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Reviewed by:
  • Style and Performance for Bowed String Instruments in French Baroque Music by Mary Cyr
  • John Moran
Style and Performance for Bowed String Instruments in French Baroque Music. By Mary Cyr. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012. [xxi, 256 p. ISBN 9781409405696. $104.95.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.

At the very beginning of the eighteenth century, an avid listener in Paris, his words filtered through the English translation of a German musician in London, observed, “As to the Instruments; our Masters touch the Violin much finer, and with a greater Nicety than they do in Italy. Ev’ry Stroke of their Bow sounds harsh, if broken, and disagreeable, if continued” (François Raguenet, A Comparison between the French and Italian Musick and Opera’s, trans. Johann Ernst Galliard [London, 1709)], 9–10). Originally published anonymously as Paralele des Italiens et des François en ce qui regarde la musique et les opéra (Paris, 1702), ostensibly as an objective comparison of the two competing styles, Raguenet’s treatise, which actually tended to favor the Italians, ignited a fierce, ongoing public debate over the relative merits of the two styles and the feasibility of merging them into the blended goûts réunis, eventually culminating half a century later in the Querelle des Bouffons, when French musical taste finally succumbed to the Italian style. It is therefore telling that this author who extolled the virtues of the Italians, especially with regard to opera and singing, contrasted the two styles in his original French text even more strongly than his London translator, pejoratively applying the verb vieller, derived from “vielle,” used for playing the hurdy-gurdy or rustic fiddling, to describe the sustained playing of the Italians: “Tous les coups d’archet des Italiens sont tresdurs lors qu’ils sont détachez les uns des autres; & lors qu’ils les veulent lier, ils viellent d’une maniere tres-desagréable” (p. 17). Faced with such polemics and an approach that is frequently defined by what it is not, it is no wonder that modern performers are baffled when trying to understand French baroque style.

In Style and Performance for Bowed String Instruments in French Baroque Music, Mary Cyr presents a work that goes a long way toward demystifying French baroque performance practice for string players. In so doing, she discusses not only the practices specific to string playing, such as issues of bowing and fingering, but more broadly the practices of music making in France [End Page 739] that affect string playing, including ornamentation, rhythmic inequality, pitch, and temperament. To this end, Cyr organizes the book in four main parts. “Sources and Style in French Baroque Music” (pp. 3–27) is divided into two chapters, the first of which (pp. 3–13) introduces the rudiments of what must be generally considered in addressing issues of performance practice and the application of this knowledge to current performance, while the second chapter, “French and Italian Style: The Great Divide” (pp. 15–27), outlines the significant differences between the two leading national schools of the time, presenting some of the important contemporaneous sources that were so concerned with what made French style special. Part 2, “Bowed String Instruments in French Ensembles” (pp. 29–61), has chapters that deal with specific sizes and families of instruments used (pp. 31–43) and, more specifically, with the different bowed bass instruments in the viol and violin families in their capacities as both solo and accompanying instruments (pp. 45–61). While Cyr devotes space to describing the basse de violon in this section (pp. 45–47), she could be clearer about the different functions distinguishing this instrument from the violoncelle, a distinction that Michel Corrette still emphasized in his cello treatise, published, by his estimation, some twenty-five to thirty years after the violoncelle had supplanted the ancient basse de violon. (Michel Corrette, Methode, théorique et pratique pour apprendre en peu de tems le violoncelle dans sa perfection [Paris, 1741]). Cyr’s third major section, “Interpretation and Style in French Music for String Players” (pp. 63–144), is divided into four chapters: “Articulation” (pp. 65–83), “Tempo, Character, and Inequality” (pp. 85–106), “Ornamentation and Special Effects” (pp...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-150X
Print ISSN
0027-4380
Pages
pp. 739-741
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-02
Open Access
No
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