This page will discuss
various technical factors and issues.
Click here to obtain access to my booklet entitled Approaching the Interpretation and Performance Technique of French Eighteenth Century Music for the Hurdy-Gurdy. This is a booklet I created a couple of years ago with some thoughts of making it available for sale. For the time being however it is free for anyone who will do me the honour of bothering to read it.
These are the principal ways in which Baroque style differs from, for example, standard French folk style. I quote 'standard French folk style' because we may assume that it is the style of playing most familiar to beginners. What follows are only very basic guidelines.
- It is a view generally shared that we use the Trompette buzz in a more limited and disciplined way. (Some people, taking the Baton Memoire as an authority, ague that the trompette should be entirely omitted from baroque music except perhaps in obvious country dances such as Tambourins and Villageoise. I do not agree.)
- The trompette must be quieter and more neat than in French folk music. The methods, by the way, clearly prohibit long buzzes. The effect, as they describe it, is supposed to emulate that of a violin bow, for example, when it is brought down on a string at the beginning of a note: and it is this idea that Baton later ridicules.
- The instrument must have a clearly dominant melody bias not overpowered by the drones, this regardless of its size. It is wrong, I think, to assume that the instrument had a low overall volume level. Dupuits, in the notes to his Op 3 Sonatas for harpsichord and vielle (R.Green p.100), is clearly concerned that the vielle may be too loud for this combination: louder than a harpsichord. Clearly the new lute and guitar form instruments of the day were loud enough to concern him or he wouldn't have needed to worry. He goes on to say, either that 'only the chanterelles [should be] thicker than the trompette' i.e. he affirms melody string dominance.
- Ornaments should generally begin precisely at the moment of the principal (ornamented) note and NOT before it.
- Ornaments will be studied assiduously for authenticity mitigated by context.
- In French Baroque style the decision between 'inequality' or 'equality' must be considered. 'Inequality' ( 'inégale') basically means something like 'swing' except that it is NOT all pervasive, as swing is, but rather applies to groups of the shortest commonly appearing notes particularly when appearing in conjunct motion i.e. like a scale or fragment thereof. Also, it varies in degree, perhaps according to rule, more likely according to player discretion.
- In slower and medium tempo pieces we can articulate the phrasing by means of wheel turning 'breaks'.
- We take care not to buzz notes covered by a slur.
- We play at least with two levels of dynamics, Strong and Soft, these meaning on our instrument 'with' and' without the Trompette'.(Those who argue against the use of the trompette in this music would replace this with fast and slow turning speeds: although, of course, this is available to trompette users as well.)
- Taking French Eighteenth Century performance practice as our starting point we can explore the potential for other dynamic levels.
- We prepare our pieces by carefully notating difficult fingering and turning.
- Consider this quotation from the mid-eighteenth century: "If Vivaldi weren't dead, how much would he not be flattered to hear the Vielle perform his Spring! The continuous and harmonious chord that accompanies it, its Trompette and its Bourdon, are more than sufficient in order to persuade in its favour those advocates of true harmony."
"Si Vivaldi n'étoit pas mort, combien ne seroit-il flatté d'entendre la Vielle exécuter son printems! L'accord perpétuel et harmonieux qui l'accompagne, sa Trompette et son Bourdon sont plus que suffisans, pour déterminer en sa faveur les Partisans de la véritable harmonie."
Ancelet, Observations sur la musique, les musiciens et les instruments, Amsterdam 1757).
Let the reader understand that this primary source quotation IS evidence that the drones were NOT disconnected by players of the day in pieces with complex harmonic schemes such as the Chedeville Vivaldi arrangements and Il Pastor Fido. I am not however necessarily suggesting that I think it is a good idea. I am only saying that the evidence exists.
- Our goal is for our instrument and its music to be worthy of the respect of mainstream Classical or Baroque musicians by means of presenting to them and the general public performances that are accurate, well reasoned and musically interesting.
More detailed information will follow in due course.
As translations of these 2 important documents are available from this website and I have spent hundreds of hours preparing the texts it may reasonably be assumed that I am entirely guided by them: this is only partly true. I believe that it is extremely important that we understand and acknowledge the contents of these primary sources without recourse to sophisticated (in the literal sense of that word) obfuscation. In my opinion, based on the foundation of my many hours working with them, the methods are as specific and explicit as one could reasonably expect them to be. However, I do not believe that we as twenty-first century musicians need necessarily be bound to follow their 'rules'. Problem areas, in my opinion, are:
- Coup de Poignet (trompette). Both texts advocate a lot more widespread use of the trompette than it is fashionable to consider appropriate for this music these days. I acknowledge the concept of Historically Informed Performance (H.I.P. Andrew Porter) but I believe that we might reasonably question whether to strictly follow primary source 'rules' when we also possess a primary source 'contradiction' i.e. the Baton Memoire (see translation on this site). The FACT that this document exists in my opinion gives us licence to use the coup de poignet as we see fit. I believe that this view is also strongly supported by other writers such as Paul Fustier in France.
- Inégale or égale. Both texts, but particularly the Bouin, advocate a more widespread use of inégale than I have yet heard on any recording by any instrument. Given the difficulties of executing inégale coup de poignet, i.e. coup de quatre irregulier, it is unsurprising that when I did a survey of ALL the commercially available recordings that I possess I found only one real example of its practice. Most recorded vielle players seemed to use inégale at slower speeds without trompette and égale at higher speeds with trompette. In my opinion this is absolutely fine and correct and produces a persuasive musical result BUT please let us NOT pretend that it is supported by the primary sources: it is not.
- Ornaments. The primary sources are quite specific about ornaments, particularly Dupuit who, like other 'individualist composers' e.g. Saint-Colombe, had his own very special set of 'signature' ornaments. This is all fine, but I question his instructions when we find him explicitly indicating 4 hemidemisemiquavers (64th notes) for a standard trill and then writing them on semiquavers in his own music marked with tempos of Allegro, Vif etc. Given that a standard Allegro is crotchet (quarter note) = 120 this would produce an effect akin to a bee's wing. Given the technical limitations of the vielle, particularly that tangents don't necessarily make string contact exactly together for both melody strings, I believe that it is completely impossible. Worse, 'forced' ornaments tends to create an ungraceful effect at variance with the spirit of the genre. In a piece for keyboard that I came across the other day the editor (Richard Jones) had suggested a single upper acciaccatura as a replacement for these impossibly fast trills: given that it is either that or an upper mordent (frowned upon?) it seems about the best solution to me also.
- Detaché (detaching notes one from the other by small gaps). It is a fact that legato was not really popular during this era. Good taste, as they saw it, involved an audible gap between notes and it was probably for this reason that the coup de poignet received exaggerated significance. However, the idea that HAS been mooted, that one should try to substitute the effect of the coup de poignet by means of halts in the turning of the wheel is ridiculous,technically impracticable and produces REALLY BAD TONE: in my opinion of course.
I believe that you will read in Baton's Memoire that he considered the tangent impact upon the string as generally sufficient: although he does get a bit theoretical on the subject of the possibility of 12 stroke (!!!) on his new type of instrument and how 'it is true that it is necessary to bring a bit more skill'. Then again, we do not know how long the handle was and I believe it is that which may have been the determining factor for this issue.
- Grandmaster syndrome. I feel suspicious that entering into the written comments of several of the musical writers of the era is an element of almost mystical and unachievable unreality. J-C Veilhan (Leduc 1977 'The Rules of Musical Interpretation in the Baroque Era') for example quotes Engramelle as saying " there are not even strokes of a trill that are not separated by very short tiny gaps between the rise and fall of the fingers upon the keys": surely this is impractical, stupid, unhelpful, obstructive, elitist nonsense. Charles Burney, whose level-headed opinions I feel inclined to trust, though others may not, commented on a disparity between how well the French at the time wrote about music and how they PERFORMED it. The impossible can easily be described in words.
- Amateurs RULE! It is my impression that all of, or at least most of, these instructions were being written for amateurs: ladies and gentlemen of one level or another, including royalty. We therefore have to reconcile the almost impossible technical standards that are here and there suggested with remarks such as those of Dupuit when he begs players to at least look through a piece once BEFORE PERFORMING IT. This perhaps outrageous idea is perhaps supported by the importance they placed on the 'guidon'. These little feathery marks in the originals tell performers what the first note will be upon the next system and are consequently highly valuable for READING AT SIGHT and AT SPEED. In fact their value resides solely in their use to first time sight readers. So actually NOT hours in a practice room, not in those days anyway. Bouin's addition of fingering to pieces is, by him, lauded as an exceptional aid for beginners: it is a BIG DEAL, a major selling point. We can imagine then that most of the time players performed without any notated fingering.
Conclusion: Read the primary sources carefully but don't get hung up on rules: rather, enjoy the music and be aware from listening to other musician's recordings and performances of what may be practically possible and what better to avoid.
A couple of notes on technique from a Tobie Miller workshop.
That all normal trills should begin with the second finger on the upper note and that one should plan one's approach to any trill in order to facilitate that fingering preference.
And in response to my question regarding the idea from Fromenteau and Casteuble that some trills approached by a jump from a lower note should be played as mordents: that this is incorrect and has no support from primary sources.
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