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Notes Inégales


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The subject of notes inégales has been raised in another thread. I do not want to derail that discussion, which is about a specific piece of music, but, as I have been pondering the problem for years without feeling that I have ever really got to the bottom of it, I would like to ask about the practice more generally.

 

I have a working knowledge of the subject, but I have never studied it at a scholarly level and the little I have read suggests that it is all a lot more complicated than most organists think, especially with regard to when it was and wasn't applied (conjunct v. disjunct notes, this or that style of piece, changing practices over time, etc.) However, the most important thing of all is to grasp properly the basic concept of the practice, so I would be really grateful for any historical information to correct, confirm or expand my understanding. Which is this:

 

Notes inégales were the way French musicians in baroque times ensured graceful playing – le bon goût. I am not aware of any evidence that this style of playing was copied outside France, though I am aware that this is a contentious area of debate (Charles II and his embracing of French fashions gives pause for thought). Recently a very erudite friend of mine tried to justify the use of notes inégales in Bach by citing a keyboard piece in which triplets appear simultaneously with dotted notes, his argument being that the two rhythms were played identically. I don't doubt they were, but to my mind this has nothing to do with notes inégales; rather it is a matter of what I would call assimilation. I suppose Bach's dichotomous notation might just possibly have something to do with trying to convey a particular style of performance, but in any event it is definitely a notational thing and thus the exact opposite of notes inégales which was all about how to perform a given style of notation (equal notes) elegantly.

I sometimes get the impression that this matter of elegance is exactly where notes inégales are most misunderstood. So often performers (at least amateur ones) seem to use it as an excuse to jazz up a piece into a bouncy, jolly jig; they regard it as a carte blanche to change the fundamental nature of the music. However, I am not aware of any evidence that the players of the day thought of themselves as changing anything at all. The notes were notated in equal values and equal notes they remained.* Notes inégales were merely a way of communicating these equal notes to the listener gracefully and elegantly. I suspect this remained true, irrespective of whether the degree of inequality employed was marked or barely perceptible.

 

Am I thinking along the right lines in equating le bon goût with grace and elegance, or am I way off beam?

 

* Except of course in the case of those already unequal dotted figures in compound time, which could be over-dotted, but I assume the same taste applied.

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The subject of notes inégales has been raised in another thread. I do not want to derail that discussion, which is about a specific piece of music, but, as I have been pondering the problem for years without feeling that I have ever really got to the bottom of it, I would like to ask about the practice more generally.

 

I have a working knowledge of the subject, but I have never studied it at a scholarly level and the little I have read suggests that it is all a lot more complicated than most organists think, especially with regard to when it was and wasn't applied (conjunct v. disjunct notes, this or that style of piece, changing practices over time, etc.) However, the most important thing of all is to grasp properly the basic concept of the practice, so I would be really grateful for any historical information to correct, confirm or expand my understanding. Which is this:

 

Notes inégales were the way French musicians in baroque times ensured graceful playing – le bon goût. I am not aware of any evidence that this style of playing was copied outside France, though I am aware that this is a contentious area of debate (Charles II and his embracing of French fashions gives pause for thought). Recently a very erudite friend of mine tried to justify the use of notes inégales in Bach by citing a keyboard piece in which triplets appear simultaneously with dotted notes, his argument being that the two rhythms were played identically. I don't doubt they were, but to my mind this has nothing to do with notes inégales; rather it is a matter of what I would call assimilation. I suppose Bach's dichotomous notation might just possibly have something to do with trying to convey a particular style of performance, but in any event it is definitely a notational thing and thus the exact opposite of notes inégales which was all about how to perform a given style of notation (equal notes) elegantly.

I sometimes get the impression that this matter of elegance is exactly where notes inégales are most misunderstood. So often performers (at least amateur ones) seem to use it as an excuse to jazz up a piece into a bouncy, jolly jig; they regard it as a carte blanche to change the fundamental nature of the music. However, I am not aware of any evidence that the players of the day thought of themselves as changing anything at all. The notes were notated in equal values and equal notes they remained.* Notes inégales were merely a way of communicating these equal notes to the listener gracefully and elegantly. I suspect this remained true, irrespective of whether the degree of inequality employed was marked or barely perceptible.

 

Am I thinking along the right lines in equating le bon goût with grace and elegance, or am I way off beam?

 

* Except of course in the case of those already unequal dotted figures in compound time, which could be over-dotted, but I assume the same taste applied.

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.

 

Am I thinking along the right lines in equating le bon goût with grace and elegance, or am I way off beam?[/font]

 

.....[hopefully, with my reply this time !!]........I think your basic premise about le bon gout is absolutely correct Vox, but I would also add "appropriateness" ie knowing when to use inegales and the degree of inequailty that should be used to reinforce the mood/Affekt of the piece.

 

Best summary of the historical info on this and how to apply I've found is in Laukvik Historical Performance Practice on the organ [Carus] - this book is a mine of information and an excellent primer for already technically-competent players

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The subject of notes inégales

 

Am I thinking along the right lines in equating le bon goût with grace and elegance, or am I way off beam?

 

* Except of course in the case of those already unequal dotted figures in compound time, which could be over-dotted, but I assume the same taste applied.

 

Having just had my Air France cancelled this morning I am feeling most inégale - so have a moment to respond! This subject has always seemed to me to be a Pomme de terre chaude and I have never had definitive explanations or enlightenment. Furthermore great exponents of this music also seem to have differing views of it should one have the time to analyse their method.

 

I just like to boil it all down to common sense and what you as a player feel happy with on each particular instrument. That is where I start in all this. I think we must always remember that the French as a nation have enjoyed being totally prescriptive. We have only to read the 'menus' of registration that a goodly number of composers thought necessary to write down for others to do justice to their music. But we forget that (as I personally think they sometimes did - even César Franck) that each organ is different and each is placed in a room offering entirely different acoustics. Their specific registrational schemes (wonderful for historical purposes nonetheless) are quite idiosyncratic and perhaps demonstrated the music in the best light on their own instrument. The schemes however, give us a very fine indication of the timbre they were thinking of and so I suggest we must use our ears on each instrument to find the optimum musical sound to do it justice. I write this, because in a way it sets a theoretical precedence when coming to other matters. Notes inégales belong to my mind to the world of ornamentation. And as we should know, this is an area mostly of improvisation - a spontaneous adorning of the music to give a note a highlight or a greater definition to take a couple of instances. The organ is a 'straight' sound, unlike the piano, harpsichord or voice. To give indication of pulse we have to lengthen some notes and shorten others. This in itself is producing inégale. The organ demands such nuance - for within a musical passage nuance is the watchword. French music is more akin to the Vocal whilst more Germanic is Instrumental. One has only to see how frequently the word Récit is attached to movements. Certainly in much 17th & 18th Cent. French organ music I think a good method to help embrace this music is to sing certain sections of it. The voice is the core influence in French organ music. And it is surprising how the voice lends itself so naturally to adding simple ornamentation and notes inégales. Why? It is for me because the voice is free and more expressive - a little like a folk singer who is quite uncluttered by formal musical education. They simply and straightforwardedly hit the mark by heartfelt performance. The organ is not the most expressive of instruments (not in a phrase sense) and we must make it so. Therefore by adding careful pathos or at other times elegance for instance, we get into the spirit of this extraordinary music in a better way I think. We have to stop the organ sounding like an organ. For me, the notes are dead on the page until we inject artistic haemoglobin to bring them back to life and off the page through our fingers and feet.

 

If any would like a totally general rule of thumb on this matter, I would suggest the following.

1. An inequality of note length comes only when a group of notes move step-wise and not via intervals.

2. If one wants to be totally pedantic about the exactness of notes inégales (which it is to my mind a fruitless exercise), where the movement is in quavers (1/4 notes) when a Crotchet (1/2 note) is the beat (or the like, depending on the initial beat as some say that only half beats in the pulse are played thus) it is as if the music is played in a Compound Time with the first note being 2/3's and the second, the final 1/3. But if this is just done in a theoretical way the music sounds gruesomely stilted and totally heartless. A Theory has stifled spontaneous Art. And at the other end of all this comes the thinking that by dotting ( a ratio this time of 3/4 to a 1/4 between quavers), this makes the music trite and quite devoid of expressiveness to me. This is Gallant and few kilometres away from what is suggested by notes inégales in my opinion. I liken this sort of playing (by players thinking they are 'going French' by dotting everything willy-nilly), to those a few decades ago who by adding Positives to Romantic organs or changing a Mixture here and there, had a hope that they had miraculously transformed their organ into a German Bach organ.

 

To actually transform one's playing in this matter, I earnestly suggest going somewhere to a wonderful expressive instrument in France and playing a Récit of any description (Nazard, Chromorne, Tierce etc.) and only on suspended action. This action is the most expressive of them all and obviously was a fruitful marriage between builder and player/composer. Do not be enticed away from the beauteous registers to play a Grands jeux or even a Plein jeu movement however great the temptation to batter the fabric of the building! Get to the heart of the organ first. Let the organ be the teacher if the ears be open and the mind receptive.

Inégale playing is to me the musical equivalent of an upper lip quiver from Dame Judy Dench - a gesture that speaks volumes yet is quite unwritten on the page.

 

Seasonal froliques.

Nigel

 

PS - all this above is purely personal and has come about through decades of playing and teaching and also what excites me in this music. It also comes from playing often these instruments. Others of course, will be entirely different in their thoughts. Good. That is the refreshing part of Music.

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One of the clearest explanations, although I don't consider myself qualified to vouch for its authenticity, scholarship or compatability with current thinking, can be found it the preface to two volumes of French classical pieces edited by Martin Neary and published by OUP some decades ago. You can occasionally pick up second hand copies.

 

As ever, Nigel hits the nail on the head by saying you must make your ear the ultimate judge.

 

Personally, the percevied number of rules and the problems of playing this music effectively on English organs has rather made me shy away from it and I don't find the Fenner Douglas book terribly helpful from a performance point of view. Viewing some of the videos that Nigel has put on Youtube in recent months I suspect that I have missed out greatly by adopting this attitude. Perhaps I need to travel a bit more so I can hear and play these instruments for myself.

 

Malcolm

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I too have been researching this matter recently, being I suppose like many other forum members of the generation brought up 'pre inegale' so to speak.

 

My approach has been to purchase a recent recording and scores of Francois Couperin's 2 Masses. There are 3 CD sets available at present:

Jean-Baptiste Robin from Poitiers, Pierre Bardon from Saint-Maximin, and Bernard Coudurier from Albi. I went for the Robin CDs as I've heard the other 2 organs in the buildings but not heard Poitiers yet (also by far the least expensive - on the Naxos label) and the Dover edition of the combined scores, the whole lot cost less than £20 - remarkable value!

 

I have greatly enjoyed studying Robin's fine performances and agree with the points Nigel has made. The organ sounds fantastic but a little 'swimmy', the various 'en taille' and 'recit' movements are absolutely gorgeous. Of particular interest also has been the ornamentation of the inner parts of the 'plein chant' movements.

 

DT

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Thank you, all, for your comments.

 

I do not know the Neary volume, but in the French volumes of the Faber Early Organ Series, James Dalton supplied a brief explanation which encapsulates the general principles and agrees with Nigel's points above.

 

Fuller's article in The New Grove is very good, but raises as many questions as answers. According to Fuller, the technique arose in the sixteenth century as "a way of gracing or enlivening passage-work or diminutions in vocal and instrumental music". As these figurations entered the essential musical vocabulary, so too did inequality. In the 1660s, Nivers and Bacilly recommended a gentle inequality, the latter adding that the inequality was left unwritten for fear of tempting the singer to an excessively jerky delivery as in "the old method of singing". Gradually a relationship between inequality and metre evolved whereby, in simple time, inequality was applied to whatever note value was one quarter of the beat. However, this took time and "the modern performer cannot depend on a code that was not yet fully formulated for decisions about inequality in the music of Lully, Charpentier, Louis and the young François Couperin, the young Marais, Mouton, Grigny and others at the pinnacle of French classicism".

 

With regard to the use of notes inégales outside France, Fuller reminds me (I did know it, but had forgotten) that it is not a question of whether the technique was used – it certainly was – but whether it was ever left unnotated. It seems to have been generally recognised (though not by absolutely everyone!) that non-French composers wrote their music as they intended it to sound, but there are many imponderables. Georg Muffat explained the style to the Germans and Quantz promoted it as a normal way of playing much music, but this is far from evidence that the style was general. That Quantz, along with Benda and Graun, was singled out by Marpurg for playing "in a very French manner" could well actually imply that it was unusual in Germany. Apart from Quantz, hard evidence that inequality was applied where it was not written seems to be lacking.

 

In trawling the web, I came across this which seems a reasonably digestible summary of the subject. The table at the end is useful (but with the caveat expressed above).

 

A contrary view from one of the main supporters of non-French inequality is here. He sums up his position thus: "For some time I have been suspicious of the orthodox view that notes inégales was a purely French affair. The huge French documentation does seem to point firmly in this direction, yet I believe that we may be wrong to treat the convention as in any way essentially French." In other words, "there is no evidence, but I like the effect, so I believe it was done." Absence of evidence doesn't prove non-existence so one should remain open-minded, but for a working hypothesis the lack of confirmation does point in only one direction.

 

I did like this quote from Fuller, since it is true of a lot more than just notes inégales:

Modern discussions of inequality in Baroque music often conclude with an appeal to 'good taste' as the final arbiter in good performance. The idea comes directly from innumerable similar appeals by 18th-century French writers, and is dangerously misleading. It is indeed taste that decides, but the taste of the period when the music was written. Alien taste is laboriously acquired, and never completely so except by imitation; one need only imagine with what degree of authenticity some future musician might succeed in reproducing the 'taste' of a Charlie Parker from written documents alone.

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From time to time, the Discussion Board delights and informs us, and I really must congratulate Nigel Allcoat on his "moment of response."

 

If this was but a "Petit moment musicale," I think I would like to see a whole symphony!

 

Fluttering eyelids and compliments aside, I suspect that all organists have a problem when first faced with French baroque music. Apart from different approaches to ornamentation, organ music tends to be very accurately written from the notational point-of-view, and whilst things can be bent and shaped into arching phrases, we tend to be limited by what we have learned and by what we see before us.

 

Italian music of the period concentrated on melodic beauty (the development of Bel Canto) and displays of tremendous virtuosity. German music of the period tends towards the linear, contrapuntal interplay of separate lines. I suppose the philosophies of each could broadly be compared with the difference between extreme individualism, beauty and classical harmony and that which is dialectically democratic and harmonically consensual. (Therein exist certain political parallels!) Quite how Biber and "Scordatura" and the dissonances of Gesualdo fit into the overall scheme of things, I am not quite sure! (One must suppose that they are not that different from Rossini's "Sins of my old age," when he set out to break all the musical rules, to wonderful effect).

 

I digress!

 

Nigel mentioned, (very appropriately), the link between 'inegalite' and vocal-music, but a still more important link is the musical tradition of the French lutanists. from which "notes inégales" derives. Nigel's vocal observation is important; not as the source of "notes inégales," but because the Lute and the human voice were inextricably linked within the context of the "Air de Cour" which played such a pivotal part in the secular art of noble households. Consequently, there was a fusion of Lute playing technique and the highly stylised vocal mannerisms of the period. France was very much the country of the Lutenist, and many organists were either string players or expert performers on the lute. It is also highly relevant that the witty and pithy traditions of the Jongleurs were adapted to the stage; particularly in such as Rameau's "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme."

where skit upon skit was turned around to pass scorn on the "new rich," whom the noble families regarded as lacking in all breeding, good manners and elegance. (Ah! How the seeds of revolution are sown!)

 

Now I am not a Lutenist, (some would say I shouldn't be an organist), but as a plucked instrument bumpkin, even I can understand that melody and harmony, when played on an eleven-stringed instrument, do not readily fall under the fingertips at precisely the same moment in time. It means that the use of arpeggios as broken chords, have to fill in the gaps between the melodic-line and the pulse of the bass-line as best they can. That means that anything which is remotely ambitious, when played on a Lute, needs to incorporate a certain amount of syncopation, if not quite a lot of it. Combine the essential "notes inégales" of the Lutanist, with the pithy wit, word-painting and speech rhythms of the Jongleur, and you end up with something extremely subtle, nuanced and stylish. Furthermore, that finds a certain resonance in the French language, with its irregular rhythms and accelerating couplets, which make the language so colourful, descriptive and expressive.

 

Although I rarely play music from the French Baroque, I had to go through the motions in my student days, for the simple fact that I foolishly chose the harpsichord as second-study instrument. I must have driven poor Alan Cuckston to despair. I just could not get my organist's head around all this "notes inégales" nonsense, and the more I read, the worse it got.

 

My then American academic partner came to the rescue, which began with the words, "Jeez! Stop listening to the notes, and listen to the French language instead."

 

I listened to the French language awhile and tried to revive my feeble abilities as the world's worst linguist. That didn't bring a great deal of enlightenment, but I noticed that I was bouncing along more when I walked.

 

"OK. Let's listen to some French Dance rhythms shall we?" My partner growled through a glass of Chablis.

 

"OK" I replied; my vocabulary on an increasingly slippery slope.

 

Soon after, I noticed that I was beginning to spring around like a Jack-Rabbit.

 

Next, a book was thrust into my hands, with the command, "Read that!"

 

It was Willi Apel's "Keyboard interpretation."

 

"I know Willi Apel....nice guy and a brilliant musicologist; considering that he started out as a mathematician. I knew him at Harvard!" Came the academic seal of approval.

 

"Of course," I muttered disparagingly; sloping off to read in near despair.

 

Willi Apel was erudite and eloquent in equal measure, but as an aural sort of person, it all seemed a bit too academic for my sensibilities; despair and internal conflict raging on.

 

"Holy smoke! Just go and listen to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra," I was advised.

 

This was very pleasurable, but I didn't FEEL better informed; at least until I returned to look at French Baroque music.

 

Eureka! I immediately understood what "notes inégales" was all about. (Not bad advice from an academic of little practical musical-ability, but who knew his music history better than most music lecturers).

 

The sheer subtlety of both those two jazz singers was enough to teach me the lesson, as I listened carefully to the way they nuanced each musical phrase by tiny hesitations or changes to the rhythm, at the same time remaining faithful to the underlying lilt and pulse of the music.Thus, the changes of rhythm are a type of ornamentation, just as Nigel Allcoat points out so eloquently. This was the modern version of "notes inégales," without a shadow of doubt, but of course, the music of the French Baroque masters takes subteltlty to even greater heights; perhaps bordering on the foppish and the overly-mannered, but not quite.

 

Rousseau had something to say about it, in his "Traite de viole," which I found among my notes:-

 

"Agréments are to the voice and to instruments what ornaments are to a building. Ornaments are not necessary to the structure of the building, as they serve only to make it more agreeable to the eye. Likewise, an air for the voice or a piece for instruments can be fundamentally correct, but it will not satisfy the ear if it is not ornamented with appropriate agréments. Still, too many ornaments will produce a type of confusion which will make the building less agreeable; similarly, the confusion of ornaments in airs and pieces for instruments, will only diminish their beauty."

 

The Lute in France had developed apace, and at the height of the Lute fashion, the instrument had as many as 19 strings; thus making "notes inégales" an essential, (rather than an optional), performing technique. Of course, running concurrent to the lute tradition was that of the theorobo, and the music of the "basse continue," but we haven't space enough to go into that, other than to suggest that the bass-line was important in French music. In lute music, the bass, accompaniment figuration and harmony have to co-exist with the melodic element all at the same time, and this style was transferred to keyboard almost in its entirety.

 

Of course, it makes sense to realise that the exact intentions of the composer could never be replicated merely by studying the relevant "table des agréments," no more than it would be possible to write down what Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra did when they sang. Nevertheless, they remain a guide, even though the oft quoted one is that which appears in "Pieces de Clavecin" (1689) by d'Angelbert , as faithfully copied out by J S Bach. Nevertheless, other composers such as Francois Couperin (1688-1733), had their own ideas; including the accelerating trill or tremblement. The Violist, Marin Marais went to the trouble of writing out many ornaments in full, rather than relying on short-hand symbols.

 

The lack of consistency should not, I hope, discourage us or make us paranoid as to absolute accuracy of fine detail. I cannot imagine that this worried the contemporary solo performers of the day, whether they be playing harpsichord, lute or organ. The need for a "table des agréments" was probably most felt by ensemble performers, who wanted to know what each member of the band was likely to do next!

 

As Nigel Allcoat rightly points out, (with which I agree), over-reliance on scholarship can easily be the death of musical creativity, but as performers, we need to have a good general idea of what to do. There has to be a balance struck somewhere between the creative wildness of spontaneity, and the considered judgement, (the creative wilderness), of what was the accepted norm at the time of the music being written.

 

In the spirit of the Last Judgement, we flourish or fall by our creative choices, but so long as we remember that the musical pulse in French Baroque music is that of the courtly dance, and that ornamentation is an added, profoundly subtle, compulsory extra, we should be able to achieve something musical even where others find cause for criticism.

 

I find that this is a very good reason to avoid French Baroque music, (actually almost ALL French music), which I know, diminishes me as a musician. Still, there's hope for me yet, as I recently bought a quite potent Renault Laguna Turbo to play with!

 

It's like a motoring version of Cavaille-Coll. You press a pedal, and then scream, "Yikes!" when all hell breaks loose.

 

So listen to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, if you want to learn something about "notes inégales," and in the meantime, I'll concentrate on NOT losing my "license."

 

MM

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Further to previous ramble, here is an interesting programme from Minnesota Public Radio "Pipedreams" which investigates the Couperin dynasty, with some interesting sound archive material.

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/wmconten...6_pipe_show.asx

 

The spoken dialogue is especially interesting.

 

MM

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I too have been researching this matter recently, being I suppose like many other forum members of the generation brought up 'pre inegale' so to speak.

 

My approach has been to purchase a recent recording and scores of Francois Couperin's 2 Masses. There are 3 CD sets available at present:

Jean-Baptiste Robin from Poitiers, Pierre Bardon from Saint-Maximin, and Bernard Coudurier from Albi. I went for the Robin CDs as I've heard the other 2 organs in the buildings but not heard Poitiers yet (also by far the least expensive - on the Naxos label) and the Dover edition of the combined scores, the whole lot cost less than £20 - remarkable value!

 

I have greatly enjoyed studying Robin's fine performances and agree with the points Nigel has made. The organ sounds fantastic but a little 'swimmy', the various 'en taille' and 'recit' movements are absolutely gorgeous. Of particular interest also has been the ornamentation of the inner parts of the 'plein chant' movements.

 

DT

 

This is always a fine way of getting to know music and also the multifarious organs that are strewn about France in different levels of restoration and reconstruction. However, there are not many instruments that perhaps show the more delicate flavours of the Couperin era. The Saint-Maximin instrument (with chamades) began life around 1775 I think and a couple of generations after Couperin Le Grand. We all know how styles and fashions change. The organ that Couperin knew in St Gervais was created in a new modern style of the times beginning in 1674 and finishing in 1684. Likewise the other two either date from the latter part of the 18th Century or have been reconstructed in that style by an Italian builder. We can all ponder how in the UK in any one century how music and organs changed from the Restoration or through Victoria's reign or even through our last from 1910! Granted, France was perhaps not so radical as some of our changes, but certainly fashions did change, and some of those were considerable.

It is strange how we all sometimes forget that an 'old' organ must be able to play all 'old music' when in fact it is a marriage that is stylistically generations apart. Over this situation I am as a teacher, sometimes like a parent who finds the daughter is about to marry a man 76 years her senior!

 

I was interested to read that the inner parts of the Chant movements are ornamented. The fashion was not to ornament very much - or if at all, as it creates some fussy detraction from the Cantus firmus. I have students from all countries (and a good number from France!) who ornament because they think it is old and needs to be. They are not very happy with the austerity of these movements when they see how much ornamentation is adorning others. But to me that is the evidence and furthermore someting that underlines the solemnity of the Plein jeu movements. Ornaments begin to flutter under the fingers when the strong unequal temperament creates a sourness and an ornament tempers the accidental - but that is the music influencing the player. And each time it will be different as you play it on a different organ. To jump a country - it is fascinating to actually play one Bach's most extra-wonderful works (the 'Great' B minor Prelude) and relish the almost tortuous harmonies and the chords, reminiscent of string players double-stopping, on an unequal tempered organ. One then can see why the final chord is also written so short as B Major is not the most endearing of chords to ever play with it's most prominent D#. In normal course of events in much music these notes would be tempered in certain situations by a mordant which 'wobbles a wolf', so to speak. I am sure that much of the spice and flavouring is lost in equal temp. as it so affects the player. The same can be said of French Church Modes (which must be understood before embarking on the repertoire). There are so many influences (not least the Lute, as has been pointed out - and I didn't, for thinking of it adding extra mist to the subject). The repertoire is so vastly rich and I feel so sad that in this age so few people in the UK have had a Damascus moment. To witness such a moment (as happened the other week with my organists from Oxford) is a reward and a joy that can hardly be described.

You get this having again had a flight cancelled coming back from Saint-Antoine and so constantly inégale all morning. I came From Lyon via Sweelinck to Birmingham late last night. I mused whilst waiting in Schipol what all our composers from the Baroque would make of our present age of travel and common influences and how the composers and players in 200 years will move about then. As you see - I have too much time on my hands!

 

Seasonal greetings.

Nigel

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This is always a fine way of getting to know music and also the multifarious organs that are strewn about France.........

 

 

Over this situation I am as a teacher, sometimes like a parent who finds the daughter is about to marry a man 76 years her senior!

 

To jump a country - it is fascinating to actually play one Bach's most extra-wonderful works (the 'Great' B minor Prelude) and relish the almost tortuous harmonies and the chords, reminiscent of string players double-stopping, on an unequal tempered organ.

 

There are so many influences (not least the Lute, as has been pointed out - and I didn't, for thinking of it adding extra mist to the subject). The repertoire is so vastly rich and I feel so sad that in this age so few people in the UK have had a Damascus moment.

 

===========================

 

 

 

Another excellent reply from "Nigel the much travelled."

 

Just a very brief point to add to what has been written previously by all, and that is the fact that we, as "modern" organists. (if there be such a thing), are conditioned to a post 19th Century mentality, where the composer is very much master of all.

 

That started with the great composer/performer age of Liszt and his contemporaries, but probably had French Baroque as a sort of formulated and stylised precedent. That said, the tradition of music-making was always one of improvised playing, or at least a regime where the performer was on an equal footing with the composer, and very much a part of the creative process.

 

I think this is why I made the point about the general accuracy of organ-notation. and then drew comparison with Lute music, where so much was left to the performer.

 

I would certainly commend the "Pipedreams" broadcast in my previous post; especially because it contains some of the treasures of early French organ-building, and a new American-built instrument which seems ideal for the music of the French baroque masters.

 

Of course, the next question has to be, to what extent "notes inegales" may have been used outside France. It seems to me, that the art of improvisation and improvised ornamentation have a place in the very stylish "Stylus Fantasticus" works of Nicholas Bruhns.

 

Are those extended chords just.....extended chords?

 

What about much the same thing in Bach's great C major Prelude? (The 9/8 one)

 

MM

 

 

PS: In this post-credit crunch era, marrying anyone 76 years senior, is to be highly recommended.....so long as they are very, very rich.

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In my opinion there have been boundless subtle changes in music since the very earliest times. The problem of how to notate the nuances and the territorial differences in musical performance has been a perplexing subject for a number of delving musicians since notation in all its forms has evolved. I am certain. You even see it in discrete lengthening of notes that create the most complex of Gregorian melodies - in my mind providing because of no systematic pulse, a direct link with those 20th Cent works from the pen of Jehan Alain (Trois Danses) for instance or Messiaen.

Quite rightly so, Improvisation is frequently at the forefront of interpretation. Much of the music I concede must surely have been captured on paper from the minds of many such improviser/composers. Therefore, before it was distilled into ink, the free spirit was just that. For many such composers, putting pen to paper when they are improvisers has been slightly more difficult than bottling a Gene. As I said before, we must put ourselves in the mind of the composer. The notes are just the indications of pitch and length. How we interpret the message to produce the mosaic of sound and silence that we all call Music is what I consider to be Performance. Registration is the orchestration. Timbre the colour, and dynamics the frame around which everything becomes alive.

As stated, we have become washed by the Romantics and for some ("I have yet to play or understand the French Baroque music" we often hear or read), that earlier areas of music has been pushed further away by the newer as if an artistic galaxy. The organ constructions have changed and have not helped very much in keeping the older fires alive. As an example of this (where I think all is not what it seems and we must revel in being Baroque), comes near the start of the Buxtehude Prelude Fugue and Ciacona in C BuxW 135 - you know, after the pedal solo and you have those dashing scales after the big chords - shooting stars, I call them and which are portrayed in wood all over the organ case in St John's College, Oxford. When I was in his church in Lübeck with its vast acoustic created by a Gothic space that makes Westminster Abbey seem like a Chantry Chapel by comparison, I came to the conclusion that those scales (after Tutti chords) should be the musical equivalent of gold leaf halos in mediaeval paintings. In other words, played on a soft(er) sparkling group of registers, perhaps using nothing no lower than a 4ft as the foundation because of the speed, so that they embellish the tonality in the resulting echo and not chase it with a sound more like the score falling unevenly on the Hauptwerk. In a large acoustic for me, those scales played loudly detract from the forward resolution of the chords. I have tried this and have made students do it. You have to 'play' the acoustic though. You have to have style. You have to have it in fantastical abundance too. But the whole passage becomes quite unequal in pulse when organ and large room meet dramatic player. But it sounds hopeless without acoustic to me. No meaning. It's marvellous and sensationally dramatic in the right place with an organ up to the job. A zippy Brustwerk is just the ticket (for a change!).

Swing is also an inequality that can be traced through all manner of composers. It just gets labelled in the first half of the 20th Cent. as such when it was necessary to do something about large ensembles in Jazz so that they all flowed the same way at the same time. And it's in Buxtehude dear friends too!

 

All the best,

N

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In my opinion there have been boundless subtle changes in music since the very earliest times. The problem of how to notate the nuances and the territorial differences in musical performance has been a perplexing subject for a number of delving musicians since notation in all its forms has evolved. I am certain. You even see it in discrete lengthening of notes that create the most complex of Gregorian melodies - in my mind providing because of no systematic pulse, a direct link with those 20th Cent works from the pen of Jehan Alain (Trois Danses) for instance or Messiaen.

Quite rightly so, Improvisation is frequently at the forefront of interpretation. Much of the music I concede must surely have been captured on paper from the minds of many such improviser/composers. Therefore, before it was distilled into ink, the free spirit was just that. For many such composers, putting pen to paper when they are improvisers has been slightly more difficult than bottling a Gene. As I said before, we must put ourselves in the mind of the composer. The notes are just the indications of pitch and length. How we interpret the message to produce the mosaic of sound and silence that we all call Music is what I consider to be Performance. Registration is the orchestration. Timbre the colour, and dynamics the frame around which everything becomes alive.

As stated, we have become washed by the Romantics and for some ("I have yet to play or understand the French Baroque music" we often hear or read), that earlier areas of music has been pushed further away by the newer as if an artistic galaxy. The organ constructions have changed and have not helped very much in keeping the older fires alive. As an example of this (where I think all is not what it seems and we must revel in being Baroque), comes near the start of the Buxtehude Prelude Fugue and Ciacona in C BuxW 135 - you know, after the pedal solo and you have those dashing scales after the big chords - shooting stars, I call them and which are portrayed in wood all over the organ case in St John's College, Oxford. When I was in his church in Lübeck with its vast acoustic created by a Gothic space that makes Westminster Abbey seem like a Chantry Chapel by comparison, I came to the conclusion that those scales (after Tutti chords) should be the musical equivalent of gold leaf halos in mediaeval paintings. In other words, played on a soft(er) sparkling group of registers, perhaps using nothing no lower than a 4ft as the foundation because of the speed, so that they embellish the tonality in the resulting echo and not chase it with a sound more like the score falling unevenly on the Hauptwerk. In a large acoustic for me, those scales played loudly detract from the forward resolution of the chords. I have tried this and have made students do it. You have to 'play' the acoustic though. You have to have style. You have to have it in fantastical abundance too. But the whole passage becomes quite unequal in pulse when organ and large room meet dramatic player. But it sounds hopeless without acoustic to me. No meaning. It's marvellous and sensationally dramatic in the right place with an organ up to the job. A zippy Brustwerk is just the ticket (for a change!).

Swing is also an inequality that can be traced through all manner of composers. It just gets labelled in the first half of the 20th Cent. as such when it was necessary to do something about large ensembles in Jazz so that they all flowed the same way at the same time. And it's in Buxtehude dear friends too!

 

All the best,

N

 

 

=============================

 

 

 

I like the idea of shooting stars in Buxtehude, considering that Lubeck was one of the great centres of astronomical theory at the time. I suppose we started out with 'notes inegales' as a subject, but in reality, we've been talking about improvisation, interpretation and artistic licence.

 

"Vox" asked what "Bon Gaut" implied, but I doubt that anyone will ever come up with the definitive answer. As someone who writes a bit, I know that a moment of utterly exquisite tastelessness, can alter things in an instant.

 

"They **** you up, your mum and dad......" Certainly grabbed attention, and made Philip Larkin almost a household name, but unfortunately, it is possibly the only bit of Larkin that people remember.

 

Alan Bennett can be wonderfully subtle and deliciously obtuse...... "He's gone fishing up Hampstead pond again."

 

In music, (as in writing and art), the temptation to shock, draw attention to ourselves or take liberties, is never far away. Even worse, some performers do it without realising it; being so "off the wall" that they troll the depths of musical or artistic parody, misrepresentation and vulgarity.

 

Yet parody can be art; even remarkable art. "Bach before the mast" by George Malcolm, being a supreme example of the genre. Misrepresentation can easily become useful re-invention, whilst vulgarity can be delightful in the right context, as Mozart demonstrated so vividly.

 

The question will always be, who decides?

 

I suspect that the matter of "bon gault" will rage on for as long as there is life on earth.

 

 

MM

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In music, (as in writing and art), the temptation to shock, draw attention to ourselves or take liberties, is never far away. Even worse, some performers do it without realising it; being so "off the wall" that they troll the depths of musical or artistic parody, misrepresentation and vulgarity.

Well, hauling the topic back onto terra firma, this is precisely my point, really, as I hinted in the penultimate paragraph of my original post. Listening to performances of French baroque music, I often end up feeling that notes inégales have been employed just as an excuse for a jolly old romp rather than to make the music more graceful. Perhaps jolly romps did occasionally have their place, just as gapped registration did on Silbermann organs (there are recorded instances). Fuller, I think it is, refers to the possibility of sharp overdotting which I am not immediately sure how to reconcile with grace; but the more I play this music, the more I am finding it harder to think of this as the norm.

 

Try playing through the three Livres d'orgue of Lebègue (leaving aside the noëls, fine as they are) - the scores are available on the IMSLP site - and try playing them in the bouncy way people usually treat the Clérambault suites and Couperin masses. I did and very soon began feeling that this approach really doesn't suit Lebègue's music at all. I'm not saying that it shouldn't have notes inégales, but it seemed to me that, on the whole, anything more than the most discreet applications of it just killed the music stone dead. Maybe it's just my problem; I don't know.

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Well, hauling the topic back onto terra firma, this is precisely my point, really, as I hinted in the penultimate paragraph of my original post. Listening to performances of French baroque music, I often end up feeling that notes inégales have been employed just as an excuse for a jolly old romp rather than to make the music more graceful. Perhaps jolly romps did occasionally have their place, just as gapped registration did on Silbermann organs (there are recorded instances). Fuller, I think it is, refers to the possibility of sharp overdotting which I am not immediately sure how to reconcile with grace; but the more I play this music, the more I am finding it harder to think of this as the norm.

 

Try playing through the three Livres d'orgue of Lebègue (leaving aside the noëls, fine as they are) - the scores are available on the IMSLP site - and try playing them in the bouncy way people usually treat the Clérambault suites and Couperin masses. I did and very soon began feeling that this approach really doesn't suit Lebègue's music at all. I'm not saying that it shouldn't have notes inégales, but it seemed to me that, on the whole, anything more than the most discreet applications of it just killed the music stone dead. Maybe it's just my problem; I don't know.

 

 

=================================

 

 

This is very interesting, because regular dotting or sharply over-dotting where notes inegales is either the usual practice (for adjacent notes), or when specified by the composer directly (with dots above the notes, if I remember correctly), seems to me to rather defeat the object of inegalite in the first place. If it were that simple, a dotted rhtyhm or just dotted notes would be sufficient.

 

I believe it is much more subtle than this, and when my former partner recommended listening to the French language, he was of course, speaking form the position of being a superb linguist, an early music enthusiast and a considerable historian. Unfortunately, I did not, (and still do not), possess those particular gifts, and the advice was probably wasted on me at the time.

 

Nevertheless, I think I can sense the importance of the advice, because if "notes inegales" is to mean anything at all, it is about anything but metrical regularity, but at the same time it is NOT about metrical irregularity. It is, I believe, about something else entirely, and somethng very closely related to language itself, which as Nigel pointed out, is essentially vocal

Taking something slow and simple, I think everyone will know the beautiful "Tierce en taille" by de Grigny, the tenor melody of which starts with that plaintive, and very simple ascent of equal notes from Ten D to B.

So many organists play this as a rather drab, ascending melody with a regular dotted rhythm, as if saying in English, "I want to go to bed."

 

That's how we think, and that's how we are taught to speak the English language, with its very definite stressed syllables and rhythms. The French language is very different, because it does not contain those same syllabic stresses. In addition, I am reliably informed that many of the final consonants become liaisons and enchaînements, which result in the words do not just running together, but naturally sub-dividing into rhythmic groupings. This puts a whole new slant on the matter of inegalite, which seems to me to be directly linked with the French language, and French song in particular.

So going back to the de Grigny "Tierce en Taille," the bass-line should, I suspect, be played with a regular pulse, but the "en Taille" melody should not, and I believe that this is what makes "notes inegales" what they are, rather than simple dotting or even over-dotting. It's really about variable rubato within rhythmic groupings, over steady bass rhythms usually related to the those of courtly dance. I suppose the purpose of "notes inegales" was to allow freedom of expression rather than to put the performer in the musical straight-jacket of a notational formula.

 

It's just about impossible to describe in words, but if the tenor melody of the de Grigny "Tierce en Taille" is played in such a way, that the first three notes are played slightly slower than the notes otherwise suggest, and the G, A and B played slightly quicker, the whole concept of "notes inegales" is no longer just vertical, but also linear; thus becoming much more vocal in delivery and closer to the natural speech-rhythms of the French language. It brings an extraordinaryly fluidity to the music, as well as a means of great expression to instruments such as the Baroque organ and the harpsichord, which had almost none. Of course, if rubato was considered normal, then the same could easily have applied to the ornamentation, to quite extraordinary effect; just so long as that vocal style and rubato do not upset the regular, underlying rhythm of the whole. When this is applied to the music of Rameau, (the most gifted of all French baroque composers), the music starts to leap off the page, where many styles of performances simply leave us mystified at best, and annoyed at worst. After all, the object of the exercise is NOT to highlight the scholarly brilliance of the performer and the complexity of the ornamentation.

Although not played on the harpsichord or organ, the following example is so utterly musical, it is worth listening to, for it seems to combine all that we have discussed. There is Nigel's vocal and improvisational qualities, hints of historic Lute accompaniment and the wonderfully graceful pulse of courtly dance, to which everything is subservient.

 

http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseacti...e1-1f58abeb43f0

 

MM

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=================================

 

 

This is very interesting, because regular dotting or sharply over-dotting where notes inegales is either the usual practice (for adjacent notes), or when specified by the composer directly ............

 

Taking something slow and simple, I think everyone will know the beautiful "Tierce en taille" by de Grigny, the tenor melody of which starts with that plaintive, and very simple ascent of equal notes from Ten D to B.

MM

 

 

=========================

 

 

I have been known to mispell my own name from time to time, burn rice-puddings and cremate whole joints of beef. This was one of those moments, and I humbly apologise.

 

The work I had in mind was the "Tierce en Taille" by Couperin, and not by de Grigny.

 

However, on the subject of de Grigny, I cam across a stunning performanceon "YouTube", which got me very excited indeed, and how very interesting that it should be played by Jean Guillou; an organist well know for is improvisational flair.

 

Now if this doesn't demonstrate the points I made, nothing ever will.

 

Enjoy!

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhZIy3_I8sk

 

MM

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