Overdotting

Are there any sources close to Couperin on overdotting?

Thanks.

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Cannot recall any treatment in treatises: St. Lambert, Hotteterre and F. Couperin mention dotting, triplets, inequality, but do not mention overdotting. However, there is sometimes clear evidence in the scores.

To find out more, I just searched good old Donington’s “Performers Guide to Baroque Music” and, although over-dotting (as he spells it) is not in the index, there is a page about it (275-276). Donington notes that, although two dots were not used in Baroque times, “one beam too many” was used, and provides an example from F. Couperin’s L’Apothéose de Corelli".

Examples where a French score almost directly (i.e. not related to inégales) implies overdotting are not difficult to find. These are of two types: (A) horizontal, when a passage is in dotted pairs, yet it starts with a short note which, therefore, cannot be written in the correct value unless overdotted (or else a rest added before it), (B) vertical, by similarity with what other voices (or the other hand) do in parallel.

For an example of type A I just opened F. Couperin’s Premier Livre and in his first Allemande you find an example on bar 5: the r.h. ends with two dotted semiquaver pairs, being obvious that the preceding eb" is also a demisemiquaver (and the preceding f" with mordent would in modern times have two dots). The situation is found identically later in the second section of the piece.

Another example of type A is in the same Ordre in the Sarabande La Majestüjeuse. The piece is obviously “strong inégal”, so much so that the composer wrote all the quaver pairs as dotted. Accordingly, performers specialising in French Baroque style play all the weak-beat quavers (bars 1, 3, 5, 6, 10, 15, 16 and 24) as semiquavers, even though they are not notated so because that would need a double-dot in the preceding quaver.

Excercise: find examples of the type B, less easy to find though.

Many thanks, Claudio, for the Couperin examples. I was thinking
specifically of La Terpsicore (Book I, Ordre 2). The indication “Marqué”
would seem to suggest overdotting. But, if one does overdot the dotted
8ths followed by a 16th, what happens to the groups of 3 or 4 16ths in
bars 10-16? How are they played, and where (i.e with which note of the
other hand) do the last Bs fit in, bars 10 (rh) and 11 (lh)?

There are also two bars (42 and 44) where the rests on the last beat,
right hand, need to be dotted (which was rarely done in notation, as we
know) for the last two notes to be played together in both hands. The
recent Bärenreiter edition changes the right hand’s 16ths to 32nds, to
match the left hand. Is this what you had in mind as B?

Thanks.

Hi Dennis,
This is a nice puzzle which I’ve pondered for quite a while. The 16ths in bars 10 - 16 (and later) seem to suggest (at least) two possible solutions, namely either a) to be played as sixteenths (and inégal, i.e. ‘in style’), or b) as thirty-seconds. Bar 9 would be tricky to understand at first, because we simultaneously have to imagine the last right-hand eighth note to actually become a played sixteenth. So this bar 9 has a Claudio-type-A representation in the right hand which needs to be understood and solved before we see that it’s also an example of type B.

Now, all this said, the decision between my a) and b) solutions lies (at least to my understanding) in the beginning motive of the second half of the piece, where the run-up figure before the trill (bars 25, 27, 30) is also notated using sixteenths. This seems to me a standard trill shape and nothing that I ever would play with inégal sixteenths. I would always pull these runs together into a quicker (free-form) shape. I feel that they belong to the trill. On the basis of this particular shape or gesture in b. 25, 27, 30 I have come to rule out my a) solution even for bars 9-15, even though this makes bars 43 and 55 where there are four sixteenths to be distributed somewhat unsatisfactory for the tidy mind. So for me it’s become thirty-seconds everywhere, with a tiny bit of flexibility.

Example recording here for what it’s worth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVvoS4g69tQ

Cheers,
Tilman

I sympathize with the desire to find a kind of mathematical clarity on these questions, but perhaps sometimes things do not need to be so precise.

For double dotting in French music, it’s worth noting that it is explicitly notated in several places in the Bauyn MS – see the very first page, the Allemande Le Moutier by Chambonnières, line 3, first bar; top part:

The concept of “pointé” in French does not necessarily always mean lengthening a note by exactly half its length. The value of the dot could be perceived as being somewhat variable, as is confirmed by Couperin’s indication that some passages should be “somewhat dotted” or “a little dotted” (see, in the same 2nd Ordre, Allemande la Laborieuse, “les double croches un tant-soit-peu pointées”), and by the difference between the pointé required and notated in La Terpsichore and the idea of pointé-coulé we find elsewhere.

Also, there is the parallel notation (used only in Book 1) of pairs of slurred notes, the second of which has a dot above it not after, meaning that the “dotted note” is the slightly longer one of the pair. Compare 1st Ordre, Sarabande Les Sentimens, LH bar 13 (dots on first of pair) and RH bar 20 (dots on second of pair). He explains this in his ornament table, but only in the case where the dots are on the second of each pair, saying that “les points marquent que la seconde notte de chaque tems doit être plus appuyée” (the dots indicate that the second note of each beat should be held more).

He abandoned this unusual notation in the later books, perhaps because it was causing confusion with the idea of staccato, which he preferred to indicate with a little dash, but others were already using dots…

If the value of the dot itself was understood as being somewhat flexible, then the concept of “double dotting” must lose much (but not all) of its substance since that concept can only have any meaning if the dot has a precise value.

For the passages Dennis mentioned from La Terpsichore, it seems to me that there are cases where “the right hand doesn’t need to know what the left hand is doing” in the sense that the logic of each hand is different. Seeking exact alignment misses the point (sorry for the pun). In the case of Le Moutier, exact alignment is obviously needed for harmonic reasons, but in La Terpsichore that’s not the case. And aligning the rhythms in bars 42 and 44 produces parallel 9ths, an unnecessary blemish which alignment only accentuates. In these two cases, the direction of the slurs is noteworthy. In the LH the two little notes are slurred to the previous note, whereas in the RH they are slurred to the following note. I therefore don’t align them. We know how to separate our hands rhythmically when playing 3 against 4, or 3 against 2. This is no different, and it is more fleeting.

As long as the main beats are regular and in place, a certain amount of fuzziness is fine – and perhaps even desirable – in the hazy rhythmic interstices. It is the same combination of precision and haziness found in many Watteau paintings. To quote the words of Couperin’s song La Voluptueuse, the harpsichord version of which is in the same 2nd Ordre, “Que des moments si doux / Se passent tranquillement / Et coulent lentement. / Toujours sous un voile épais / Cache nos plaisirs secrets.” (May such sweet moments be tranquil and flow slowly. Always hide our secret pleasures under a thick veil.")

And this makes me think of the time Debussy in old age came to a rehearsal of the young Ernest Ansermet with a student orchestra playing Nuages from the Nocturnes. Ansermet had tried very hard to get the musicians to play the rhythms exactly, but Debussy said that the performance was too strict and needed to be “plus flou”. (He would probably have said the same thing about performances conducted by Pierre Boulez…)

Best wishes to all.

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Many thanks, Tilman. I agree entirely with your conclusions, and find
your performance quite convincing. I’ve heard a couple where the players
don’t seem to have made up their mind on what to make of the sixteenths
in this piece. I asked about overdotting, but actually the true question
was whether any sources mention dotting the first of four sixteenths, as
one is tempted to do here (because of the indication “Marqué”, but also
because of the trills on the first notes of some of these groups). But I
don’t see the problem you mention in bars 43 and 55.

Le 14/04/2024 12:26, Davitt Moroney via The Jackrail écrit :

And aligning the rhythms in bars 42 and 44 produces parallel 9ths, an
unnecessary blemish which alignment only accentuates. In these two
cases, the direction of the slurs is noteworthy. In the LH the two
little notes are slurred to the previous note, whereas in the RH they
are slurred to the following note. I therefore don’t align them. We
know how to separate our hands rhythmically when playing 3 against 4,
or 3 against 2. This is no different, and it is more fleeting.

Many thanks, Davitt, for your response. Indeed, the dot is rarely
“mathematical” in Couperin. And neither are the notes or the rests. In
this same piece, Couperin writes four 128th notes, that occupy the value
of an 8th note - four 32nds would have been mathematically more
accurate. And in bars 42 and 44 (Bärenreiter) or 41 and 43 (Heugel),
where you prefer not to align the last two notes in both hands,
Couperin’s notation is also wrong, since he has two rests (8th + 16th)
before the two 16th notes, when there’s only room for two 32nds. If he
wanted the hands aligned, why didn’t he write 32nds everywhere? And if
he didn’t want them aligned, why did he add the 16th note rest? And
then, why did he make this “mistake” twice? I notice only now that both
Herlin (Bärenreiter) and Gilbert (Heugel) change these 16ths to 32nds.

As noted already, this piece has several rhythmic ‘questions of interest’ beyond what to do with the dotted figures. It seems quite possible that Couperin’s notation of some ‘upbeating’ runs of notes as 16ths or as 32nds did not indicate necessary differences in performance - i.e. in the ‘marqué’ context, they could all indicate more or less metrical rushes up (/down) to the main note.
Already in b.4 the turn with an implausible number of beams suggests that these before-the-beat features are not going to be metrically notated.

That is the answer to ‘if Couperin wanted 32nds why didn’t he notate them?’ : the notation of ‘little notes’ all through the piece is not precise anywhere, so one cannot deduce anything from a specific apparent difference in notation.

This of course leaves the player with a lot of work to do to realise some kind of coherent rhythmic structure. ‘Marqué’ is the only help you get - what could it mean?

In the absence of this direction, for example, players might have seen the dotted figures as meaning inégale along the lines of triplets, or seen the groups of three 16th notes as metrical with inégales. So then ‘marqué’ would mean ‘yes, the rhythm is this unequal, or even more so’ as applied to the dotted figures, and ‘no, these collections of 16th notes do not mean a metrical subdivision of the beat’.

FWIW in bars 42/44 Brahms-Chrysander indicate triplets in the RH … probably on the basis that with a 16th rest plus two 16th notes you need a triple division!

A propos Debussy, both he and Ansermet had the problem that you cannot play an imprecise rhythm - everything you play is precisely something, even if it’s hard to notate - so if you want to give an imprecise or fuzzy impression, you still have to decide exactly how to either notate or perform the rhythms.

It is all very well to know that we should not be playing something that sounds exactly like the notated rhythms, we still don’t know (in the absence of further hints) which way we should deviate from them.

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A very interesting and illuminating discussion indeed!

Back to your original question, Dennis, you asked whether (obviously other than as implied by musical passages in scores) there are any written sources on overdotting coming from French baroque circles.

I was minutes ago searching another matter and came across this statement, on the 1st page of a 95-page-long treatment of Overdotting, possibly the most detailed ever published:

"The earliest writer to discuss what we now understand as overdotting per se is Quantz (1752) " in
Hefling, Stephen E. Rhythmic Alteration in the 17th- and 18th-Century Music: Notes Inégales and Overdotting. W. Schirmer, New York 1993, p. 65.

Although, always in the Hefling book, on the following page I find a quotation I was not familiar with: Loulié, in manuscript additions to his treatise of 1696, writes:
" … ordinarily, a dot after a note augments its value by half. Sometimes, [however,] it augments the note by 1/8, or 1/4, or 3/8, or 1/2, or 5/8, or 3/4, or 7/8. … In any [given] place, the time-value of the dot is regulated by the notes which follow".
Hefling also clarifies that Methoyen and a few others “say much the same thing”.

Le 28/04/2024 00:27, Claudio Di Veroli via The Jackrail écrit :

Although, always in the Hefling book, on the following page I find a quotation I was not familiar with: Loulié, in manuscript additions to his treatise of 1696, writes:
" … ordinarily, a dot after a note augments its value by half. Sometimes, [however,] it augments the note by 1/8, or 1/4, or 3/8, or 1/2, or 5/8, or 3/4, or 7/8. … In any [given] place, the time-value of the dot is regulated by the notes which follow".
Hefling also clarifies that Methoyen and a few others “say much the same thing”.

Thank you, Claudio. Very interesting. And sorry, I only noticed these
last messages of yours today.