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This is a very useful book. Performance of French baroque organ music requires a number of issues to be understood and then interpreted: the organ, registration, liturgical context, ornamentation, rhythmic issues such as notes inégales, and the stylistic models such as dances, French airs and opera, and Italian vocal and instrumental music, which had influence on particular pieces. All the relevant information is scattered in prefaces to the livres d’orgue, pedagogical treatises, dictionaries and liturgical ceremonials, and the issues arising have been discussed in the wide range of literature published over the last half- century. The great virtue of Paolo Crivellaro’s book is that many of the primary sources have been brought together in one monograph, quoted both in the original language and in translation, thereby making an excellent reference book for students of this fascinating repertoire.

The chronological span extends from the beginning of the 17th to the late 18th centuries, from Eustache du Caurroy (1549-1609) to Balbastre (1724-99), with brief biographical details of composers, a full list of their organ works, and the instruments (with specifications) that they played. Details of the major manuscript collections, such as the Livre d’orgue de Montréal and the important collections by Louis Couperin and Marchand, are included under ‘Sources’.Moreover, the specifications of six important historic organs are included, all now restored to their 18th-century condition.

Most chapters on interpretative topics such as ornamentation, fingering, tempi and notes inégales have been covered previously in somewhat greater depth, but in ‘The Alternatim Practice’ relevant sections of ecclesiastical ceremonials relating to music from different cathedrals help to fill out the national picture of varying liturgical practices and the musical requirements for organists.

The music itself is divided according to genre: Plein jeu, Grand jeu, Fond d’orgue and Jeu doux, Fugue, Duo, Trio, Quatuor, Récit de dessus, Récit en taille and Basse, for each of which the author provides comprehensive quotations from prefaces of appropriate registrations (with alternatives) and manners of performance. There is, nevertheless, the opportunity for further and deeper study. For example, while there are references to dance and to Italian music, there is scope to consider these features in greater detail, and specifically their influence on particular organ pieces.

With so many sources quoted, supplemented by a generous array of musical examples and a very useful bibliography, this book is highly recommended, particularly to those whose knowledge of French baroque organ music is limited.

DAVID PONSFORD Read the full review on Agora Classica


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