9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


The Baroque Upbeat: Outline of its Typology and Evolution

Ido Abravaya

Although the upbeat, a most commonplace rhythmic device, was in use much earlier than the Baroque, it took long to become officially sanctioned, on equal footing as mainbeat phrase-openings. Zarlino still regarded it as an exception, but one generation later we already find varieties of upbeats, each with its own tradition, repertory and evolution. Upbeat types differ not merely in notational detail, but reflect different modes of phrase balance and symmetry, or different musical thinking. Thus they constitute important stylistic indicators of Baroque national styles.

Three main upbeat types are common in the Baroque. One is known since the 15th century or earlier. Another type, whose origins lead back to 16th-century polyphonic chanson (as a text-engendered contraction), eventually became a hallmark of Bach and his German predecessors. A third form, traced to early 17th century, evolved in French lute repertory as a French idiosyncrasy, reflects French predilection for end-accents, in musical phrasing as well as in spoken language.

Thus a seemingly everyday rhythmic occurrence became a distinctive feature of certain syles and repertories. Only in late Baroque do we find (e.g., in the works of Bach and Handel) some attempts in the spirit of Les Goûts Réunis, combining German and French upbeat traditions.

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Last updated on 27 March 2000 by Yo Tomita