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Saturday morning quotes 4.5: Accompaniment

June 14, 2014

For those of us who still care about living an authentic, mindful existence, nearly every aspect of modern life requires cooperative collaboration with other human beings.  This may be a challenge in a age that promotes a fearful, solitary lifestyle where one can surround oneself with an impenetrable moat of protective electronic devices.  Still, human interaction is necessary and the quality of every interaction depends upon the degree to which we choose to acknowledge and abide by the Social Contract:

“The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before.”

– Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778)

Rousseau, a musician and a composer, understood and was informed by the collaborative aspects of ensemble music, an apt and instructive metaphor for the Social Contract.  Though some would say that ensemble music is not a democratic enterprise, truly successful ensemble music of any sort demands a mutual willingness to cooperate and the quality of the result depends upon how well the collaborators interact, respond to non-verbal cues, and improvise around the rules.

For more specific guidelines on how to adapt the rules in order to achieve a better result, we turn to Monsieur de Saint-Lambert (fl. 1700):

“…You can sometimes change the chords marked on the notes, when you judge that others will suit better…”

“…On a bass note of substantial duration, you can put in two or three different chords, although the text only asks for one…”

“…If the bass has too few notes , and drags too much for the liking of the accompanist, he may add other notes by way of pleasing figuration, provided hes is sure that this will not interfere with the melody.”

– Monsieur de Saint-Lambert Nouveau traité de l’accompagnement (Paris, 1707)

Effective accompaniment requires a sense of empathetic collaboration; a willingness to listen, respond, adapt, improvise and give of oneself in order to create the best possible result for all concerned. True in music, true in life.





One Comment
  1. Dan Winheld permalink

    Interesting post this morning. Seems like “The Social Contract” has become an impossible nut to crack in modern American political life- a nasty can of worms I would not want to probe any further on this wonderful music blog.

    Monsieur de Saint-Lambert would of course get in trouble these days for practicing what he preaches- even though at the same time he would be praised for enlightening us about true historic practice, still current amongst none-frozen musicians (Jazz- ever heard of “Chord Substitutions”?) In fact, I do just that with an intab. by Julien Belin where I substitute a c minor chord for g major, because I just like it better. So sue me.

    I was recently smugly put down by a figure of some small importance in lutedom when I pointed out a spot in a piece he was playing where a low “D” would add weight to a cadence, and I was informed that “I do NOT play any note not written by the composer” -Really! Of course, one sees all the ridiculous implications, attempting to apply that worthy dictum to “Early” music.

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