Early English And French Clavier Schools

English Schools to Henry VIII.—Popular music, both vocal and instrumental, was an early English institution. The many Folk-songs which have come down from a very early period bear witness to the English love of conviviality. Dance tunes, sometimes based on these Folk-songs, were played on the instruments of the minstrels, which, as early as 1484, included the clavichord; and the fact that such instruments were cultivated by people of higher rank is shown by the record that James IV of Scotland and his queen purchased clavichords to play upon, in 1503, while the queen of Henry VII of England bought a clavichord for her private use in 1502. The virginal is spoken of in the reign of Henry VII; Henry VIII (reigned 1509-1547), who was an accomplished musician, played upon both these instruments, and also wrote music for them.

To Queen Elizabeth’s Time.—Edward VI (r. 1547-1553) had three duly appointed virginal players among his court musicians; and after Elizabeth (r. 1558-1603) ascended the throne, the virginal increased in popularity; indeed, its name was formerly thought to have been derived from her as the virgin queen; although the fact that the instrument was spoken of as the virginal before her reign makes its derivation from its popularity among young ladies the more probable. Queen Elizabeth, as well as her sister Mary, received instruction in virginal playing during her early youth, and became an accomplished performer ; and instances are shown of the former’s great pride in this accomplishment. In the course of her illustrious reign, when all the arts flourished to a remarkable degree, and when great wits and litterateurs vied with each other in the genius of their productions, the art of music received its share of attention also. The fact that musical degrees were early given at the great universities, Oxford and Cambridge, tended to raise the standard of musical knowledge, and to produce a number of composers who were especially gifted in the more serious Church forms of writing. Many such, connected with the Royal Chapel and the court, wrote excellent anthems and secular part-songs ; and now, attracted by the popularity of the instrument, they began to give a more worthy setting to the folk and dance tunes played on the clavier.

Dance Tunes.—A clavier composition is extant, dated 1555, by William Blitheman, an English church composer, consisting of a chorale-like melody in whole notes, accompanied first by a flowing eighth-note figure, and next by triplet quarter notes, with a third voice added later. Such a serious style prefigured the variations upon dance tunes, which were especially cultivated by William Byrd (1538-1623). In such variations the melody was first harmonized in simple fashion, and was afterwards played several times in the same part, with slight changes, while the accompanying parts were varied in rhythm and style, becoming generally quicker in tempo. To modern ears the result is monotonous, as the same key and time signature is maintained throughout; but the variety in presentation must have been grateful after the simplicity of the dance tunes.

The Virginal Book. — Other popular forms were the Fancie, in which several melodic subjects were imitated in the various voices ; and the Pavane, a dance in common time, whose theme was repeated in the following Galliarde, a dance in triple time. These and other forms are used in a curious collection of clavier pieces now preserved at Cambridge, and known as Queen Elizabeth’s Virginal Book. This collection, consisting of four hundred and eighteen manuscript pages, written on a six-lined staff, contains seventy compositions by Byrd, besides others by most of the composers of the Elizabethan era, like Tallis, Dr. Bull, Giles, Farnaby and many others.

Leading Elizabethan Composers.—Byrd was a pupil of Thomas Tallis (d. 1585), the renowned church composer, and together they were made organists of Queen Elizabeth’s Chapel, in 1575, receiving also the sole right to print music. Another musician who deserves special mention is Dr. John Bull (1563-1628), who won world-wide fame as organist and clavier player, finally becoming organist at Antwerp Cathedral, which post he held until his death. His clavier compositions show great technical fluency. Orlando Gib-bons (1583-1625), a Doctor of Music at Oxford, and organist at Westminster Abbey, wrote excellently in the prevailing style. Shakespeare testifies to the popularity of clavier playing at this time in one of his sonnets, where he speaks of the keys as

“O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait.”

Although these early English composers wrote with musical solidity, their compositions can scarcely be said to have added much to the development of the instrumental style, or to clavier technic; and, in fact, they amounted to little more than a side issue in music, withdrawn from the general advancement, and valuable chiefly as curiosities. The melodies were apt to be wearisome, through monotonous repetitions, the rhythms to lack variety, and the modulations to appear chiefly in the form of unsuccessful attempts.

The Parthenia.—During the first half of the 17th century the virginal retained its popularity, although political turmoils prevented much positive advancement in music. The “Parthenia,” a volume containing the first printed collection of virginal music, appeared in 1611, composed of twenty-one pieces by Byrd, Bull and Gibbons ; and a similar volume followed, with compositions for virginal and bass viol, by Robert Hole.

Purcell.—In the reign of Charles II (1660-1685) music again came to the fore, and was ably promoted by Henry Purcell, who was born in the year when Cromwell died 1658, and died in 1695. Purcell is a shining figure in English musical history, through his ability as an opera composer, in which capacity he produced bright and pithy works, thoroughly English in spirit, and healthy in tone. He published a volume of twelve clavier sonatas in 1683, with parts also for two violins and a bass viol, founded on the model of the Italian violin sonatas, each having an Adagio, a Canzona, a slow movement and an Air. Later he published other sonatas, besides suites and separate pieces for the clavier. Upon the advent of Handel, how-ever, the English composers became, for the most part, mere imitators of his style, which had so caught the national ear as to well-nigh eclipse all other kinds of music. The early English school, therefore, can be said to have had its last exponent in the person of Purcell.

Rise of the French School. — In France a school of clavier compositions developed during the brilliant reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), which did much toward imparting elegance and polish, besides characteristic rhythms and technical figures, to clavier music. The head of this school and the personal teacher of many succeeding clavier composers and players was Andre Champion de Chambonnières (d. 167o), who became court clavier player to the king. He is said to have been master of a full tone on the harpsichord attained by none other than himself ; he also published two books of clavier compositions, written in the pure harmonic style, and showing the tendency toward brilliant embellishments which became a characteristic of his successors. Of his pupils, Jean Henry d’Anglebert (d. 1691), was clavier player at court, and published in 1689 a book containing clavier arrangements of airs and dances from the operas of Lully, with rules for their execution.

The Couperin Family.—Two, at least, of the famous musical family of Couperin also came under the instruction of Champion. These were Louis Couperin (163o-1665), and François Couperin (1631-1701), who, with their brother Charles Couperin (1638-1669), and his son François Couperin, called “le Grand” (1668-1733), were all at various times organists of the church of St. Gervais, at Paris. The

Couperins may be considered as classic composers for the clavier, as their style, though having an harmonic basis, was mostly in the line of instrumental voice writing. The first-named published three suites of dances for clavier; and the second was eminently popular as a teacher.

Francois Couperin.—François Couperin, “le Grand,” de-serves special attention, and has been called the first great composer distinctively for the clavier. He was a pupil of the organist Thomelin, and rose quickly to so commanding a position as player of the organ and clavier that, in 1701, he was appointed court clavier player and organist at the Royal Chapel. He was very accurate as a composer ; and in the four books of clavier pieces which he published successively, he gave minute directions for interpreting the wealth of ornamentation with which his melodies are sur-rounded. Most of these pieces are written in two voices, with the upper melody most prominent; and they reflect the artificial show and glitter of the French court in their endless turns and embellishments. Yet for this very reason they have amplified the resources of clavier compositions, preparing the way for composers like Scarlatti, Bach and Handel. Many of them show the French taste toward attaching definite meaning to music, by their fanciful titles, like “La tendre Nanette,” “La Flatteuse”—a custom fol-lowed by others of this school. Couperin wrote also a treatise on clavier touch, and was one of the first to make use of the thumb in playing.

Louis Marchand (1669-1732) was a brilliant though dissipated figure in clavier playing. Becoming organist at the court of Versailles, he lost the post through his reckless habits, and, going to Dresden, he was somewhat subdued in his conceit by the evident superiority of Bach. On his return to Paris, he became exceedingly popular as a teacher, although his extravagant style of living brought him finally to poverty. His pupil, Louis Claude Daquin (1694-1772), received through him an appointment as organist at the church of St. Paul,. in preference to Rameau, of whose riority Marchand became jealous. Daquin published a number of rather superficial clavier pieces.

Jean-Phillippe Rameau, the last and greatest light of this school, has even greater fame as an opera composer. He was born at Dijon in 1683, and displayed so great musical talent when a mere child that, although his parents had intended him for another profession, he was finally sent to Italy to study music. After spending some time there, he joined the orchestra of an opera troupe, traveling about France and gaining an insight into dramatic composition. Upon going to Paris he studied with Marchand, who recognized and feared his talent, and who finally was the means of his leaving Paris. Later, however, he obtained an organ position outside of Paris, and soon attracted attention not only by his playing, but also by the publication, in 1726, of a treatise on Harmony. In this he reduced the study of chords to a scientific foundation, and won his title of the name of creator of the modern science of Harmony. Returning to Paris, he now secured an organ position there, and set to work upon the series of dramatic productions which made him the foremost opera composer of his day, superior even to the popular Lully. In 1737, he published another theoretical work, in which the principles of Equal Temperament, which J. S. Bach had adopted fifteen years before, were so clearly stated as to make their establishment permanent for future composers. Rameau’s theories were the subject of much controversy in his day; but many distinguished contemporaries, like Rousseau and Voltaire, were his warm partisans. He died in 1764.

Rameau’s Clavier Works.—His numerous clavier compositions show great advance in freedom of expression, and are written mostly in three parts, with an occasional succession of full chords. Many of these have descriptive titles, such as “La Poule,” in which the cackling of a hen is cleverly imitated. Others are in the form of dance suites. The order of Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue was made the basis of these suites as well as those of Couperin, although this order admitted of considerable variation ; and no other principle of Unity appears in them, with the exception of a common key.

End of the Early French School.—The growing importance of the German school now came to be felt in France so strongly that the French school came to lose its individuality. We therefore turn our attention to the important developments in instrumental music which were effected in Germany.


Weitzmann.—History of Pianoforte Playing.

Rimbault.—The Pianoforte.

Naumann.—History of Music, Vol. I.

Henderson.—Preludes and Studies.

Naylor.—An Elizabethan Virginal Book.