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Critical Analysis of: Origins and performance of accompanied keyboard music in France

Origins and performance of accompanied keyboard music in France by Mary Cyr

Critical Analysis By Diego Barbosa-Vásquez

The article describes the development of keyboard music with others instruments accompanied it. Through the article, the Canadian musicologist argue that the process was a continual development from the Basso Continuo practice with important improvisational aspects in terms of the instrumental colors selected by composers and performers. Important aspects of the analysis of the scores as a way to understand the music but not as an absolute are important advances in the field for not only pianist but also for any musician. In addition, the author is very organized in give serious and organized supporting ideas and facts. However, the conclusion of the keyboard as the most important aspect of the composition with the melodic instrument or voice as a secondary aspect is not coherent with the music itself.

Keyboard and Other Instruments as Secondary Colors

The main purpose of the article is arguing that the French compositions of the late baroque were created with the keyboard as the most important part of the work. In this aspect many examples are made in the article to argue that. In addition, the organization of the text is a very good example of how it creating in the reader this perception. In the first paragraph, the article the Canadian author gives to the reader the example of Rameau’s composition of 1941 “Pièces de clavecin en concerts”.[1] A piece that gives to her the possibility to show the sense of the article: Pieces with violin (or flute) and a viol (or a second violin)[2]. With this example the author states from the beginning that in those compositions, the keyboard started to be main instrument and the other are secondary or easily changeable without damage with the music. After it, the whole article is focused in give sufficient supporting ideas to this important prompt.

The first aspect that the Canadian musicologist start to clarify is the different researches and musicologist that have been working in this keyboard accompaniment idea.[3] This research status give to her prompt important aspects to be analyzed as generators of the keyboard accompaniment music: The basso continuo and the Ad Libitum practices.[4]

In terms the Basso Continuo aspect, is important to understand the practice state at this late baroque moment. Since the starting of the baroque, the idea of simplify the multiple voices in a more simplified and understandable way was placed in the Basso Continuo practice. With this device, the musician can know with just one note and some numbers, the whole pitches than can be placed in this temporal moment. Despite the fact that this concept can be applicate to any combination of instruments, due to practicality, the preferred kind of instruments to use the basso continue are the harmonic instruments (keyboard and lute were the most used). Those instruments give the possibility that just one performer can produce the whole harmony that the music requires.

One of the most important aspects of this technique is that the composer gives to the performer the harmonic information for a certain period of time. After that the performer need to decide how is the best way to distribute each note creating melodic coherent lines in each voice. This aspect implies important improvisational aspects at the moment of performance and created an important keyboard passages when an outstanding performed was in charge. This aspect, according with the Canadian musicologist, origin remarkable keyboard importance in the composition.[5] Therefore, composers started to write the keyboard parts in order to take advantage of those sonorities.[6] This process started to create the keyboard compositions with other instruments accompanied.

In addition to it, the basso continuo practices added, ad libitum (as performers decisions), a secondary instrument playing the bass notes in order to give more sound in the bass note. Usually a viol or cello was used for this purpose.[7] What Cry states is that composers started to clarify in which parts the instrument double the notes and in which they prefer just the keyboard, origination the new genre as a continual development.[8]

After it, according with the article’s author, baroque composers started to think in the keyboard as an important instrument more than a just harmonic instrument.[9] In the subsequent scores, the composer clarifies the notes that the keyboard performer need to play and how the others instruments are related with it as secondary instruments.[10] This procedures brought the article to the second important aspect, the improvisatorial aspects of the selecting instruments.

According to the author, composers realized that having an instrument accompany the keyboard music is a very good decision in terms of audience taste.[11] They started to create music primarily for the keyboard with added instruments for the color that they can bring.[12] Furthermore, the author go more far in her prompt arguing that the music with voice of those French baroque composers were created in the same way as additional colors.[13] Even giving examples of how this music was constructed.[14] Here an important question appears: If the music was created based in the keyboard, and the other melodic instruments were added just for the color the performers can decide to play just the music with the keyboard and will be the same music? To understand this aspect better is important to clarify the role of the instruments in the compositional process.

While is important to point out that for each composer the approach of the composition is always different in terms of its relation with the instrument, is important to clarify to possible roles: color and structural. In terms of the color the instrument is used as an orchestration element to produce a specific timbre result. There, the goal of the composer is clarify which kind of color he or she likes for an specific melodic, harmonic or rhythmical idea after those were defined. Clear example of this procedure is the Ravel Orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. There, the composer is clarifying every color using the melodic, harmonic or rhythmical ideas of a preexisting work. In terms the instrument used with a structural role, the unique characteristics of the instrument are used to define the melodic, harmonic or rhythmical ideas. In this case a keyboard prelude of a baroque suite, After light of Robert Dick[15], or an aria are examples of how the unique characteristics of the instruments define the musical ideas.

After understand the instrument role is important to highlight in this aspect the voice role in a composition. In this case, at least in music before the XX century, the voice is used to give a history behind. That means that the voice can be consider more as a structural musical character than coloristic.[16] In this case the question for the Canadian musicologist will be, if the music was created for the keyboard and the other colors are secondary, when the voice is required by the composer how the piano can content the whole music information of the voice without it?


In this case the article shows the development of keyboard music with others instruments accompanied it. Dr. Cry describes that the development from the Basso Continuo and ad libitum as the generators of the new keyboard genre. In addition, important aspects of the analysis of the scores as a way to understand the music but not as an absolute are important advances in the field for not only pianist but also for any musician. With the previous information the most important conclusion is that with a coherent and very supported discourse a scholar can argue a fact. Is important that the reader be sufficient informed and critic to what he/she is reading because the prompt cannot be totally correct.

[1] Mary Cyr, “Origins and performance of accompanied keyboard music in France,” The Musical Times 7 (Autumn 2015), accessed March 21, 2018, (Page 7)

[2] Ibid. (Page 7)

[3] Ibid. (Page 10)

[4] Ibid. (Page 11)

[5] Ibid. (Page 14)

[6] Ibid. (Page 14)

[7] Ibid. (Page 16)

[8] Ibid. (Page 15)

[9] Ibid. (Page 15)

[10] Ibid. (Page 15)

[11] Ibid. (Page 22)

[12] Ibid. (Page 22)

[13] Ibid. (Page 22)

[14] Ibid. (Page 16)

[15] Piece for flute that uses overtones

[16] Important to clarify that this role can be analyzed in a different way as color in terms of a choir passage. But for the present critical analysis and the example serves as a good reference.

This Critical Analysis is Partial Fulfillment of M.M. in Opera and Orchestra Conducting at APU

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