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Bach Books

Meter in Music
by BBB





Meter in Music, 1600-1800

Performance, Perception, and Notation (Music Scholarship and Performance)

George Houle

Indiana University Press


HB & PB / 192pp

Fast tempos, meter, taste, understanding (etc) in HIP

Bradley Lehman
wrote (July 9, 2003):
I further recommend the following books, strongly:

- George Houle, Meter in Music, 1600-1800: Performance, Perception, and Notation. 1987 (hardback), 2000 (paperback). This is the single best modern summary I've ever seen about issues of Tactus (the big steady beat, and flexibility within it: recognition of the most important levels of attention), metrical organization, meter signatures, "good and bad" notes, tempo proportions, rhythmopoeia, 17th/18th century differences of notation, meter/tempo connections, poetic feet, metrical perception, metrical articulation (tongueing/bowing/fingering techniques as they automatically express the meter appropriately), and various types of accent. Poncein and Hotteterre on "tu tu ru", and much more! (Perhaps this book will also correct your regular whining about the reasons why HIP musicians don't normally deliver the notes as long as they look to you on the page? One can hope....)

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 9, 2003):
[To Alex Riedlmayer] Music is an art, not an exact science.

George Houle's book at least explains what those various 17th century proportion signs meant to the people who used them, and traces them into the 18th century. These symbols represent relationships among sections; they don't force the performer to conform to an absolutely strict metrical presentation of the notes along the way.

Indeed, as Houle points out (and you'd know if you've read the book), "The convention of the mensural _tactus_ was a very important guide to conductors in the seventeenth and even the eighteenth century. The rise of the virtuoso conductor in the nineteenth century brought with it a technique far removed from the apparently simple down-and-up gesture of the tactus beater. The modern conductor has a powerful and efficient technique, commanding meter, rhythm, dynamics, accentuation, tempo, and nuances of performance that were formerly controlled only by individual performers. A tactus conductor is necessarily more of a coordinator or a colleague of the other musicians, rather than the commanding leader that the modern virtuoso conductor has become. The tactus beat of a seventeenth-century conductor supported an awareness of a larger span of time than a conductor's gestures usually do today. Although many individual conductors today strive for this awareness, the basic technique of tactus beating in the seventeenth century was centered on it. Even if the tactus might be too slow-moving to be comfortably represented by a single down-and-up gesture, we know from theorists' detailed discussions that the conductor's beat was derived from the tactus. The modest alterations of the tactus suggested by Penna and Quirsfeld show that some slight adjustments were thought to be useful. It would be interesting to hear fine musicians playing seventeenth-century music conducted according to techniques of that period. It is possible to imagine that the performers would be less rigorously controlled, and therefore more responsible for the metrical coherence of their own performances. We simply do not know what effect such a re-creation of conducting technique might have. Seventeenth-century notation of meter modified mensural notation in important ways and signaled the shifts of movement, grouping, and speed typical of the music of the period. It is usually disastrous to disregard the original 'time signatures' of seventeenth-century music, or to modify them according to a more modern idea of notation, as one loses the precise yet subtle meanings they are able to convey."

[That's part of his summary at the end of Chapter 1, after he has presented dozens of sources in detail.]

Houle’s book about meter

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 8, 2004):
<< This writer has also already referred readers to George Houle's book for matters of this type (meter signatures as they determine tempo), a book where those relevant 18th century (and 17th century) sources are conveniently spelled out and analyzed.<<
So let the writer place his hand on his Houle bible which he believes gives him the authority to make such pronouncements about Bach’s tempi; however, in the real world there are voices of other experts who have taken into account Houleâ?Ts efforts (1960) along with many more recent investigations into this matter of mensural notation. They have presented their expert opinion as related above.<<
Perhaps members should actually read books before dismissing them as worthless. Houle's was published in 1987, and the first paperback edition in 2000. Not 1960. This one:

Two earlier postings by me, about the thoroughness and usefulness this book, and the general issues of tempo and meter:
[the relevant paragraphs from the original messages are quoted above]

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