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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 15 (2009) No. 1

Previously Unknown Charpentier Manuscript at Indiana University’s Lilly Library

Carla Williams*

1.1 Tucked away in Indiana University’s Lilly Library is a previously unknown manuscript copy of a basso continuo treatise in the hand of Marc-Antoine Charpentier, the only known autograph of Charpentier’s theoretical writings. The manuscript is included in “Traité d’accompagnement et de composition,” which is found in the front portion of a composite volume (call number MT530 .B73) that also contains a printed treatise (Pierre Borjon de Scellery’s Traité de la mvsette, avec vne novvelle methode, pour apprendre de soy-mesme à joüer de cét instrument facilement, & en peu de temps [Lyon: Girin and Rivière, 1672]) and a manuscript play (“Au Loup,” signed and dated “Votre fille Helaine … 1695”). The manuscript “Traité” is the subject of my doctoral project in harpsichord at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, an annotated transcription and translation of this work on continuo and composition. Patricia Ranum kindly agreed to look over my transcription and translation, and identified Charpentier’s hand in the manuscript. This identification has been corroborated by Catherine Cessac.

1.2 The “Traité” consists of 33 leaves, which contain text and musical examples. Leaves 1–27 are in an unidentified hand. The last 6 leaves, on different paper, are the portion copied by Charpentier. The first page of this section is numbered XLI in the upper left corner, evidently in Charpentier’s hand (see Figure 1).

1.3 The manuscript is apparently unknown to scholars and does not appear to be a copy of another treatise; its authorship is unknown. A comparison with contemporaneous French accompaniment and theoretical treatises published ca.1650–1750 shows that the final six leaves are similar in format and content to parts of Charpentier’s Rules of Composition (known from secondary copies), and that the “Traité” as a whole seems to be an original work. The “Traité” combines the discussions of accompaniment and composition, often treated separately, to a greater extent than other sources, stressing the compositional aspects of basso continuo practice.

1.4 My forthcoming annotated transcription and translation will be prefaced with a detailed description of the entire “Traité.” Ranum has posted her own findings regarding the Charpentier portion of the manuscript on her Web site (http://www.ranumspanat.com/xli_prologue.htm).


* Carla Williams (caewilli@indiana.edu) is Head of Public Services for the William & Gayle Cook Music Library at Indiana University, where she is also pursuing a D.M. in harpsichord. Since this Communication was submitted, she has completed her D.M.

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