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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 11 (2005) No. 1

Georg Muffat on Performance Practice: The Texts from “Florilegium primum,” “Florilegium secundum,” and “Auserlesene Instrumentalmusik”: a New Translation with Commentary. Edited and translated by David K. Wilson from a collation prepared by Ingeborg Harer, Yvonne Luisi-Weichsel, Ernest Hoetzl, and Thomas Binkley. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. [xvi, 123 pp. ISBN 0-253-21397-5. $29.95.]

Reviewed by Steven Zohn*

1. Introduction

2. The Translation

3. The Commentary

4. Final Thoughts


1. Introduction

1.1 To generations of music history students reared on Oliver Strunk’s Source Readings in Music History and Carol MacClintock’s Readings in the History of Music in Performance, Georg Muffat’s claim to fame rests primarily on his status as a witness to Lullian performance practice. Indeed, the quadrilingual forewords to Muffat’s two publications of suites for instrumental ensemble, the Suavioris harmoniæ instrumentalis hyporchematicæ florilegium primum (1695) and secundum (1698), have long been regarded as seminal texts on the French manner of bowing and ornamentation, learned by the composer first-hand during his Parisian musical studies between the ages of ten and sixteen (1663–9). Those English speakers desiring greater exposure to Muffat’s writings than that afforded by excerpts in the two Readings anthologies have been able to turn to a complete English translation of the Florilegium secundum foreword by Kenneth Cooper and Julius Zsako.1

1.2 The volume under review here is the first to offer English translations of the complete Florilegia texts (including forewords, afterwords, dedications, indices, and various other frontmatter), as well as texts from Muffat’s publication of concerti grossi, the Exquisitioris harmoniæ instrumentalis gravi-jucundæ selectus primus … Auserlesene mit ernst und lust gemengte Instrumentalmusik (1701). It is also the first translation to be based primarily on the German texts, and to report all variant readings from the parallel French, Italian, and Latin texts.2 As David K. Wilson explains in the book’s preface, this project took shape at the impetus of the late Thomas Binkley, who commissioned Ingeborg Harer, Yvonne Luisi-Weichsel, and Ernest Hoetzel of the Institut für Aufführungspraxis at the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Graz to modernize Muffat’s German texts (consulting not the original prints, but the transcriptions in Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich, vols. 2, 4, and 23), to note any discrepancies between these and the parallel texts, and to translate the variant readings into German. At this point Wilson entered the picture and translated this collation into English. Despite being a translation by committee, as it were, the book seems no worse for it, and Wilson has produced a readable and generally accurate text, though one not without its problems.

2. The Translation

2.1 This book, by virtue of bringing together most of Muffat’s writings in translation, is a welcome addition to the literature on performance practice of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. That said, should Wilson’s translations supplant those by Strunk (revised and expanded by Murata), MacClintock, and Cooper and Zsako? There are, first of all, a fair number of small inaccuracies scattered throughout Wilson's text. Muffat’s “Liebhaber” (music lover) is consistently mistranslated as “connoisseur” (except on page 71, where Music-Liebhaber is rendered as “music lover”). The difference is not insignificant, for the Germans distinguished between two types of musical amateurs: those who enjoyed music but understood little about it (the “Liebhaber,” or music lovers), and those who were more knowledgeable about its practice (the “Kenner,” or connoisseurs). A mistranslation of “Puncten” (dots) as “points” leads to “one can learn how to proceed with these multiply [sic] combined points in Example DD” (39) instead of “one can learn how to proceed when frequent dots are mixed [among the notes] in Example DD.” Most of the time, Wilson correctly translates “kleine Geige” as “violin,” but on two occasions (33 and 45) he slips and gives “small violin.” And Muffat’s use of “enger” with respect to the instrument intended for the violetta part (45) does not indicate “more narrowly-made” but simply “smaller.” There are other such inaccuracies, as well as a handful of omissions and typographical errors, none of which should seriously hinder the reader’s comprehension of Muffat’s discussion.3

2.2 One mistake that really ought to have been caught is the printing of two different versions of a key sentence from the Florilegium secundum foreword having to do with pitch differences between France and Germany. The first version (45) is both incomplete and less accurate than the one given in Wilson’s commentary (99). In an earlier passage from the same foreword (33), a faulty translation yields a meaning at odds with Muffat’s original text. Below are Wilson’s rendering and a corrected version:

But it is well known that the Lullists … all bow the most important notes of the musical meter, especially those which begin the measure and which end a cadence, and thus strongly show the motion of the dance, in the same way …

But it is well known that the Lullists … all observe the same manner of bowing the most important notes of the musical meter, especially those which begin the measure, end a cadence, and more strongly show the motion of the dance …

2.3 Although the poems included among the front matter to the Florilegia will be of limited interest to most readers, a few lines of Christian Leopold Krünner’s An den Verfasser (To the Author) are ill served by the translation.4 For example, “Jetzt die Cadenze ganz aus gleich Lebens loß zu stehen” (Now the cadence stands as still as life) is given as “Now the cadence, quite finished, like the fate of Life, to stand still.” And “Was macht, daß du so kühn die Tantzer gleichsam zwingst?” (How is it that you likewise so boldly compel the dancers?) is rendered as “How is it that you so skillfully govern the dancers?”

2.4 There are also some shortcomings regarding the musical examples. In the foreword to Florilegium primum, Muffat’s first and second-ending brackets and repeat signs are omitted from the text (16). More serious are omissions or modifications of symbols in the foreword to the Florilegium secundum. Here Muffat indicates the second of two consecutive up-bows with a dot, but Wilson silently replaces it with an up-bow symbol (as in Examples E and F [35]), thus obscuring a possible implication that this last stroke should be especially short or light. For the class of ornaments that Muffat calls “Accentuation” (“grace notes” in the translation), the original symbol is inconsistently replaced with a small sixteenth note (text: 48) and a small eighth note (examples, starting with YY [49]). As in the case of Muffat’s appoggiatura symbol, which is also replaced (49ff.), I suspect that Wilson’s software was not up to the task of reproducing the original notation. Finally, bowing symbols are missing from Examples ZZ and Aa (50), and no fewer than fourteen trill symbols are missing from cadential formulas 2–4 (57–8). All of Muffat’s symbols are faithfully reproduced in the MacClintock as well as the Cooper and Zsako translations. On the other hand, unlike Cooper and Zsako, Wilson happily adheres to Muffat’s numbering sequence for the ornamentation examples.

2.5 As for the alternative or variant readings, their main value is in occasionally providing information not found in the translation’s main text. For example, only the French and Italian title pages to the Florilegia tell us that the French dance style is “beginning to blossom [more and more]” in Germany (11 and 23). The variants also elucidate several points concerning bowing in the Florilegium secundum foreword and allow one to compare the names for ornaments and bass-line instruments in all four languages (Muffat gently chides the French in their own tongue by noting that “agrément” is “a term they employ a little too much” [48]).5 But since the great majority of variants are relatively inconsequential, I wondered why a few sentences from the German text are omitted altogether from the Italian or French texts (36 and 39). The dual-column format adopted by Wilson (translation on the left, variants on the right) means that alternative readings are often placed above or below the line in the main text to which they apply. In most cases, I was able to sort out the intended placement for the words or phrases in question. There are an especially large number of variants on page 29 that are placed far from their contexts, or are otherwise difficult to insert into the main text. Numbering the lines of the translation and keying variants to these numbers would have simplified the process of reconstructing different versions of Muffat’s text.

3. The Commentary

3.1 In addition to a preliminary biographical sketch of Muffat that rehearses what little is known of the composer’s life, Wilson provides performance-practical commentary following the translations. Broken into chapters, some of which are no more than a page or two long, this commentary treats such topics as “Muffat’s Intentions,” “Instruments,” “Pitch and Temperament,” “Techniques,” “On German Performance Practice,” and “Performance Settings.” A one-page conclusion rounds out this section of the volume. As each of these chapters quotes extensively from the translations (in one case even reprinting several musical examples), it might have been more efficient to incorporate the commentary as footnotes in the translated texts. Perhaps this would have made the translations look “too cluttered” (x), but it would have clarified certain issues for the reader as they come up in Muffat’s discussion.

3.2 In “Muffat’s Intentions” Wilson explores the composer’s interest in mixing national styles, partly for purposes of cultural mediation and reconciliation between nations often at war with each other. To my ears, though, only the Auserlesene … Instrumentalmusik accomplishes such a mixture; the two Florilegia seem relatively pure expressions of the French goût. Interesting, however, is Muffat’s suggestion in the Auserlesene … Instrumentalmusik foreword that one should not perform his concertos too often or in succession, and only following a (Florilegium) suite (77). Pointing to passages in the dedications where Muffat speaks of envy, spite, jealousy, and repugnance directed toward him and his family, Wilson suggests that the composer’s “interest in introducing the French style to Germany was not received with universal acceptance” (86). That may well have been the case, but I read these passages (and one where Muffat speaks of having been “freed and protected … from the treachery and persecution of the jealous” [26]) as more than a composer encountering resistance to a new musical style. Muffat must have made a number of personal enemies in his various court positions.

3.3 The chapter on instruments is perhaps the most useful. Here Wilson sorts out what Muffat likely meant by “violetta,” “small bass violin,” and “violone,” and devotes attention to issues such as the participation of wind instruments in the concertos, whether the continuo is optional or obligatory, and the size of the performing ensembles. Following Inke Stampfl, he concludes that Muffat envisioned a French-style basse de violon tuned B'-flat, F, c, g rather than a cello or a German violone at 8-foot pitch; according to the composer, the violone at 16-foot pitch was to be used only with a large number of players.6 This part of the discussion, of necessity rather complex, would have benefited from tighter editing: twice in three sentences we are told that Muffat allowed the possibility of playing the Florilegia violetta parts on the violin (90), and three times we learn that the German violone was often at 8-foot pitch (91, 92, and 95). Although Wilson asserts that “the normal sound of the Lullian orchestra was Muffat’s model” (93) and quotes Mersenne on the size of the Vingt-quatre violons du Roi, he does not consider how large an ensemble Muffat might have envisioned for the Florilegia suites.7 (In the foreword to Florilegium secundum Muffat says his suites were played at the dance and “with many instruments sounding together” [“bey vieler Instrumenten Zusammen-Stimmung”; my translation]). Were there many places in late seventeenth-century Germany where one could reproduce or even approximate French orchestral string doublings? If so, why does Muffat talk about string doubling only in connection with the Auserlesene … Instrumentalmusik? Corelli, of course, contracted and led string ensembles featuring extensive doublings (thirty to forty or more players in all), which Muffat presumably heard at Rome in 1681–2. Wilson is therefore justified in stating that the Auserlesene … Instrumentalmusik (partly including revised pieces from the Armonico Tributo of 1682) was inspired by “Corelli’s orchestra of the 1680s” (95). But this begs the question of why Muffat’s concertos are scored for two violins, two violas, and bass, whereas Corelli’s include only one viola part—an issue that has been addressed by Simon Harris.8 To further contextualize Muffat’s concertos, Wilson might also have consulted John Spitzer’s study of the early orchestra in Rome.9

3.4 Wilson’s discussion of pitch gives frequencies for the four standards referred to by Muffat: Cornett-Thon (a' = ca. 460–70 Hz), Chor-Thon (ca. 416 Hz), Ton de chambre (ca. 404 Hz), and Ton d’Opéra (ca. 393 Hz). Deriving these standards from the work of Bruce Haynes, he suggests that Chor-Thon is the most likely choice for both the Florilegia (Muffat recommends it in the Florilegium secundum foreword) and the Auserlesene … Instrumentalmusik, where a performance replacing the string concertino with oboes and bassoon would have been around a' = 416 Hz, “the pitch at which the French wind instruments played” (100). Yet this seems too high, for Haynes finds that “the first French [woodwind] instruments heard in Germany were direct imports that accompanied their players, and were pitched at Ton d’Opéra … and Ton de la chambre du Roy,” and that a´ = ca. 403 Hz was “probably the most important French instrumental pitch in this period, when French instruments were serving everywhere as models.”10 Thus Muffat’s desire for Chor-Thon, if it really was as high as ca. 416 Hz, would likely have been thwarted by the participation of wind instruments built to lower pitch standards.

3.5 In the chapter on “Techniques” (bowing, ornamentation, repeats, tempo, and rhythm), Wilson observes that Muffat’s bowing rules are designed to convey the motion of French dances: they “‘show’ audibly the movements of whatever dance was being performed” (104). But by “movement” does Muffat mean the physical motion of dancers, or just the metrical characteristics of the dance itself? Wilson also points out that in successive down-bows (on beats three and one of consecutive measures in triple meter), one need not retake the bow for the second stroke, but instead begin where the first stroke left off, that is, in the middle of the bow. This would seem undesirable, if only because the downbeat stroke would be weaker than the preceding upbeat stroke, as Wilson observes. Yet I can imagine that in the context of a danced minuet, where the basic step unit encompasses two measures of music, such a bowing might encourage players to think in groups of six rather than three beats. On the subject of repeats, Wilson interprets Muffat’s remark in the Florilegium primum foreword that “I found the practice of some to be not unpleasant, which is to repeat still a third time [in a binary-form movement], beginning from the aforementioned sign after the second part has been played completely” (17) as advocating an overall AABBAB structure (rather than AAABBB). What Muffat means here, however, is a petite reprise in which a portion of the dance’s second strain is repeated following the complete AABB structure (he tells us that the sign may be “found nearly in the middle of the second part, or somewhat further from the end”).

3.6 On the subjects of ornamentation, tempo, and rhythm Wilson offers little in the way of interpretation, instead calling attention to selected passages in Muffat’s writings. But in the chapter on German performance practice he reads the composer’s statement that “one errs in part when one measure is played faster than the others, or when one note is played faster or slower than its value demands” as possibly a corrective to the freedoms associated with the stylus phantasticus, since “a violinist accustomed to playing improvisatory music may have balked at playing with the exact precision and metric predictability which Muffat says is crucial to dance music” (115). This makes a certain amount of sense, though I suspect that in 1698 a great many German violinists were already experienced in accompanying dancers. Indeed, Muffat himself tells us that at this time there were many players in Germany “well acquainted” with the performing style he describes (29).

3.7 This acquaintance raises an issue that is purposely not addressed by Wilson: the extent to which Muffat’s observations represent Lullian practice. By the time the Florilegia were published, Muffat was nearly thirty years removed from his experiences in Paris, and the suites of the Florilegium secundum, at least, were all composed during the 1690s.11 And so one must ask: to what degree were Muffat’s childhood recollections about Lully’s performance style colored by his adult experiences in German-speaking lands, and just how reflective of the mid-century French style are his published suites? It may be significant that, after claiming at the beginning of the Florilegium secundum foreword that his observations are based upon the precepts of Lully (29, 31), Muffat then refers only to the “Lullists” (or Lullian manner). Were these unidentified Lullists necessarily all French, or might they have included other Germans “well acquainted” with the French style? Perhaps it is not too much to say that Muffat’s rules document a German performance tradition—already a few decades old at the time of his writing—that was initially modeled on Lully’s practices but which must have departed from them in certain particulars over time. As Wiebke Thormalen has urged, we should also give closer scrutiny to Muffat’s motivations in publishing these didactic writings in the first place. For beyond imparting practical information, the forewords aim to promote both a musical aesthetic and the composer’s own compositions.12 It would, in any case, be unwise to assume that Muffat’s ideas on performance in the late 1690s were identical to those of Lully in the 1660s or, with regard to the Auserlesene … Instrumentalmusik, to those of Corelli in the early 1680s.

4. Final Thoughts

4.1 This book is attractively and spaciously laid out, with generous margins and blank pages inserted between each section and chapter. Less than satisfactory in appearance, however, are the musical examples, which were typeset using 1980s-era software that offers substandard resolution. I found it a curious irony that a book on seventeenth-century performance practice should sport cover photographs of a violin in modern set-up. Was this an oversight by Indiana University Press or intended as an enticement to mainstream string players?

4.2 In sum, for anyone wishing to have most of Muffat’s writings at their fingertips, the criticisms voiced above should not be a deterrence to owning this volume. The translation is adequate overall, even elegant at times, and the commentaries are worthwhile, though not essential, reading. Yet those with a special interest in the Florilegia forewords will still wish to consult the slightly more accurate translations provided by Strunk/Murata (Florilegium primum) and Cooper and Zsako (Florilegium secundum).


* Steven Zohn’s (szohn@temple.edu) research focuses on the German late Baroque, especially on the music of Telemann and Bach. Currently Associate Professor of Music History at Temple University, he is also professionally active as a performer on historical flutes.

1 Oliver Strunk, ed., Source Readings in Music History, rev. ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998), 645–5 (translation revised and expanded by Margaret Murata), containing the entire Florilegium primum foreword and excerpts of the Florilegium secundum foreword; Carol MacClintock, Readings in the History of Music in Performance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979), 297–303, containing more extensive excerpts of the Florilegium secundum foreword; and Kenneth Cooper and Julius Zsako, “Georg Muffat’s Observations on the Lully Style of Performance,” The Musical Quarterly 53 (1967): 220–45.

2 The MacClintock translation appears to be based on Muffat’s French texts, while Strunk/Murata seems to derive primarily from the Italian texts. The Cooper and Zsako translation conflates the German, French, Italian, and Latin versions.

3 The word “intellectually” on p. 16 belongs in editorial brackets, as it is not found in the original; Muffat’s “diminuirende Noten” are “diminished notes,” not “diminishing notes” (34, 43); Example II is not labeled (40); omitted from the beginning of par. 3 on p. 43 are the words “when played successively”; “Fusellen” is not Muffat’s word for “quarter notes” but “eighth notes” (rather than “beats,” 43); there is a missing barline in Example Zz (59); “Concertino” should follow “Basso Continuo e Violoncino” at the bottom of p. 72; “with discretion” should read “at your discretion” at the bottom of p. 73; the last full sentence on p. 77 should conclude with “to an end with the greatest possible enthusiasm, virtue, and splendor”; Johann Gottfried Walther’s Musikalisches Lexicon (1732) is not a “seventeenth-century” source (89); “heard” appears to be missing before “by the listeners” in the first sentence on p. 104; and the publisher of the first edition of Quantz’s Versuch is Voß, not “Boß” (112, n. 7 and 122).

4 Wilson silently omits translations of two Latin poems: Michäel Alber’s Ad Authorem and an anonymous Ad Zoilum.

5 Included in the Cooper and Zsako translation is a useful chart showing all of Muffat’s ornaments and their various names.

6 Inka Stampfl, Georg Muffat: Orchesterkompositionen: Ein musikhistorischer Vergleich der Orchestermusik, 1670–1710 (Passau: Passavia, 1984), 36.

7 Wilson’s primary source for information on Lully’s orchestra is Jürgen Eppelsheim, Das Orchester in den Werken Jean-Baptiste Lullys (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1961). Not cited by him are more recent studies such as Jérôme de La Gorce, “Some Notes on Lully's Orchestra,” in Jean-Baptiste Lully and the Music of the French Baroque: Essays in Honor of James R. Anthony, ed. John Hajdu Heyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 99–112; and Neal Zaslaw, “Lully's Orchestra,” in Jean-Baptiste Lully: Actes du colloque/Kongreßbericht, Saint-Germain-en-Laye/Heidelberg 1987, ed. Jérôme de La Gorce and Herbert Schneider (Laaber: Laaber Verlag, 1990), 539–79.

8 Simon Harris, “Lully, Corelli, Muffat, and the 18th-Century String Body,” Music & Letters 54 (1973): 197–202.

9 John Spitzer, “The Birth of the Orchestra in Rome—An Iconographic Study,” Early Music 19 (1991): 9–27.

10 Bruce Haynes, A History of Performing Pitch: The Story of “A” (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002), 135, 144.

11 Muffat’s remark that the suites of the Florilegium primum were first performed in Vienna (16) could be taken to mean that they were composed while he lived there during the 1670s.

12 Wiebke Thormalen, “Georg Muffat—A Document for the French Manner?” Early Music 31 (2003): 110–5.

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