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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


The Abandoned Prototype of a Glossary of French Terms of Movement

for the use of performers from the English Nation of the World of Early Music

Englished by Patricia M. Ranum back in 1981

Go rapidly to the Glossary

Notice to the gentle readers of this glossary

When discussing the emotions to be conveyed by words such as tendrement or vivement that appear at the heads of French compositions, François Couperin lamented: "I wish that someone would take the trouble to translate us for foreigners and provide them with the means to judge the excellence of our instrumental music." (L'Art de toucher le clavecin, Paris, 1716)

To my knowledge, no one has done so. In the 1740s, Grassineau translated into English Sébastien de Brossard's dictionary of 1703; but, Brossard was preoccupied with Italian terminology, so he included very few French terms of "movement" in his publication. Nor are many of these terms discussed in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's dictionary of 1768.

The silence of the two principal French musical dictionaries of the eighteenth century can be partly explained by the fact that the meanings of these terms were self-evident to people of the day. But during the intervening centuries, subtle changes in meaning often occurred. This evolution prompted me to come to Couperin's rescue and to attempt a translation of late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century terms of "movement." (For "movement," see the entry, "Mouvement".)

Since neither Brossard nor Rousseau proved very helpful, I turned to a variety of literary dictionaries for definitions of what these terms meant to an eighteenth-century Frenchman. These sources reveal that most terms of movement have two facets. One facet is the affect, the passion, the "character," that is, the emotional ambiance denoted by the term. Information about this facet is found primarily in literary dictionaries but is largely ignored by musical ones. The other facet is performance, which is discussed primarily in musical dictionaries or treatises, although it occasionally finds its way into general dictionaries of the language. The reader must keep in mind the fact that these two facets are inseparable. (For more on the link between emotion and performance, see especially chapters 9, 10 and 11 of my The Harmonic Orator, available at Pendragon Press.)

With two exceptions, the words left in French in the translated statements of this glossary are defined elsewhere in the glossary:

1) The first exception is esprit, which can be translated sometimes as "spirit," sometimes as "mind" and sometimes as "wit." The three meanings often merge, however. Indeed, from the sixteenth century on, for French authors the ruling part of the human soul was called the "esprit," and the word was understood as denoting the mind, including reason and will. I have therefore kept esprit in French.

2) The second word is honnête. It can be translated as "honest" — as in "honest man" — but this word means much more: good, virtuous, upright, respectable, decent, polite.

Many dictionaries discuss how a term applies to oratory or to the literary or visual arts. Since Quantz (On Playing the Flute, ed. Reilly, pp. 119-121) and Rousseau (Dictionnaire de Musique, "Dessein," "Expression") made similar comparisons, such definitions can appropriately be added to this glossary, for they provide insights into what the term meant for musicians.

Quantz pointed out that a single piece may have several measures of contrasting mood (ibid., p. 126). Although there is no clear carry-over of the German Affecktenlehre to French music, my research shows that the ambiance of a piece does indeed continually change, as the harmony modulates. (See chapter 9 of my Harmonic Orator).

I have not attempted to write my own definition of a term. Rather, this glossary is a source book into which performers can dip, selecting ideas that seem to apply to a given piece. This glossary will help them hone their own "taste," their goût, and thereby learn to read just a little bit better the intentions of long-dead French composers.

Since most of these entries come from published sources, I have not given a word-for-word translation; but I have been very careful not to distort the meaning of the original when putting it into comfortable English.

The sources used in this glossary are:

— Richelet's Dictionnaire of the French language, 1681. But I do not usually quote Richelet, for many of his definitions were woven into the dictionaries of Furetière and the French Academy a decade later.

— the first edition (and, occasionally, subsequent editions) of the Dictionnaire de l'Académie Françoise, 1694, called "DAF" here. Notably conservative, the presence of a word means that the term is not a newcomer. The DAF also tends to be rather laconic. I therefore consulted other French dictionaries, including:

— Furetière's Dictionnaire of 1690 (and subsequent editions if the definition proved complex), written by a member of the Academy who was working on the Academy's dictionary.

— the so-called Dictionnaire de Trévoux, ed. of 1771

If a subsequent edition of a source contributes something new, I have added that contribution, followed by the date. When a word shows only the DAF entry, the reader can assume that the other dictionaries inspired, adapted or reworded the Academy's definition and add no new insights. Once included in a dictionary, the basic definition rarely changed, although ambiguities sometimes were removed from subsequent editions, spellings were modernized and new or previously omitted usages were added. And once included, a word rarely if ever was omitted from a subsequent edition.

Learn why I compiled this glossary

To consult the Glossary without asking "Why a glossary?", select one of the following links: 

Glossary A-C    Glossary D-F    Glossary G-J    Glossary L-M    Glossary N-P
Glossary R-V