Musical Performance in the Times of Mozart and Beethoven: The Lost Tradition in Music, Part II

By Fritz Rothschild | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
ACCENTUATION

Accentuation in the Style Galant

The system of accentuation of the Style Galant is a dead tradition. Today musicians are at liberty to add as many other accents as are dictated by good taste and musical feeling, provided that the main dynamic accents are observed. Since we no longer apply conventional accentuation (a system of accentuation independent of the performer's wishes) it is all the more desirable, for the interpretation of 18th-century music, to rediscover this manner of accentuation since it was such an important factor in musical performance. It may even be said that conventional accentuation, which was still used in the Viennese Classical Period, was one of the pillars upon which the whole structure of classical music rested. It will be explained later why this conventional accentuation was abolished and forgotten.

The system of accentuation was fully described after 1750. Of the four outstanding theorists of the Style Galant, Joachim Quantz, C. P. E. Bach , Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg and Leopold Mozart, it was Marpurg who described and explained its basic rules--by no means an easy task. His own words prove that he was fully aware of the difficulties and of his responsibility ( Anleitung zur Musik überhaupt und zur Singkunst besonders, 1763, p. 70, § 7):

". . . I know that instruction with regard to metre has been approached in a different way by some musicians than it is here, and that I myself have treated it differently in the past. But having applied much more time and thought to this subject than before, I have come to the conclusion that these instructions cannot be given in any other way than they are here, if confusion is to be avoided . . ."

Indeed, Marpurg's successors did, to a large extent, follow his method in their own instruction books. Quantz is not always an entirely reliable authority on this, for his conception of accentuation was still too close to that of the Old Tradition. (See Rothschild: The Lost Tradition in Music, I, p. 142.) C. P. E. Bach and Leopold Mozart, though both representatives of the Style Galant, contributed relatively little to the knowledge of accentuation in their period and yet accentuation at this time was considered the principal means of raising musical language

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