Friday, July 31st, 2015...3:45 pm

Early Eighteenth-Century French Music Miscellanies

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Early eighteenth-century manuscript miscellanies of French music offer a wealth of insight into contemporary public and private musical tastes and activities.  Two such miscellanies in the John Milton and Ruth Neils Ward Collection reveal especially fascinating histories of compilation practices and use.

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The first miscellany, M1507.L84 P58 1701, began life in the workshop of Henri Foucault (fl. 1690-1719/20), a prominent and somewhat colorful music publisher working in Paris at the turn of the eighteenth century.  Foucault was especially proud of his publications of the operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) – in fact, the miscellany opens not with a title page, but with a printed page advertising Foucault’s products with especial attention given to the workshop’s luxurious, two-volume set of “Les plus beaux endroits des opera de M. de Lully.”  The contents of the miscellany represent excerpts of ballets and operas by Lully and André Campra (1660-1744), but the workshop stopped inscribing pieces into the book about half-way through the volume.  At least five, and perhaps as many as nine, different people filled in the remaining pages with popular songs or excerpts from popular operas.  Possibly around the middle of the eighteenth century, the book was used to teach harmonic keys, arpeggios, and fingerings to an aspiring instrumentalist.  The latest operas whose excerpts appear in the volume date from the early 1770s.  The volume was thus not only in active use, but was, in fact, still being created, nearly a century after Foucault’s scribes entered its first contents.

HTC-LC M1507.L84 P58 1701; HOLLIS number 12060724.

HTC-LC M1507.L84 P58 1701; HOLLIS number 12060724.

The second miscellany, M1505.L94 O6 1700, was copied in 1711 and contains operatic excerpts predominantly from Lully’s operas.  Though the scribe remains nameless, he peppered the volume with clues as to his whereabouts and artistic progress.  After 31 pages of music, the scribe ran out of ink – a fact that he admits to his reader in a marginal note (written in very weak ink): “Achevé de copier le 30me avril.  J’ay esté obligé d’aller et revenir a villefranche pour avoir de l’encre” (“Finished copying on April 30th.  I had to go and come back from Villefranche to get some ink.”)

HTC-LC M1505.L94 O6 1700; HOLLIS number 11495868.

HTC-LC M1505.L94 O6 1700; HOLLIS number 11495868.

Probably right before the ink run, he decided to record on the first page of the volume that he had begun his work on April 26th, 1711 in Salé.

HTC-LC M1505.L94 O6 1700; HOLLIS number 11495868.

HTC-LC M1505.L94 O6 1700; HOLLIS number 11495868.

He had completed 80 pages by May 6th, at which point he was writing in Villefranche (“copié a villefranche le 6me May, 1711”).  His final note appears on pg. 130, where he wrote, “copié le 21 may 1711.”

The remaining 14 pages are silent in regards to his work timeline, but loudly confess the scribe’s struggles in fudging copying mistakes.  Several notes direct readers to pages where the scribe wrote the final measures of pieces that he had begun earlier in the volume, but that he had forgotten to finish before moving on to subsequent pieces.  While the scribe’s identity remains a mystery, his clues enable us to propose three statements about the volume’s compilation process: it took at least three weeks, two locations, and one ink trip to complete.

M1505.L94 O6 1700 teases us with other clues as to its former owners.  Doodles adorn the title page, surrounding the volume’s no-nonsense title “Second tome” with whimsical smiley faces, a castle and drawbridge, and a man in a tri-cornered hat (who re-appears at the back of the volume, this time having a smoke).  It was possibly the artist of the drawings who scrawled, “Debussy 1730,” above the castle’s fluttering flags.

HTC-LC M1505.L94 O6 1700; HOLLIS number 11495868.

HTC-LC M1505.L94 O6 1700; HOLLIS number 11495868.

 

HTC-LC M1505.L94 O6 1700; HOLLIS number 11495868.

HTC-LC M1505.L94 O6 1700; HOLLIS number 11495868.

More poignant a trace of former ownership is a tiny, delicate, and much-decayed branch with several dried flowers pressed into pages inscribed with excerpts from an opera about Philomela, a Greek princess who was tragically transformed into the sorrowful nightingale.

The pages of these manuscript miscellanies are noisy with long-term activity and use.  They are witnesses of a book practice that regarded music manuscript miscellanies as protean objects that consumers could use and transform according to different tastes and purposes, and that copyists could treat as records of progress as well as product.

Thanks to Pforzheimer Fellow and Harvard graduate student Natasha Roule for contributing this post.

1 Comment

  • Carl H. Pforzheimer III
    August 17th, 2015 at 10:29 am

    These fellowships were created at the suggestion of Bob Darnton and then greatly encouraged by Sarah Thomas. I can now see why these eminent librarians (and so much more) thought such opportunities were so worthwhile for the fellows, for their scholarship and for inspiring potential librarians.

    This blog post is truly fascinating and fun.