from beginning to end. Temps di Gavotte Anglais (1977) here.
Because they experienced Lully’s airs as dance-music, violinists of Muffat’s time were more likely to rush towards the end. Modern-day early musicians regard Lully as art-music, and are more in danger of applying inappropriate 19th-century rallentando. Muffat is crystal-clear: keep the vrai mouvement from beginning to end. And just as I do here, Muffat repeats this point many times (otherwise, he rarely repeats any of his remarks).
“Finish tuning before the audience arrrive.”
“Dont make noise” nor practise your party pieces before the show starts
“French pitch is a tone, or for opera a minor third, lower than German pitch”
“Balance up the band”, “don’t have everyone play first violin!”
There are usually two viola parts: “viola 1 is better on a small viola than on a violin”. Viola 2 is played by a large viola. Muffat approves adding a double-bass, but the French were not yet using double-basses in dance-music in 1698.
“Observe the repeats” (notice the French habit of a short repeat – petite reprise – at the end of the last section)
“It is very useful for keeping the precision of the mesure to give each [downbeat] with a small movement of the foot, as the Lullists do.”
It is interesting to notice how difficult modern-day players find it, to tap their feet on the down-beat (and only on the down-beat). I recommend it to students, and frequently request it from my ensembles, just as Muffat does.
Instrumental ornaments for dance-music are mostly derived from vocal ornamentation. There are many more than one would imagine, and Muffat gives only a brief introduction. Nevertheless, this is the largest chapter of his essay, occupying three pages of text and another three pages of music examples.
Pincement – lower mordent, starts and ends on the written note, usually descending by a semitone, usually short, usually without additional repercussions.
Tremblement – short trill from above, starts from the upper auxiliary, can be simple, or turned, may end early or continue into the next written note
Both these are played on the beat.
Muffat describes many more ornaments and how to execute them. He then addresses the question of where each ornament-type can be applied. His ten detailed rules depend on whether the note is Good or Bad, ascending or descending, moving by step or leaping, with exceptions for a mi and special conditions for the first note of a piece, of a significant section, of an ascent or descent. At cadences certain notes require a tremblement, others refuse it.
He gives some examples of diminutions (improvised variations), and warns that two tremblements are generally not used in succession, though he lists specific exceptions to this rule.
Muffat asserts that the whole secret of French ornamentation is codified in his 10 rules. These ornaments bring the “sweetness, vigour and beauty” of the Lullian method.
“The melody suffers if ornaments are omitted, inappropriate, excessive or badly executed. Omission leaves the melody and harmony naked and undecorated; inappropriate playing is rough and barbaric; excessive ornamentation sounds confused and ridiculous; poor execution sounds heavy and constrained.”
“The slightest failure in ornamentation betrays the would-be Lullist as inexperienced in this style.”
Muffat’s approximately ten ornament types (it depends how you count the sub-types) and ten rules are an amazingly concise encapsulation of the bon gout of the subtle and elegant French Baroque style. And if you apply his rules to Lully’s (sparsely marked) orchestral scores, the result is strongly consistent with (very detailed) ornament-markings in D’Anglebert’s harpsichord transcriptions of those same scores.
Many Suites are not intended to be danced. It is acceptable to take a different speed (a complex piece of chamber music may need to be played slower than the corresponding movement would be danced), but whatever the chosen tempo might be, it is maintained throughout. In late 17th-century England, Mace details a practice of making pauses and then an a tempo conclusion to (fast) Sarabandes, but otherwise there is no period evidence to support the application of tempo rubato to Baroque dance-music.
The Allemande that begins many Baroque suites was not danced. I speculate that the title refers to a German way of playing with arpeggios (the modern term is style brisé) dance-music of the type that the French used for Entrées. Characteristic figures include the short upbeat “Ta-dah!” found as a head-motive in many dance-types, alternations of dotted and short notes, and a three-note upbeat figure.
The Courante was an old-fashioned, noble dance – ‘the dance of Kings’. It has the most complex rhythms of all, contrasting, combining and creating ambiguity between 3/2 and 6/4, with a “Ta-Dah” opening; groups of crotchet, dotted crotchet, quaver ambiguously accented on first or second note; and a decisive shift to 6/4 at significant cadences.
The Italian Corrente is different, with continuous running notes in the melody, and without the complex cross-rhythms of the French type.
The Sarabande was a fast dance that slowed down over the decades. Choreographies are characterised by held balances and sudden spins or leaps into a new pose. Often the music has a similar sharp contrast in note-values and amount of activity. The groove has a strong and/or sustained second beat of three.
Gigues vary in speed and groove – see Quantz and others for details. French Gigues often begin with imitation between treble and bass, and have a strong sense of the upbeat. The Italian Giga tends to flow more continuously, and without marking the upbeats.
The Loure is a slow-motion Gigue.
The Passpied is a high-speed Minuet.
Bourée and Rigaudon might have had their origins in popular, rural traditions, but had become a highly sophisticated, courtly protrayal of Pastoral. Looking at the musical notation, it is impossible for us to distinguish between the two types, but in the period they were sharply differentiated: we don’t know how. Two quavers on the upbeat, groove (often in the bass) with three crotchets and a rest, final bars with crotchet, two quavers, crotchet (or four quavers & crotchet) over that groove; all of this with strong duple (minim) count and vigorous swing on the quavers.
Period writers disagreed as to whether Passacaille and Chaconne could be distinguished, and if so how. You are in good company if you consider Chaconnes to be major mode, Passacailles minor, but perhaps the most famous Chaconne of all is from Bach’s D minor Partita.
The Musette is a courtly imitation of a pastoral bagpipe tune, usually in 6/8. The Tambourin imitates a tambourine.
The Sicilienne is a slow 6/8 with groups of dotted quaver, semiquaver, quaver. The Canarie is a fast 6/8 with the same rhythmic grouping.
If you are studying a dance-movement, I strongly recommend that before starting to “interpret” the particular piece at hand, you first become familiar with the general characteristics of that dance-type. So before going too deeply into Bach’s famous violin Chaconne, first play lots of (simpler) Chaconnes (and Passacailles), watch Chaconnes being danced, learn to dance one yourself, and generally make yourself at home with the identity of the Chaconne as a dance-type.
Work through Muffat’s 10 ornament rules and apply them to your particular piece.
You will now have a much clearer idea of how Bach’s composition resembles all Chaconnes, and where its particular individuality lies. Above all remember Muffat’s two essential functions: the listeners have to recognise the dance from the very first notes, and they have to feel inspired to dance themselves. Even in such complex and profound music as Bach’s, this spirit of the dance must live, energised by the constant flow of vrai mouvement.
It’s some 20 years since I recorded dance-music from Feuillet’s (1700) Chorégraphie. CD here. My research for that recording started me on the paths that I have followed since, of Rhythm & Rhetoric; Tactus, Text, Gesture and Ornamentation. And in the intervening years I’ve had the opportunity to play this repertoire with fine orchestras (both modern and early), and see it danced by experts. Nowadays, I would play some of the movements a little faster, and most of them with more dance energy, a little less chamber-music reticence, and with – I hope – a stronger and truer sense of mouvement.
Writing this article also gave me the opportunity to re-read Muffat, and glean a little more detail of his bowing rules, resulting in ‘Doo beeper dooby’ above and a rewrite of the discussion of the same Minuet in my 2020 article, here. It’s always worth re-reading a source that you think you know already. What you have discovered since the previous reading will have changed your viewpoint, and you may well notice something that you previously overlooked.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
It’s the most famous solo of all time for this instrument, representing the Last Trumpet on the Day of Judgement, and Mozart’s autograph score gives the short title by which we all know it: Tuba mirum, the wondrous trumpet.
Unfortunately, that’s quite wrong.
The well-known fact that Mozart wrote this sombre fanfare for trombone, not for trumpet, is not the only problem. Tuba mirum simply does not mean “wondrous trumpet”.
In Latin, tuba (nominative case) is a feminine noun meaning trumpet. But mirum is the masculine-accusative form of the adjective ‘wondrous’. Gramatically, the two words do not agree. It is not the trumpet that is wondrous.
When we compare another famous solo, representing the very same Biblical scene, we have to ask two questions. Why did Mozart choose a trombone, and why does his fanfare go downwards?
Handel’s well-known setting of The Trumpet shall sound in Messiah features an actual trumpet playing upward-directed fanfares, with a thrilling ascent to high A in the second phrase. That’s more like it, isn’t it?
The expressivity of 18th-century music is rooted in the ancient Greek concept of Enargeia, the emotional power of detailed description. Read more about Enargeia. Enargeia employs Rhetorical language to describe a scene so vividly, that the audience feel they can almost see it with their own eyes. The visions in their imagination send the energia – the energetic spirit of emotional communication – from the mind to the body, producing the physical and emotional responses, the physiological and psychological manifestations of Affekt.
Composers aligned their music as closely as possible to the detailed imagery of the text, creating aural Enargeia, like the sound effects in a stage or cinematic drama. These Effects were intended to induce emotional response, to instill Affekt amongst listeners. So rhetorical Enargeia creates embodied Energia, sound Effects create emotional Affekt.
The power of Enargeia is in the detail. So when we hear the words ‘The Trumpet shall sound’, the emotional communication is reinforced when we indeed hear the sound of a trumpet. And when the dead are ‘raised’, the vocal and instrumental sounds are also raised in pitch. The powerful connection created by this Word-Painting (also known as Madrigalism) is further reinforced by the gestures with which a singer (in the theatre, or in concert) or a preacher (in church) would accompany the text.
At ‘The Trumpet shall sound’ the right hand would be extended from its resting position at the waist, probably to shoulder height. Since ‘Dead’ were still in their graves, the gesture on this word would be downward, perhaps even with the left hand. And then both hands ‘shall be raised’ (the right hand leading), and (the text repeats) raised again, perhaps beyond the normal limit of shoulder-height, lifting eyes and hands towards heaven. The crucial word ‘incorruptible’ might be pointed out with the gesture for ‘pay attention’.
Every detail of text, each baroque gesture of the hand, is paralleled in Handel’s music. Enargeia will have its effect.
The biblical text itself is from Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians, powerfully declaring the Gospel which he preaches (verse 1). The sound of the trumpet (verse 52) is introduced by the recitative ‘Behold, I tell you a mystery’ (verse 51). ‘Behold’ – look! – is the defining signal that Enargeia is about to be employed. The audience is literally commanded to see the ‘mystery’ that they are told by the words and music.
Mozart’s tuba provides sound effects for a scene described in the Sequence Dies irae, part of the Requiem Mass. ‘The day of wrath, that day will dissolve the world in ashes’. The context is not the good news of Paul’s declaration of the Gospel, but a dark prophecy from Zephania 1, verse 15.
That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness; a day of the trumpet and alarm…
The third stanza of the Requiem Sequence describes how the trumpet’s sound is heard in the graves all around, to summon everyone to the Final Judgement. When we consider the image in detail, as if we could see it in front of our own eyes, it becomes evident [the Latin term for Enargeia is Evidentia] that this Last Trumpet sounds below, in the graves, even in Hell itself.
Whereas the Baroque Trumpet is associated with glorious majesty, heraldry and heaven, the Trombone (in English, Sackbut) was associated with solemnity and the underworld. Trombones accompany the lower voices in Monteverdi’s settings of liturgical psalms, and set the scene in Hell for Act III of Orfeo (1607). Trombones represent the Furies of Hell in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) and the supernatural power of the statue of the Commandatore in the cemetery scene of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (1787).
The blast of this solemn instrument is appropriately directed downwards in Mozart’s Requiem (1791, incomplete), to resound per sepulchra regionum – throughout the regions’ graves. So whilst we hear the word Tuba, we simultaneously hear that ‘dread Trumpet’ sustaining a low note – as if down amongst the graves.
Whilst the Gesture for these words might commence medium-high for tuba, it will inevitably descend (and probably leftwards) towards sepulchra regionum. So Mozart’s choice of Trombone and a downward-directed fanfare are perfectly in keeping with the principles of Enargeia.
Two bars later, listeners find themselves down in the graves with the singer on low Bb, whilst the dread sound is diffuse, scattered from way above, solemn even mournful with expressive Ab and even Gb. The picture is complete and detailed, and the emotional effect for the vision-imagining listener is very different from that of Handel’s trumpet.
Handel’s listeners are triumphant, given the promise of eternal life: “… and we shall be changed. We shall … be changed!”. Mozart’s congregation are called to be judged for their sins, whilst they reflect on death.
Every detail of the texts, each baroque gesture of the hand, two contrasting imagined visions are paralleled in Handel’s and Mozart’s musics. Enargeia will have its effects.
Enargeia is all about detail, and there still remains one niggling difficulty with Mozart’s setting. Tuba mirum does not mean ‘wondrous Trumpet’, or even ‘dread Trumpet’. The adjective mirum is gramatically attached to the noun sonum, the object of the verb (present participle) spargens. The trumpet, scattering its dread sound throughout the regions’ graves, calls everyone before the Throne [of Judgement].
It is not the trumpet itself, but its sound, that is wondrous. In terms of Enargeia, the effect of sound is to create Affekt. The instrument itself is a real-world 18th-century trombone, but the Enargeia of its sound creates the emotional effect of the Day of Judgement.
Why does this nit-picking of Latin grammar matter? In a word, punctuation. In music, that means phrasing.
The English word-order makes it clear that a comma needs to be understood, between ‘The trumpet’ and ‘scattering its dread sound’. Latin allows spargens sonum mirum to be re-ordered as mirum spargens sonum (for the sake of the rhymed verse), but that comma still needs to be understood after tuba.
But ever since 1791, the well-known short title has encouraged us to think of the text as Tuba mirum. Whoops! The sense of the text suggests rather the musical phrasing Tuba // mirum spargens so………num with the word for ‘sound’ extended for great Enargeatic effect. If that phrasing sounds strange to your ears, that’s entirely the point of this article.
A frequently-encountered 18th-century principle of phrasing [see Quantz for example] is that notes which move by step tend to be legato, jumps suggest staccato or a break in the phrase. At first glance, the sound of Mozart’s wondrous trumpet [in Latin, that would be Tubae mirae sonus] seems to be all jumps, there is no step-wise movement at all. But if we consider that the trombone is representing a trumpet, then (in the 18th century) adjacent notes in the harmonic series could count as ‘steps’, not jumps.
In this sense, Tuba is linked as two adjacent notes, and there is a marked jump upwards (wondrously: the gesture to open the hands palms upwards and raise the eyes to heaven in awe, admiratio) for mirum, from where the harmonics continue smoothly downwards.
(OK, the harmonic series more-or-less continues: depending on which octave you imagine has the fundamental Bb, the descending phrase either includes a low D which is not strictly in the series, or wondrously avoids middle C. But poetic imagery does allow some poetic license!)
Every detail of text, each historical gesture of the hand, is paralleled in Mozart’s music. Enargeia will have its effect.
Tactus and Tempo
In the 18th-century, tempo defines not just speed, but the emotional quality of the movement, conveyed not by modern conducting, but by Tactus-beating. The dramatic timing of the Enargeatic visions depends on musical rhythm. As many period writers expressed it: Tactus is the Soul of Music.
Although Mozart clearly wrote C-slash, Andante, many printed editions show the time-signature C. See this article by Douglas Yeo on the wondrously-named blog The Last Trombone for more.
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.
In a development I had not anticipated, this is now the third post inspired by an April Fools’ Day joke, for which I faked up the title page of an imaginary Baroque treatise on The Practice of Rhetoric in Music.It started me thinking…. Why can we not find such a book amongst historical sources? What would it say, if we could find it? Could I write it myself?
I don’t know if my unicorn-hunt will one day lead to an actual book, but after thinking about Inventio and Dispositio, my mind turned inevitably towards the third of the Canons of Rhetoric, Elocutio (style). And as a gesture of sprezzatura (elegant casualness, being ‘cool’), I departed from the previous style of titles. You might well have expected a Pavan, and I couldn’t resist a favourite line of Shakespeare:
Let the sky rain potatoes, let it thunder to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’
(The Merry Wives of Windsor V v). The ballad of Greensleeves is sung to the Passy-measure Pavin(Twelfth Night V i, but you knew that already). And I hope this citation is not too, hmm, let me say ‘salty’: circa 1600, potatoes were considered to be an aphrodisiac.
Potatoes in Gerard’s (1597) “Herbal”
This article is written for you to read, but I could have recorded it as a podcast or video-clip, and I could even have sung it to you. Music itself is a style of elocution. Once the choice is made, to Deliver our Material in musical style, historical principles apply. ‘Art’ in the 17th century is not ‘free self-expression’ but a collection of organising principles. And so the Art of Rhetoric is created according to the five Canons, and other organising principles.
The organising principles of Baroque Music are Rhetorical, because Music itself is a Rhetorical Art. Perhaps this is why we don’t have a book on Rhetoric in Music, because there wasn’t any music that was rhetoric-free! Any treatise on Music could justly be re-labelled as dealing with Rhetoric in Music. Any advice about musical Delivery will be advice about Rhetorical performance in music. The sources that we already know are labelled just “about Music” – but we can be utterly confident that everything they say will follow the principles of Rhetoric in Music.
Rhetoric in Music throughout all the Canons
And since Music is itself Rhetorical, we don’t have to “add Rhetoric”, like some kind of sauce, to our music at the last moment. Rhetoric in Music is not limited to the final canon of Delivery. Rather, a musical work has been created Rhetorically at every stage. The ingredients, the artistic material has been chosen and/or created rhetorically (inventio); and structured rhetorically (dispositio); the musical style (elocutio) has been chosen to suit that material and structure, perhaps prima prattica polyphony for a religious text; or according to the secunda prattica, solo voice and continuo, the stile rappresentativo, for music-drama; or a violin-band in dance-rhythms for a Ballo.
Different genres of music, even different dance-types, reflect different choices of elocutio, and those choices may influence decisions within the next two canons of Rhetoric.
Rhetoric & the memoria of Music
Memoria, the process of memorisation or at least deep study, is Rhetorical in music, as it is in any performing art. We memorise material, structure and style: and in Early Music, these are source-based historical elements. We should start from the best available source of the musical material (inventio) , and study the outlines and cross-connections of its structures (dispositio).
And when, as modern-day performers, we memorise some historical elocutio, our understanding of that style will be based on our knowledge of period performance practice. [So we might later have to re-learn the material and update the style, as our knowledge increases with further study]. But we are not instructed to memorise an individual interpretation – those personal choices are made later, in the final canon of Delivery.
Of course, that is a counsel of perfection. For most of us, our study of a new piece is not chronologically ordered and divided into mutually exclusive compartments, according to the sequence of the Canons of Rhetoric. Rather our ideas emerge holistically, as we progress from sight-reading to the profound understanding that comes only after many performances. And sometimes we need to move rapidly from sight-reading to first performance with little time for deep reflection. But it would be an interesting exercise, perhaps for a student working towards an examined performance, to structure one’s study strictly according to the Five Canons.
Nevertheless, it is good discipline within Historically Informed Performance to avoid making choices earlier than needed. That means working from period sources and applying historical principles as far as possible, and only making personal decisions when sources and principles can tell you no more. By this point, the choice should be between options, all of which are historically appropriate: if not, period information and historical principles will aid you in eliminating inappropriate options, before continuing!
Committing an interpretation to memory too early has other risks, too. Spontaneity disappears if a “spontaneous’ treatment is hard-wired into the memorisation. It might be an interesting and appropriate idea to pause before a certain, particularly intense word, perhaps an exclamation, in order’to increase the dramatic effect [approved by ll Corago]. If you memorise the ‘straight’ version, and apply the pause in performance, both performer and audience can feel the effect of an unexpected delay. But if one memorises the delay, it becomes ‘part of the piece’, and there is no longer any spontaneity in it. For the audience too, the effect will be lessened, if not destroyed, because the end result is that memorised material is being delivered ‘straight’, precisely as memorised.
Probably the worst fault in memorisation is to have re-composed the piece, perhaps without careful consideration (perhaps without even noticing!), and to memorise this version, in the self-deluding hope that it would be more ‘spontaneous’, more ‘free’ or ‘better’ than the original.
When some singer tells me that they have memorised Monteverdi’s Lettera Amorosa or the Testo’s role in Combattimento, my heart sinks. Because nearly always, they have not memorised Monteverdi’s score, but rather their own interpretation of it. And their skewed version is by now so hard-wired, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to fix even the most glaring errors during rehearsal. Saddest of all, this ‘personal interpretation’ is almost certain to resemble closely all the other ‘individual’ versions: long notes will be shortened, short notes will be lengthened, rests will be disregarded.
The remedy is to consider Elocutio – style, before Memorising. Afterwards is too late. Perhaps there really is something in the classic ordering of the Canons of Rhetoric!
Delivery & Decorum
Delivery, both the basic sound (Pronuntatio) and all the accompanying subtleties of Actio (contrasts of tone-colour, gesture, facial expression, body posture and movement, communication of changes in the Four Humours etc), is the pinnacle of the Art of Rhetoric. Here, we may well be inspired to recognise connections with other Arts, arts that are also rhetorical, especially when the principles of those arts confirm one another.
This painstaking attention to conformity of detail is the Rhetorical doctrine of Decorum. In everyday speech, ‘decorum’ is the formal etiquette of social behaviour, doing the appropriate thing in each situation, respecting the solemnity of certain occasions, sharing hilarity at suitable moments; how to dress, how to behave, how to speak. In Rhetoric, Decorum expresses the concept that every small detail should be suited to, fitting with every other detail and with the overall design.
Decorum is the craftsman’s discipline that the woodworking on the inside, never seen by anyone else, is as fine as the outside work. Decorum is the scientist’s discipline that the smallest discrepancy challenges a hypothesis and can even shift a paradigm. Decorum is the artist’s discipline that every tiny detail must be absolutely right. Decorum is the Historically Informed Performer’s discipline to review every aspect of performance in the light of newly emerging Performance Practice insights.
Decorum is the discipline of Rhetoric.
Certainly it is appropriate to consider parallels between Music and other Rhetorical arts. In particular, we can hope to find links between period sources on Rhetorical speaking – the origin and central meaning of Rhetoric itself – and musical delivery. And we would expect to find devices from spoken Rhetoric already at work in the music we are studying, manners of Rhetorical speech already prescribed in treatises on musical delivery. It would be surprising, even alarming, if this were not the case!
We might recognise the falling tear melody in the first four notes of Dowland’s Lacrime, and see it as an imitation of the gesture of crying (the finger drawing a tear from the eye and down the cheek) that we see in paintings, in literature, and in works on gesture.
This recognition supports our emotional connection to the music, and would encourage us to show in performance this gesture, or another period gesture of Sorrow, in which the hands are squeezed together as if to force tears from the eyes…
… and even the appropriate body posture (inward focussed, head inclined, eyes downcast etc).
This Rhetoric of tears is clearly seen in the music of Lacrime, and we should recognise and support it in aspects of Delivery that go beyond music.
But we do not need to redouble the musical gesture itself. Dowland’s music will not be ‘more expressive’ if we add ‘more descending’, and fall a seventh, rather than a fourth. Rather, this attempt would destroy another part of the musical rhetoric, its harmony, wrecking the composer’s dispositio (harmonic structure) and elocutio (harmonic language).
That example might seem so obvious as to be unncessary. But let me present a parallel case.
We might recognise the slow Pavan tempo of Lacrime, and the long first note as a ‘tear’, slowly welling up, and gathering speed as it rolls down the cheek in the next two downward directed and faster moving notes. We might see not only the written pitches, but also Dowland’s notated rhythm, as an imitation of the gesture of crying, and link it appopriately to slow hand and body movements, and the slow walk of someone in despair. This would encourage us to enact our gestures and bodily actions, even our eye-movements suitably slowly.
Just as with the written pitches, this Rhetoric of Rhythm is already in the music itself, and we do not need to redouble it musically. Dowland’s music will not be ‘more expressive’ if we add ‘more slowness’ to the general tempo, or use romantic rubato to make this particular tear-gesture last more than a dotted minim. Rather, that attempt would destroy another part of the musical rhetoric, its rhythm, wrecking the composers dispositio (rhythmic structure, i.e. Tactus) and elocutio (rhythmic style, i.e. Pavan movement).
Some modern-day experts on Rhetoric correctly identify Rhetorical practices of speech and movement, especially elements of dramatic timing, which can also be heard in music. This is very illuminating and inspiring. But before we gleefully apply these practices to our Delivery, we should rather be concerned, even alarmed: why has the composer not included these Rhetorical elements in his own elocutio?
On closer examination, we might find that they are already there, and should not be added again.
Did you already salt the potatoes, dear?
Or we might find that (for one reason or another) a particular element is not appropriate for this application, but was recommended in the context of another genre, national style, or period.
I’ve salted the potatoes, shall I add salt to the rhubarb too?
If something should be added by performers rather than notated by composers, we can expect to find specific advice in sources on musical performance practice.
Research into Potatoes
When I googled “Add salt to potatoes?”, I got an immediate, clear answer:
Salting the water in which you cook starches (pasta, rice, potato) is an effective way of enhancing the flavour of the finished product – boiling starches absorb salt well.
Immediately below this, Google informed me that
People also ask… Why add salt to potatoe water? How much salt do I add to water for potatoes? Should you salt potatoes before frying? What does soaking potatoes in salt water do?”
As iconographical evidence, there were three images captioned Salt Potatoes.
And the links below went “Salt your potato-water“, “Why is it important to put salt…” and so on to the bottom of the page.
From this, I quickly deduce that potatoes are not grown ‘ready salted’, and that salt should indeed be added by the cook, later in the process. I did track down one outlier recommendation for the waiter to salt them just before serving, but this was for roast spuds anyway. The vast majority of sources recommended adding salt to the cold water before boiling.
As Historically Informed Performers, we should take at least this much care, not to over-season our music with salty Rhetoric. We should check if this particular Rhetorical flavouring has already been composed-in. If not, we should check if our favourite flavouring is truly appropriate. And we should check that it is we (performers), who are expected to add it.
We learn good taste in music from the ‘cookery books’ of historical treatises. And those treatises are already applying Rhetorical principles. So we should be highly sceptical, if we feel the need to add some piece of Rhetoric which is neither notated nor mentioned in musical treatises.
And if that piece of Rhetorical Delivery would damage some other element of Rhetorical structure, of dispositio, we should not add it. We would not paint the exterior of a renaissance cathedral with some brightly-coloured paint that had the side-effect of dissolving stonework, especially not if our decorative inspiration comes from pre-raphelite wallpaper!
Yes, this is a strongly-worded confutatio! But we have plenty of treatises on music. If your beloved ‘rhetorical’ practice is historical and appropriate to music, it will be manifest either in composition or performance practice. Certainly it will not be contradicted by period performance practice instructions.
Of course, there are grey areas, and difficult questions where sources (even within one period and culture) genuinely differ. But my example of salt potatoes was deliberately basic, and my Google search can be imitated in scholarly investigation. We should first look at obvious, well-known sources, and see if we can find an overwhelming consensus.
One of the problems of today’s Early Music is that specialist experts discuss abstruse corners of the field so passionately, examining exceptional cases and outlier opinions (in both primary and secondary sources), with the result that historically informed (but non-specialist) musicians and mainstream performers can easily lose sight of standard period practice and the overwhelming historical consensus.
In Rhetorical terms, Tactus is part of the Dispositio of music. In choosing mensural music as his Elocutio, a composer has nailed his Rhetorical colours to the mast of Tactus. It is certainly true that Rhetorical speech varies the syllabic pace according to the Affekt, and takes time for structual clarity (punctuation) and dramatic effect. Baroque composers notate this, using Tactus as the measure of Time.
Seicento Recitative notates the dramatic timing of 17th-century theatrical delivery. Peri and Il Corago tell us quite clearly that musica recitativa is modelled on the declamatory delivery of a fine actor in the spoken theatre. In England, a song-book owned by Samuel Pepys praises Henry Lawes’ precision in notating in music the timing effects of Rhetorical punctuation.
No pointing Comma, Colon, halfe so well
Renders the Breath of Sense; they cannot tell
The just Proportion how each word should go,
To rise and fall, run swiftly or march slow;
Thou shew’st ’tis Musick only must do this …
[From Edmund Waller’s dedicatory poem to Lawes of 1635, reprinted in Henry Lawes, Ayres and Dialogues, for One, Two, and Three Voyces (London: Printed by T. H. for
John Playford, 1653)]
For precision notation of rhetorical timing in Shakespeare’s To be or not to be, see ‘Tis Master’s Voice: A Seventeenth-Century Shakespeare Recording? in Shakespeare & Emotions (2015).
In the search for Rhetorical eloquence in our music-making, the appropriate Elocutio will have Decorum. It will be consistent with the material (inventio) and its musical organisation (dispositio). It will also be consistent with what we read of Pronutatio and Actio in musical sources. Where other arts inspire us with examples of Good Delivery, we should expect to find that their Rhetoric is already in our Music.
We should consider whether Rhetorical elements have already been built-in by the composer, before we assume that we should bolt them on as performers. We should test our proposed translation of ‘foreign’ Rhetorical elements (from other arts) against what we already know in music’s ‘native tongue’.
The Practice of Rhetoric in Music is already written, in period treatises on the Practice of Music.
It is wonderful that we can use other Rhetorical arts to fill gaps in our musical knowledge, and to inspire passion in our musical practice. But the Rhetorical discipline of Decorum requires that we remain wary against introducing any contradiction.
For this reason, I do not acccept the argument that ‘Rhetoric’ is a valid reason for abandoning all that we know about Tactus and Rhythm in baroque music. On the contrary, if Harmony is Music’s shapely Body, and Text is her Mind, then Tactus is the Soul of Musical Rhetoric.
About those potatoes – the Folger Shakespeare Library re-created a c1700 recipe for Potato Pie. It does not use salt!
This article is the mid-term review from a course about Early Music on Modern Harp that I’m teaching for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London. And as a general introduction, it could be relevant for any student of 18th-century music. Our case-studies are movements by J.S. Bach, Handel, C.P.E. Bach, Pescetti and Mozart.
The previous article in this series looked at online source materials and the significance of tempoas more than just ‘musical speed’. In baroque music, tempo is rather the emotional quality of music, produced by the act of beating Tactus for a particular note-value.
“Versuch über die wahre Art”
Historically Informed Performance is not a matter of personal interpretation. There is a true way, that we attempt to find. That way changes according to period and culture/language.
Before 1800, Art is not the ‘freedom of the artistic genius’, but rather a set of organising principles. Within those principles, there is space for individuals to make personal choices.
We know what is correct, not by imitating CDs or listening to modern-day Early Music gurus, but by finding a broad consensus amongst relevant historical sources.
Probably, an original source of the music will be accessible and legible. But compared to a modern edition, some information will be “missing”. We supply that information from historical treatises.
Yes, a 19th, 20th or 21st century edition will give more information, but how reliable is that information? Fortunately, we can check for ourselves: usually easily, free and online.
For example: circa 1750, we need an indication of speed. We reframe the question in terms of historical Tactus: “Which note-value goes with the beat in Allegro, and in Adagio?”. And – approximately – how fast is that beat?” The answers are in Quantz, whose ‘pulse’ is around 80 beats per minute. See Tactus, Tempo & Affekt.
“Time is the Soul of Music.”
We count with a Tactus pulse, around 60 (1630s) to 80 (1750s). But during this same period, the feeling was that music had become slower, with some up-tempo markings like 6/8 being played slower, and with more feeling (Empfindsamkeit), according to Mattheson. Quantz gives new information about which note-value goes with the pulse, according to the tempo-words.
The physical feeliing of beating Tactus is linked to the emotional feeling of the quality of the music: if you haven’t studied your music whilst beating Tactus, you have missed a vital insight into its emotional quality.
Bowing (for violins, viols etc), tonguing (flutes, oboes etc) and fingering (keyboards, harp, lute etc) mimick Good/Bad syllables, or (later) the joining/separating of syllables into sense groups, say 2-5 notes at a time (perhaps even a few more, if there is continuous fast stepwise movement, i.e. a scale). We could call this the ‘mini-phrase’.
Harmony is the result of weaving together the strands of individual polyphonic ‘voices’. In how many ‘voices’ is your piece written? How strictly is this maintained?
From a post-modern perspective we can see that whereas mainstream performance looks for consistency and evenness, baroque music is all about contrast. That contrast can be on the short-term level, note-by-note. It’s all held together by stable rhythm at the Tactus level. Inside the regular Tactus, there can be (carefully organised) irregularity in shorter note-values.
We can use Quantz’s flute-tonguing syllables, e.g. didll-di, to sing the phrases of the piece we are studying. This helps us use our subconscious awareness of language rules to decide questions of fingering.
We have to integrate each element of contrast with the steady beat of the Tactus.
Find the Tactus/note-value connection for the movement at hand.
Take a few notes and consider Good/Bad (also known as Long/Short)
Play Good/Bad with Tactus
In later music, there is the idea of moto perpetuo – remember The Flight of the Bumble Bee? And frequently, mainstream performance looks for the longest possible phrase without breathing in-between.
For Early Music, it’s better to think the opposite way. What is the shortest possible sense-group? This is the ‘mini-phrase’, or in HIP-speak Figure. Try singing, but NOT with da da da. Use Frank Sinatra dooby-doo, or Quantz diddle-dee, so that you apply Good/Bad syllables: not every note the same!.
You may find that notes written in equal note-values become quite dissimilar, in order to stay with the Tactus. In order to maintain the Tactus, the last note needs to be short and light.
Once a pattern is established in the first mini-phrase, preserve that pattern. If something happens to change the pattern, change and try to preserve the new pattern.
Mini-phrases in JS Bach “Prelude”
Miniphrases in Handel “Concerto”
Miniphrases are notated in CPE Bach “Sonata”, and implied (red slur) by instructions for performing ornaments in his “Versuch”.
Notes that move by step tend to be more legato, perhaps joined within the mini-phrase. Notes that jump tend to be more staccato, perhaps indicating the separation between one mini-phrase and the next.
The break or breath between phrases is often ‘after the 1’.
Late 18th-centuring bowing, tonguing and (harp or keyboard) fingering often joins together the notes of a mini-phrase.
Miniphrases, staccato & legato, repeating pattern A & contrast B, in Pescetti “Sonata VI”
Breaks & Breaths
The mini-phrase might be very short, so that you don’t necessarily breathe at every break. Imagine yourself speaking, powerfully and slowly, to a large audience in a grand hall with a big acoustic:
“You would… break up…. the words… into short…. sense-groups. [BREATH] But you might not…. actually breathe…. at every break.”
For the piece of music at hand, test your ideas about where to breathe, by singing with Good/Bad syllables, Tactus, and real breaths (actually taking in oxygen). You will probably find it’s too much to breathe at every mini-phrase. Experiment… Keep the Tactus! Perhaps 2 or 3 mini-phrases go to a breath.
Remember the goal is contrast, not homogeneity. So we can allow a pattern to develop where there is a consistent irregularity of note-lengths within each mini-phrase, repeated from one mini-phrase to the next for as long as the pattern persists, with breaths every 2 or 3 mini-phrases… and all unified by steady Tactus.
Breath /, every 2 miniphrases in JSB
Breath / every 4 miniphrases A, then every 2 A, then change of pattern B; legato & staccato in GFH
Miniphrases, breaths /, and patterning A, in CPE
Breaths /, in Pescetti
Just as we learned in Harmony 1.01, there are three elements: Preparation, Dissonance, Resolution. We need to perform these three elements: understand them, feel them, communicate them.
Preparation: we bring our attention, and we alert the audience, to a certain note, to one particular polyphonic voice.
Dissonance: ouch! Another voice collides with the prepared note, creating a dissonance.
What is the emotional flavour of this particular clash? How intense is it? Sometimes ‘it hurts so good’…
Resolution: relax…. The pain is eased.
Chained dissonances: Sometimes the resolution produces another dissonance. How are the two emotional flavours different? Which is more intense?
Baroque Tempo is a huge subject, bringing together three of the key concepts of Baroque music: the interplay between the notation and performance of rhythm (Tactus as it relates to note-values, and as it is shown by the hand); the speed of that beat and of the music it regulates; the emotional quality of the beat itself (as a physical movement) and of the music that it produces. Even within a narrowly defined period and culture – German music from the time of Johann Sebastian Bach, for example – a thorough survey would be way beyond the scope of a doctoral thesis. And as soon as we shift even to the following generation – CPE Bach and Quantz – there are significant changes to practices and aesthetics. So a 1-hour class and this short summary can only hope to scratch the surface.
The challenge is not that we lack sufficient historical information, nor that such questions are unanswerable. Rather, we have so much information that it is daunting to start working through it all. And – even amongst some Early Music performers – there is some reluctance to accept certain hard truths: the period dialectic is of the true way, and not of personal interpretations and free choices. Within a given period and culture, there are some minor differences of opinion between different writers, but the consensus on fundamentals is clear. There is a Wahre Art (true way) and we have to make our best attempt (Versuch) to find it!
In the 18th century, the (physical & emotional) feeling of Tempo is not just a matter of speed (mathematical quantity) but of character (emotional quality). So we need to avoid a simplistic focus on “what is the right speed” and examine original notation, historical practices of beating time, and the subtle relationship between Tempo and Affekt.
Early 18th-century notation is intended to indicate which note-value corresponds to the Tactus beat. That beat varies only a little in absolute speed (around one beat per second), but the emotional quality of the beat (as physical movement of the hand) and of the music that is produced, varies greatly. Notation gives detailed information: JS Bach’s D minor Prelude (from Book 1 of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier) is notated in C, with triplet semiquavers: had it been notated with the same note-values, but with a time-signature of 24/16, a different beat-tempo would be implied. If he had added a tempo word, such as Allegro, this would modify the beat-tempo-Affekt from the default setting indicated by the notation. This is the concept of Tempo Ordinario (also known as Tempo Giusto): a default beat and beat-speed indicated by the notation, which can be modified by words.
We must therefore be careful to check what the original note-values, time signature and tempo words are, so that we are not misled by well-intentioned editorial interventions.
This practice is explained, with more detail than most of us can manage, in Mattheson’s Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre (1719) & Der vollkommene Kapellmeister (1739) and Walther’s Lexicon(1741). But nobody is expected to memorise the complete writings of these authors: these are reference-books. It doesn’t take long to look up 24/16 and read how it is different from C.
The underlying principle is that Compound time-signatures suggest a slower tempo with a “hop” on the last of three short notes; whereas Duple time-signatures suggest a faster tempo, with less (or no) “hop”.
The most important lesson of all is that we don’t need to invent answers: clear answers are available, if we know where to look for them.
In 1752, Quantz gives details of an emerging practice, in which such tempo-words as allegro or adagio indicate which note-value has the “pulse”, adjusting (but not abandoning) the previous system based on time-signatures. The Adagio un poco of CPE Bach’s Sonata for harp might be counted in steady quavers, with a “slightly relaxed” feel to the quaver-beat, rather than in three very drawn-out crotchets.
Quantz defines his pulse as approximately 80 beats per minute (whereas a century previously, Mersenne’s default was 60 beats per minute).
Again, we don’t have to make guesses, or memorise an entire book. We can look up specific instructions for the particular notations at hand.
Online Resources – Scores
A mighty modern resource for answering questions about baroque music lies in the easily-accessible power of free online music-libraries, in particular IMSLP. There is no longer any excuse for using some crappy mid-20th-century edition, when original prints and holographs (manuscript in the composer’s own hand) are available free. Faster, cheaper, better! IMSLP is expanding so fast, that its own index struggles to keep pace: the most effective way to search is using Google. As an example, a Google search on “Bach 48 IMSLP” led me instantly to the Book 1 holograph, with the Prelude in question.
Harpists (and guitarists) are very attached to their old-fashioned editions, but the time has come to realise that most of what many editors have added is unhelpful or misleading, if not simply wrong. Cluttered scores (with zillions of additional pencil-markings prompted by teachers) lead to a micro-controlling mindset, which is very different from the two-point focus of baroque practice: Tactus and Text. [In instrumental music, we play in Tactus and as if we were singing some Text, with syllables, sense-groups, and meaning]
Some years ago, I stopped accepting the Grandjany arrangement as the basis for a lesson on Handel’s Harp Concerto. It’s a wonderful arrangement, and should still be played, with all the accoutrements of 1940s style. But as a lens through which to study Handel, it has so much of its own character that it utterly distorts the long view. The original Walsh print of the Handel Concerto is free online at TheHarpConsort.com: Study Early Harps, easy to read, clear and uncluttered. Mozart’s (1778) holograph of the Flute & Harp Concerto is free online at IMSLP, easy to read, clear and uncluttered. The holograph of CPE Bach’s Sonata is also clear to read, and the library holding it has recently made it available online.
For any other piece, you should check IMSLP for the best available free edition, before you turn up for a lesson with some crappy edition.
Crappy, clunky, expensive or free?
How do you know if the edition you are using is crappy? “Arranged for harp” is already a warning sign, and the death-sentence is confirmed by anachronistic editorial additions [metronome marks; implausible tempo markings; long phrase-lines; such romantic favourites as legato, sostenuto, cantabile etc; other anachronisms e.g. mention of ‘pianoforte’ in a work by JSB] unless acknowleged [by being placed inside brackets].
Good old 19th-century complete editions are often available on IMSLP. These are clunky, but better than crappy mid-20th century arrangements. Recent Ur-text editions reflect the latest scholarship, but only if you take the trouble to read the prefaces, and they are so expensive that they mostly languish in institutional libraries. Original prints and manuscripts are not hard to read: in this period the only significant hurdle might be an unfamiliar clef. And on IMSLP, they are free and faster to access than that crappy edition we had to make do with 50 years ago.
Of course, there are many questions to be answered, when one starts from an original source. But those questions are not answered (or worse still, they are answered wrong) if you start from a crappy edition. So…. it’s time to give up that crappy habit! From now on, I’m going to encourage all my students to look up their piece on IMSLP, before they come to a lesson or class.
I recommend EarlyMusicSources.com as a huge resource of free online historical treatises and expert modern commentary (including entertaining videos on hot issues in Historically Informed Perforamnce). The famous mid-18th-century treatises are all freely available online.
Links to Mattheson and Walther (first half of the 18th-century) are above. Click from this article, or just Google.
Yeah, the books are long and in foreign languages. So use the index of chapters and Google Translate. And maybe there is an English translation online, or a text-only version [i.e. searchable with Ctrl-F] from Project Gutenberg or wherever. Several key sources are translated on this blog, and every article here includes links to free-online original sources.
And of course, ask for help from your teacher, but after you have tried for yourself, and reached some road-block…
“Historically Informed” does not mean imitating CDs or gleaning guesses from geeky gurus. It means using Historical Information, and that information is freely available. Just Google a historical treatise or an original manuscript!