Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


David Chung (Hong Kong Baptist University, China)

Couperin or Couprain: observations on attitudes towards irregularities and inconsistencies in classic French keyboard music

That music is closely related to language in matters of singing and rhetoric is a common theme in musical discourses on classic French keyboard music, such as those by Nivers (1665), Le Gallois (1680), Saint Lambert (1702, 1707), and Couperin (1717). But precisely how theories about the French language possibly shaped musical thinking of the clavecinistes is yet largely unexplored. By investigating and comparing contemporary attitudes towards the evolution of both the French linguistic and musical languages, this study identifies three areas in classic French keyboard music where there was a parallel in the linguistic philosophies as exemplified in the writings from Vaugelas (1647) through Buffier (1709) to Voltaire (1746): (1) attitudes towards the earlier stages of the French musical language; (2) attitudes towards the relationship between notation and interpretation, and between "grammar" and "usage"; (3) attitudes towards the apparent irregularities and inconsistencies of the musical language. However, while linguists tend to view the written language as the ultimate realization of the French language, composers as well as musical writers tend to emphasize the role of usage (or bon goût). As usage by definition includes both what is regular and what is irregular, the search for new light on performance practices must take into account of their universal principles, their anomalies, as well as traits of individual composers.

Last updated on 31 May 2004