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24.7.04

Ionarts in Manchester: Baroque Conference (Part 2)

This is a continuation of Ionarts coverage of the Eleventh Biennial International Conference on Baroque Music in Manchester, England. Here is Part 1.

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Bruce Gustafson and David Fuller, A Catalogue of French Harpsichord Music, 1699–1780 (1990)
I heard many interesting papers while attending the Baroque Conference, so I thought I would pass along some notes on some of them that might be of interest. Bruce Gustafson, known for his catalogue of French Baroque keyboard music (with David Fuller, shown here) is undertaking an exciting new edition of the music of Chambonnières. He read a paper presenting some findings from that work (abstract). Why do we need such an edition, when Thurston Dart published a still available edition in 1969? Because Bruce and others have discovered a number of new musical sources, and this edition is going to take a new approach by publishing, side by side, different versions of many works, representing changes in embellishment especially. The intention is to allow performers to see the range of choices preserved in Baroque sources.

In the same session, David Fuller spoke about his work on editing the organ music, especially the fugues, of Louis Couperin (abstract). Study of these works has been hampered by the fact that the principal manuscript source for them, the so-called Oldham manuscript, has been in private hands for some time. This unusual source includes thirty of Louis Couperin's fugues, with year and sometimes even date of composition noted: Fuller hypothesizes that it was copied, perhaps after the composer's death, from a pile of untidy manuscripts in the composer's papers. He announced that L'Oiseau-Lyre has obtained the rights to publish a facsimile of this manuscript, planned for next year (a transcription was published by the manuscript's owner last year). In the meantime, the publisher has offered to send photocopies of the manuscript to interested scholars. These fugues, composed precisely during the years when the fugue was being transformed into a free-standing genre, will enhance our understanding of the fugal genre when they are better known.

A brilliant researcher from the Centre de Musique Baroque, Gérard Géay, gave a talk, mostly impromptu from the keyboard, on his ideas about how the minor mode developed from its ancestral modal harmony in the 17th century (abstract). The CMBV's work encompasses a broad range of French and Italian music in the Baroque period, and that experience of Baroque music and theory gives its researchers an unusual perspective on music history. One of the reasons that Gérard said he undertook this study was to understand polyphonic modality, before harmonic language became truly tonal, so that in its editions the CMBV might have the understanding not to "correct mistakes" that are not mistakes. Essentially, all music historians are trained in tonal harmony by studying Bach chorales and classical music, but music before 1700 worked under rather different assumptions. To put Gérard's thesis in technical language, which is the only way to discuss it, the deuterus mode, when extended in polyphony so that the question of ambitus became largely academic, was problematic. As a result, its cadences were often modified to end on chords based on A instead of on E, which essentially gives us the flavor of the modern minor tonality.

Go to Part 3.

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