1. I have selected as an example Jean Henry D’Anglebert’s Tombeau de M.r de Chambonnières, from his print of 1689 (109-110). I acknowledge the danger of single examples: I too can produce lists of pieces that behave otherwise—most obviously, the unmeasured preludes that flourished during this period in the hands of Louis Couperin, Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, and D’Anglebert himself, as well as the hybrids produced by composers such as Marc-Antoine Charpentier or François Couperin who self-consciously trafficked in Italianate styles. I know, moreover, that the genre of the tombeau virtually demands an elegiac, introspective quality. Yet D’Anglebert [pictured right] exemplifies in his tombeau (and in most of his pieces) so many of the points I wish to make, and he does so with what seems to me such beauty and skill, that I hope to avoid the charge that the music itself is inept, even if it works according to premises far removed from the ones within which we usually operate.

  2. Let me begin with the usual series of negatives. First, D’Anglebert’s tombeau displays no imitative counterpoint of the sort we like to celebrate in Bach. (Note, however, that if we were to turn the page in the print we would find a set of five fugues on a single subject. D’Anglebert was, in other words, fully capable of contrapuntal complexity, even if he does not showcase it in most of his work.)

    Click to view Page 1
    of the score.

    Click to view Page 2
    of the score.

  3. Second, this tombeau does not employ melodic motives to pull the various parts of the piece together; instead, the rhythmic groupings of the surface constantly shift. To be sure, as a gaillarde,5 it offers the regularity of dance steps: the piece guarantees at least the rational structure of a slow triple meter with stresses on beats 3 and 1, and it thus choreographs the body in accordance with a neoplatonic matrix. But the listener cannot predict when a metric unit will contain a surfeit of ornamental notes (e.g., the middle beat of m. 3) or when it will hover with virtually no activity.

  4. Finally, the piece never really modulates. Binary dance forms tend to adhere closely to conservative harmonic conventions, but this example does not even establish its dominant as a secondary key at the end of the first half. Twice D’Anglebert implies the possibility of moving to the subdominant (both mm. 2-4 and 17-19 gesture toward G major), but neither passage concludes with a cadence. The key of A minor becomes a viable destination in mm. 14-15, but the would-be cadence on A never materializes. In the final analysis, the tombeau remains in D major from start to finish.

  5. Yet this series of negatives seems to me less an indictment of D’Anglebert’s skill as a composer than of our analytical habits, which were designed for illuminating particular repertories but then applied willy-nilly as universal standards to all music. I do find it noteworthy that D’Anglebert does not utilize imitative counterpoint, unifying motives, or a progressive modulatory schema in this tombeau. But his refusal of these devices—all of which he employs in other pieces—leads me to ask what these devices usually accomplish.

  6. If we turn to the dance suites of Bach or the dance-types (allemandes, gigues) in which the French also typically made use of imitative counterpoint, we find that this device produces relatively long rhythmic groupings, the reiteration of which invites listeners to project into the future.6 As soon as the second voice enters to repeat what we have just heard in the first, we can leap forward in our imaginations to anticipate what will happen next. To be sure, the specific engagement between voices may offer us delight. Yet as soon as the imitation begins, we know from past experience with such techniques to jump ahead in time and start speculating. Something similar occurs with motivic play: when a composer indicates that a two-beat-long motive will saturate the texture of a piece, the listener quickly assumes a particular way of parsing out time.7 Of course, motives produce a sense of identity, organic relatedness, and much else as well. But they also greatly influence our perception of temporality.8

  7. As does the rhetorical version of modulation that pervades contemporaneous Italian music, which works on the basis of instilled, heightened, and fulfilled desire. Developed as a means of expanding the simple linear formulas of modal practice, this set of procedures sustains each pillar of the background structure by deferring arrivals, barely granting each implied cadence before rushing off toward the next. Each moment serves principally to whet the appetite for its successor, maximizing a headlong race into the future—the immediate future of the next modulatory arrival, the final destination of the return to tonic.9

  8. It is this element of multi-leveled goal orientation, I would argue, that people unaccustomed to French seventeenth-century music miss the most: to the extent that progressive tonality counts as "how music is supposed to work," its absence spells pure and simple incompetence. Yet if we take seriously the choices made by D’Anglebert and his colleagues, we can glean insights into a society quite alien from the one that gave our own dominant tradition not only its compositional techniques, but also its sense of being. For D’Anglebert worked within a culture that for a wide variety of reasons wished to promote sensibilities of timelessness.

    Laurent de La Hyre, "The Kiss of Peace and Justice"

  9. But how precisely does a composer go about producing such effects? Music by its very nature unfolds through time; of all media it would seem the most resistant to the project of conveying immobility. Put briefly, D’Anglebert’s task is to produce an experience of time in which the listener is absorbed by each present instant. He is obliged to satisfy the rules of orderly succession (the much vaunted raison) as he moves from moment to moment: the transgression of fundamental propriety would undermine the idyllic security of this prolonged stasis. He may even group together a couple of measures in a quasi-causal conspiracy, as in the case of the implied modulations, although none of these actually comes to fruition. Yet—in contrast with superficially similar strategies in Italian music of the time—those missed cadences do not spark the rhetorical effects of disappointment or frustration; rather the relatively low level of anticipation involved produces merely a bittersweet inconclusiveness. Gradually we learn from this music not to bother with future-oriented thought, but to embrace the serenity of each new configuration as it arises.

  10. D’Anglebert thus needs to make every moment sufficiently full that we can desire nothing more, so that the attention moves on to the next instance of plenitude only with reluctance. And this he accomplishes in large part through his highly refined negotiations between two different conceptions of rhythmic activity: what the French referred to as Mesure and Mouvement. Couperin wrote that whereas "Mesure defines the number and equality of the beats," "Cadence or Mouvement is properly the spirit and soul that it is necessary to add" (qtd. In Scheibert 40-41). Bénigne de Bacilly further explains these important qualities thus:

    Mouvement [. . .] is a certain quality that gives soul to the song, and that it is called Mouvement because it stirs up, I may say it excites, the listeners’ attention, in the same way as do those who are the most rebellious in harmony [. . .] it inspires in hearts such passion as the singer wishes to create, principally that of tenderness [. . .] I don’t doubt at all that the variety of Mesure, whether quick or slow, contributes a great deal to the expression of the song. But there is certainly another quality, more refined and more spiritual, that always holds the listener attentive and ensures that the song is less tedious. It is the Mouvement that makes the most of a mediocre voice, making it better than a very beautiful voice without expression. (qtd. In Scheibert, 40-41)

  11. We might say that listeners can follow quite easily the raison of the tombeau’s Mesure (its metric structure), but would be hard pressed to anticipate the bon goût of its Mouvement (its particular way of inhabiting each successive beat). Couperin and Bacilly write primarily for performers, and they point to something beyond simple metrical accuracy for which players or singers must take responsibility. To the extent that a score such as D’Anglebert’s represents a kind of recorded improvisation, we may discern at least some of the ways in which he composes in the effects so treasured by his contemporaries—the effects conducive to absorption.

  12. One of D’Anglebert’s principal strategies for playing Mouvement against Mesure is his lavish deployment of ever-changing ornaments. Unlike Italian ornaments, which almost always lead forward impulsively to the next event, French agréments [pictured (click to enlarge)] serve to ground any rhythmic excess that may have accumulated by securing the weight onto the strong beats, the markers of Mesure; the tension/release mechanisms that animate the music occur on the very local level of the half note. But even as the arrival on the beat reliably anchors the dance step, the agréments draw the ear down into the intricacies of those slight delays that flirt with the self-evident main pitch, thus sustaining a crucial quality of hovering and allowing for the constantly replenished novelty of Mouvement.

  13. D’Anglebert also ensures that we will expect something beyond the luxury of the instant at hand through judiciously arranged harmonic dissonances, for he saturates the surface of his tombeau with lengthy suspensions and anticipations. These operate much like a series of locks on a canal: they break down what could otherwise be an abrupt shift into tiny increments that release the pressure only gradually. [Versailles floor plan pictured]

  14. Thus the opening trajectory—a descent from tonic (D) down to the mediant (F#) in the bass—is both urged along by a tenor line that applies the pressure of 2-3 suspensions at irregular intervals and also delayed by the bass’s seeming reluctance to part with each of its pitches (note, for instance, the port de voix that creates a pull on its move to C# in m. 1). No sooner is the basic trajectory of the progression clear to the ear (with the descent to C natural in m. 1 and dissonance added at the beginning of the next bar) than D’Anglebert begins playing with rates of motion: observe the way he sustains that dissonance for two full beats in m. 2—enhancing the poignancy of the moment through the feathery mordent of the middle voice marking the second pulse. But as the bass descends to B (such a big deal for such an obvious move!), the tenor quickens its pace and coaxes the ear into the even richer sonority of m. 3—suspended in turn with a wistful melisma in the soprano. Even the arrival on F#, destined for the downbeat of m. 4, lingers so that the soprano reaches its melodic goal alone and in tension against the bass. Finally, the bass slips down to produce the desired pitch, though on the off-beat as a mere afterthought, and the right hand supplies its downward arpeggiation of the first-inversion tonic sonority—the affirmation of a quasi-caesura—over a rhythmic void in the bass.

  15. I don’t want to bore you with an inchworm’s eye view of this piece. Yet D’Anglebert focuses our attention at precisely this level—on the fact of that exquisite mordent in m. 2, on the sudden awakening and repositioning that follows, on the swirl of circular activity in m. 3, on the non-simultaneity of arrivals in m. 4. Consequently, one shouldn’t even think about playing a piece like this unless one is willing to savor to the utmost every detail in turn. Harpsichordist Lisa Crawford used to smile with delight at her hands when they played these pieces, as though they were adorable pets who were frolicking of their own accord.

  16. Compare the method behind my description of D’Anglebert’s opening passage with Denis Diderot’s celebrated review of Greuze’s painting "Young Girl Mourning her Dead Bird"10 [pictured below]:

    The pretty elegy! The charming poem! [. . .] Delicious painting! [. . .] Oh, the pretty hand! The pretty hand! The beautiful arm! Notice the truthful details of these fingers; and these dimples, and this softness, and this blushing tint with which the pressure of the head has colored the tips of these delicate fingers, and the charm of all this [. . .] One would move closer to this hand in order to kiss it, if one didn’t respect this child and her pain [. . .] This kerchief is thrown on the neck in such a fashion! So supple and light! When one sees this detail one says, Delicious! If one stops to look at it, or returns to it, one exclaims: Delicious! delicious! (qtd. in Brooks 35-7)

    Or compare it with this eyewitness account of Chambonnière’s performances of his music: "Every time he played a piece he incorporated new beauties with ports-de-voix, passages, and different agréments, with doubles cadences. In a word, he so varied them with all these different beauties that he continually revealed new charms" (qtd. in Fuller "’Sous le doits’" 196). Or read Charles Rosen’s exquisite analysis of how one of D’Anglebert’s contemporaries—the poet and fabulist Jean de La Fontaine—manipulated minute shadings in French vowel sounds to produce his unparalleled effects of aural patterning (38-46).

  17. To focus on—indeed, to fetishize—each moment of a piece goes quite contrary to our training as analysts and as musicians; philosophically we descend from an anti-French tradition of German Kultur that insisted on the moral virtue of structural essence in counterdistinction to the sensual surfaces of French Civilisation,11 and we learn to brush away such details in order to get at a composition’s formal truth. Accordingly, D’Anglebert’s processes may well breed impatience to get on with things and not to dither about where exactly to locate the downward arpeggio demanded in the beat that serves as a pick-up to the first full measure. We might be tempted to mutter in exasperation: "It’s a tonic triad—get over it!" But that beat (by far the most difficult to execute in the entire piece) sets the atmosphere for everything that follows: the appoggiatura (itself elaborately embellished) that delays the arrival on A before the arpeggio can commence already puts a nostalgic tug against the necessity of moving forward through time, and the eloquent repetition of A just before m. 1 produces a gesture of stoic resolve following the collapse performed by the arpeggio. Delicious! delicious!

  18. A telling feature of this music, once it has seduced one into its phenomenological web, is that the performer actually wants to play the repeats—even the invitation at the end of each dance to recommence from the beginning. The longing to sustain this out-of-time state becomes almost a physical necessity, and one dives back in to revisit each exquisite moment as soon as one reaches the double-bar. After a summer of playing only this music and noticing in myself this odd compulsion to take repeats, I assumed I would bring this new-found reflex back with me when I played Bach. But no: even the most Francophilic of Bach’s dances pushes inexorably forward through its series of destinations. Taking the repeats in Bach is, to be sure, always instructive, for we cannot truly grasp how he got from one place to another in a single hearing. Still, to go back and do it all over again feels a bit like turning back the clock, like a betrayal of the narrative impulse that propels Bach’s music onward.12

  19. When this Italianate impulse begins to infiltrate François Couperin’s music, he often marks it programmatically as a special effect. See, for instance, the opening movement (an allemande) of his Second Order, titled "La Laborieuse" (the laborious), in which a two-beat-long motive works hard to achieve every twist and turn along the course of the piece. Or, more famously, "Les Baricades Mistèrieuse" (mysterious barricades, from the Sixth Order): a rondeau movement that enacts in its third couplet, however gently, the sense of striving to overcome invisible obstacles typical of the Italo-German version of tonality. It is as though the premises of such techniques—the very basis of what pass in Bach as "purely musical"—demand some extramusical explanation within the French context. Interestingly, the one movement Couperin named after himself, "La Couperin" in the Twenty-first Order, identifies through its procedures with the Italian style.

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5. Two other compositions labeled "gaillarde" appear in D’Anglebert’s print, one virtually a transposition of the tombeau de M.r de Chambonnières into the minor mode (see 81-82; the other gaillarde is on p. 50). It is not the same dance as the more familiar galliarde, a lively dance usually paired with a pavane. Jacques Champion de Chambonnières includes one gaillarde in the his collection, composed much earlier but printed in 1670 (D’Anglebert, book II 7-8).

6. See, for instance, McClary Conventional Wisdom, chapter 3.

7. For more on the very sophisticated ways listeners orient themselves with respect to music, see Zbikowski.

8. See McClary "Temp Work."

9. See McClary Conventional Wisdom, chapters 1 and 3 for discussions of early Italian tonality.

10. Original source: Denis Diderot, "Salon de 1765," in Oeuvres esthétiques, ed. Paul Vernière (Paris: Garnier, 1959), 533. Diderot writes, of course, at a very different moment in French history. Yet Michael Fried argues persuasively throughout Absorption and Theatricality that Diderot attempts in his art criticism to teach viewers how to interact appropriately to paintings that play not to the taste for theatricality prevalent at his time, but rather to the contemplative states of mind associated with absorption—a value far more frequently appealed to in art of the seventeenth century.

11. See the theoretical and historical discussion of Kultur versus Civilisation in Elias The History of Manners, chapter 1. See also McClary "Unruly Passions," 85-112.

12. See again McClary Conventional Wisdom, chapter 3.

Volume 2 Issue 2


Susan McClary:
Temporality and Ideology

Fink, Garofalo, Gebhardt,
and Partovi:

Music as Object?
A Napster Roundtable



Magical Urbanism

The Art of Piano

Review Essays

Experience Music Project

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