A Study of Sources and Performance Practice Issues in Recently-Rediscovered Manuscripts of Seventeenth-Century French Harpsichord Music

Project: Research project

Project Details


The development of seventeenth-century French harpsichord music is enigmatic in several respects. Although little is known about the formation of this style before 1650 (we have names of composers, but no surviving music), the style has attained a high degree of refinement and sophistication in the music of the earliest known masters (e.g. Chambonnières, Louis Couperin, D’Anglebert). The creative processes behind how the seventeenth-century musicians taught and played remained steeped in mystery. A study of recently rediscovered manuscripts offers fresh opportunity for a reassessment of performance practice issues, as well as insight into how contemporary harpsichordists taught and played. By compiling a thematic catalogue of some 20 sources containing seventeenth-century French harpsichord music rediscovered since the publication of Bruce Gustafson’s catalogue of this repertory (1979, 1990), information on new sources, modern editions, scholarly publications, archival materials, and other items of relevance—some of which currently unavailable and some of which currently dispersed across many different locations—will be assembled, classified, catalogued and stored on one convenient site. This updated knowledge base will provide materials for revisiting key issues pertaining to this repertory: how to define the “work”, what could be possible variants (melodic, rhythmic, textural) between performances, what is the role of improvisation, among others. In particular, a comparative study of variant readings between concordant versions and related performance practice matters will inform the present-day performer on ways to maintain spontaneity in works that were composed, and on ways to be creative yet stay faithful to the original spirit of the music. An innovative feature of this project is that information of the sources will be digitally converted to modern terms and organized into databases, paving the way for an online publication which allows scholars worldwide to freely access and locate accurate and updated information using advanced search facilities.
Effective start/end date1/12/1431/05/18


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