Note: This HTML version lacks the appendices (score examples). The 49 footnotes are included below, but not yet reattached where they belong. - BPL

Musical style and transcription techniques
in Antoine Forqueray's Suite #1 in D Minor for viola da gamba,
as published in a harpsichord arrangement
by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Forqueray, 1747

© Dr. Bradley P Lehman, 1996

All rights reserved

Antoine Forqueray (1671/2-1745) was one of the two most impressive viol virtuosi of his time. He reputedly played "like the devil," while Marin Marais played "like an angel." Our acquaintance with his compositions is primarily through the five suites which his son, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Forqueray (1699-1782), published in 1747. This publication was in the form of two separately-issued volumes: one for solo viola da gamba and basso continuo (in score format), and one as his own arrangement for harpsichord. The son prepared these two versions to bring his father's music to a wide public audience, to preserve his father's art in the face of society's changing musical tastes, and to increase his own wealth and reputation. Comparison of the harpsichord arrangement with the viola da gamba model reveals many fascinating compositional and transcription techniques. It also raises vital issues of artistic values and priorities.

In this analytical study of the first suite (in D Minor) I consider the pair of scores with little reference to the other four extant suites by Forqueray. That is, I do not compare in such detail the transcriptions of the other four suites with their viol originals. If one considered all five suites as a group, the issues of transcription technique would be similar, but perhaps some of the general stylistic conclusions would be different.

The six movements of this suite are: La Laborde (allemande), La Forqueray (corrente), La Cottin (gavotte), La Bellmont (gigue), La Portugaise (fast sarabande), and La Couperin (fugue). All are in binary form with both sections repeated, the second section always being longer than the first.

Most harpsichordists know Forqueray's music through the modern edition by Colin Tilney. As a clear score for easy reading (modern clefs and good page spacing) it gives the player a reasonable basis for crafting a fine performance. The informative preface contains a historical sketch of the composers, a brief critical report, Rameau's ornament table (the one which Baptiste assumed was "common knowledge" among mid-18th-century French harpsichordists), plus Tilney's own performance suggestions and interpretation of several additional symbols. Most of Tilney's editorial ties and accidentals are good recommendations, but a player should still weigh every decision carefully and consult Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Forqueray's original notation. I base the present study upon the recently-published pair of Minkoff facsimiles of these prints.

In Appendix A of the present study I provide a composite facsimile of both original prints. The upper version is the harpsichord arrangement by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Forqueray. The lower version is the original viol solo and basso continuo accompaniment by Antoine Forqueray. I have reproduced each line of the harpsichord version uncut, even when it begins with half a measure. All references to page numbers correspond to the seventeen pages of Appendix A, not the original pagination of the prints. Hereafter I often refer to the six movements simply as Laborde, Forqueray, Cottin, Bellmont, Portugaise, and Couperin. In each reference I give the page number first, followed by the measure number: e.g., (Portugaise: 13:22). Other abbreviations: [V] = score of viol version; [H] = score of harpsichord version; Antoine = Antoine Forqueray, the father; Baptiste = Jean-Baptiste Antoine Forqueray, the son. Measure numbering is a count of full measures in [H].

Appendices B and C contain my own new re-transcription of this suite, an example of how a player might interpret the music using artistic values different from Baptiste's. I describe my arrangement more fully below after showing the transcription techniques which Baptiste has used.

Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Forqueray's basic transcription process

Baptiste's harpsichord arrangement of this suite is an interesting example of how one might translate ensemble music (solo and basso continuo) to the solo harpsichord. As one might expect, the left hand generally functions as the basso continuo, and the right hand plays the solo viol part. There are no extensions or deletions of musical passages, as one might see in a Bach concerto arrangement or a Liszt paraphrase, but only local changes of texture and a few elaborations of motives. Yet almost every measure of the suite contains alterations! Why did the arranger not simply give the left hand the continuo line "as is," and the right hand as many solo viol notes as it could handle, and leave it at that? A player can do exactly that, fashioning a workable keyboard arrangement directly from the viol score. What about the viol version is so unharpsichordistic that Baptiste felt compelled to recompose virtually every measure? In this study I attempt to find the reasons why Baptiste made such extensive changes in refining his harpsichord version.

It is important to keep in mind that [V] itself is an edition arranged by Baptiste, not necessarily a score handed down from father to son and reproduced unaltered. In that publication he states that "I have judged it appropriate to make the Bass very simple, in order to avoid the confusion which would be found in the Bass of the Harpsichord pieces, which I have embellished as much as possible....I have endeavored to finger the pieces well, in order to render their Execution easier." In this study I nevertheless assume that the viol publication represents Antoine's intentions and performance style fairly accurately. He must have composed most or all of the basso continuo along with the solo part which he wrote for himself (it would be unusual for a Baroque composer to write only the intricate solo in an ensemble work without at least sketching its accompaniment). I take Baptiste's ambiguous statement about "making the Bass very simple" to mean that in preparing the viol edition he resisted the temptation to incorporate the clever counterpoints and noisier encrustations of the harpsichord arrangement; instead he left the viol original unadorned, exactly as Antoine wrote it, adding only his own fingerings to facilitate performance.

A widely-held opinion regarding Forqueray's music is that the harpsichord versions are improvements on the viol originals. A typical example of this appears in American Record Guide (March/April 1994): "Vehement and extroverted, the solo versions make the tempestuous virtuosity of the viol originals seem coy by comparison." After careful study of the first suite I disagree wholeheartedly with this opinion. The viol version displays painstaking craftsmanship and ecstatic inspiration. The solo part is intensely exciting and effective, fits and expands the instrument's expressive range, and is quirky enough in detail to be consistently interesting and challenging. The accompanying bass line meshes perfectly with the solo part, generally staying out of its way yet occasionally asserting itself in the most dramatic moments, pushing the soloist to new heights. These viol pieces are powerful music, and I assume naturally that Antoine likely refined them throughout his career to capture exactly the effects that worked best in his concerts. My appreciation of the viol version causes me to base the present study on the axiom that it could scarcely be improved upon. I believe that Antoine Forqueray was an outstandingly talented composer who notated in his music exactly what he wanted. It is the harpsichord version which is coy by comparison with the vehement and extroverted viol original.

Differences in the notation of the two versions

Before we proceed I must point out a far-reaching and important implication of the notation: [H] is not as complete as [V]. Baptiste is not quite as careful with the notation of articulative detail as he is in Antoine's viol music. The most obvious example of this is that [H] contains few slurs. True, Baptiste is painstaking with note lengths in [H], though they are often different from the note lengths in [V]. But he also forgets more ties in [H] than in [V], and he chooses a more limited range of symbols to express the articulation of the notes.

The viol score is a detailed picture of the dynamic sound of the music, an explicit notation of difficult viol technique. The copious bowing indications (and Baptiste's fingerings) are an important part of the music. In many cases the expressive, irregular bowings of [V] are not obvious when a player looks only at the sparser notation of [H]. The harpsichord score gives less information, simply telling the player where to put the fingers on the keyboard and how long to hold the notes, but not so much how to play those notes. Why then did Baptiste choose not to transfer comparable markings to [H], instead leaving it less complete? He certainly knew how the viol pieces sounded, having played them with his father, the composer! And a brief glance at his own La D'Aubonne in the fourth suite shows that he had the ability to notate harpsichord performance details precisely when he chose to do so.

One explanation for the different degree of explicitness is time: Antoine probably refined his compositions throughout his long career, considering every detail carefully to get the exact effects he intended. It seems logical in contrast that Baptiste prepared the harpsichord edition relatively quickly for publication, probably not spending a comparable twenty or more years in its refinement. [H] is not "lived in" and edited by a player who has considered carefully the proper sound of every note and gesture.

There are other possible explanations for the omission of the slurs. Perhaps Baptiste wanted to suggest a very different sound in the new version. The naked notes leave open more possibilities of interpretation. Or it could be that he was simply following the prevailing presentation style of published harpsichord music; among major composers contemporary with Baptiste, only Couperin published harpsichord music containing carefully detailed indications of slurs. An emptier score looks less intimidating, and therefore more inviting, to a sight-reader who might be contemplating purchase of the score.

A player could indeed examine [V] carefully and then mark the harpsichord score in such a way that it suggests many of the same effects. This is the manner in which I first approached the project of playing this suite. But I noticed immediately that this close examination also made me want to change many of the notes, to simulate the ensemble sound more faithfully. And this quickly led to questions of artistic priorities: to what degree should the harpsichord version sound like the viol version? Should it be similar, or is it really a completely different piece of music, a shadow which happens to share many but not all of the features of the original?

Baptiste appealed directly to the expectations of contemporary harpsichordists, giving them immediately recognizable harpsichord music. He created a stand-alone version which harpsichordists could buy and understand without having to refer to the separate publication of the viol version. Although he printed [V] using his father's original symbols of agréments, in [H] he carefully and wisely changed these symbols to accord with Rameau's, which he took to be a good standard for harpsichordists of his time.

Let us look now at many individual musical elements in the scores, to see how Baptiste's transcription process puts new cosmetics on Antoine's music and transforms it into something almost unrecognizably different and new.


As I pointed out earlier, this transcription starts from the obvious assumption that most of the time the right hand will play the melody, and the left hand the basso continuo. The melody is at the top of the texture, supported by accompaniment. But occasionally Baptiste creates new melodic motion by bringing in new harmonic notes in the right hand, in places where the solo viol plays on its lowest strings. Things which seem like melodic phrases often are not, being instead derived from continuo material and newly composed connective bits. The player must recognize which seemingly melodic notes are new to [H], and judge the effectiveness of the passages individually.


Working within Rameau's set of agréments, Baptiste displays an impressive understanding of how to use ornamentation on the harpsichord. He freely and frequently moves trills and mordents to different notes in the melody, to highlight and intensify those notes. The player must decide whether he has chosen wisely where to move them; in some cases the placement in [V] may seem to work better. But the flexibility itself shows that the arranger was thinking in terms of harpsichord sound and technique, and in some cases also thinking motivically to improve the interesting contrapuntal interplay within the pieces.

The agréments primarily draw attention to individual notes. They can create accents or make a smoother, more harpsichordistic melodic line (e.g., (Cottin: 7:5-6)). The accent type, which is the more important, is most frequently in the left hand. This treatment begins as early as (Laborde: 1:1) where the left hand's mordent accents the right hand's rest; it also foreshadows the same contrapuntal motive in the right hand later in the measure. Two measures later note how Baptiste moves the left hand's offbeat trill, changing it to a mordent and putting it on the beat (again keep in mind that the comma means something different in the two versions). In 5 and 6 he also uses the mordent as a left hand accent. In (Forqueray: 4:7-8), both hands, the mordents create interesting new hemiola cross-accents and sustain the long notes. One of the most interesting ideas is at (Forqueray: 5:40 and 5:42). Not only are the high notes in the left hand new, but the mordents draw our attention to the fact that these new notes make motivic echoes alternating with the right hand. Another contrapuntal use of ornamentation is that throughout La Couperin the subject is usually marked by the presence of these mordents.

Occasionally Baptiste adds agréments to simulate viol techniques such as slurred bowing, binding melodic notes by softening the leap between them. The most interesting example is at (Cottin: 8:13-14; 9:20-21 and 26). In the first half of 13 and 14 the violist has to use the little finger on two consecutive notes, changing strings, and then the next two notes are easier and smoother. The added trill in [H] emphasizes this smooth melodic connection after the leap. This may suggest what Antoine the violist did in performance, adding ornamentation beyond that which is carefully notated, and specifically adding a 4-3 trill here. The harpsichordist can easily put an ornament on any important note, while the violist cannot: at (Bellmont: 10:6) the mordent on the climactic high D is a nice touch, one which is impossible on the viol if that D is played on the indicated open string.

If agréments are moved or removed, the explanation most often seems to be that the arranger considered them too difficult to play where they were. Two examples, among many, are in (Portugaise: 13:25 and 14:32), where because of the chord the right hand would have to play the mordent with 4-3 or 5-4. It is a notable feature throughout the arrangement that most agréments in either hand occur when the hand is otherwise not occupied with playing other notes. The entire hand is free to participate in the beautiful production of the ornamental notes. This "rule" also creates pockets of relative inactivity in the texture, within which the ornament can sound clearly. Sometimes, as at (Couperin: 16:34 and 17:58), the important bass notes are omitted altogether so that the left hand can more easily produce a motivic ornament!

Baptiste notates the ornaments with great care so that amateur players who might not know better will get them right. He shows when the auxiliary note of a mordent should be altered chromatically, and he shows which trills contain terminations. It is rare for a composer to demonstrate such consistent and painstaking practical awareness of the player's opportunities to go wrong.


Most of the time Baptiste preserves the harmony of [V]. When he changes it, it is usually for reasons of melodic smoothness in the bass: using a different inversion of a chord so that the hand does not have to leap to a new position, for example at (Bellmont: 10:15-16 and 11:33) and (Cottin: 8:15). But occasionally he also changes the bass line and harmony for reasons which seem more questionable musically. At (Portugaise: 13:22-23) why use C on the third quarter note, changing the first-inversion D minor chord (F bass) to an implied first-inversion A minor chord? This makes a hemiola effect where there was not one before. At (Bellmont: 11:32), already mentioned as a "smoothing" spot, the interesting G and its chord are entirely missing; perhaps this removal of fast harmonic motion suggests a faster tempo for performance of this movement. At (Portugaise: 15:56) there needs to be a D somewhere in the downbeat so that the listener does not hear F major.

Where Baptiste changes the harmony it is almost always a simplification, a lessening of intensity. Most notably we often lose the rich sevenths and ninths of the continuo figures. At (Laborde: 1:2) the newly-composed bass motion apparently takes precedence over the realization of a 9-7 harmony that is easily playable. At (Laborde: 1:4-5 and 1:8) the omission of sevenths seems more arbitrary. Perhaps the arranger felt that the thick harmonies either detracted from the clear sound and execution of the right hand's melody, or that they made the eighth notes on weak beats too heavy. See (Cottin: 8:17, 9:22-23, 9:27), (Portugaise: 14:45), and (Couperin: 16:20) for further instances of omitted sevenths and ninths. Indeed, in the few places where sevenths and ninths are preserved, these notes are tied over for reasons of sonority rather than being re-struck as a continuo player would probably play them. Such rhythmic de-emphasis of these notes makes it sound as though the arranger is apologetic for the lush, intense sounds. These issues of emphasis and de-emphasis are serious artistic choices. When one decides that something is to be left out, it sets up a system of priorities as to what is important in the music.

Several other harmonic details deserve mention beyond the main issue of deleted sevenths and ninths. Baptiste sometimes forgets to sharpen the third degree of chords, thereby changing minor chords to major. The five instances of missing sharps are at (Forqueray: 6:49) and (Laborde: 1:13, 2:15, 3:38, and 3:40). In a few cases Baptiste makes the harmony more intense through subtle changes. At (Forqueray: 7:76) he carries over the old harmony instead of changing it on the downbeat, but the F's in the bass create an exciting triple suspension whose natural resolution is implied clearly. In (Bellmont: 10:14) the G-minor first inversion chord in [H] is entirely new, where [V] had a rest and the implied harmony was D minor. And Baptiste adds a seventh within a chord in a few rare places, such as (Couperin: 17:45 and 17:63). At (Forqueray: 6:61, last note) he makes an implied harmony (V) explicit by adding a bass note. But in (Couperin: 17:77) he does the opposite, removing a bass note to create a tonic pedal point under an implied dominant; this reverses the weak and strong roles of the last two measures of the suite.

Throughout most of the pieces, 4-3 or 4-# suspensions are often removed, probably because Baptiste considered them too difficult for an amateur harpsichordist to play under a trill in the right hand. See (Laborde: 3:39 and 41): in [V] there is no suspension, for the only time among the analogous cadential points in this piece. This direct striking of an augmented chord with the upper note of the trill intensifies the final cadence while the other comparable passages contained more typically suspensions. This fine distinction is completely negated as the special augmented-chord sound is no longer unique to this spot. As startling harmonic events are made too regular or omitted altogether in the harpsichord version, the music loses its punch and intensity.


Baptiste frequently alters the surface rhythms in these pieces. He makes the rhythmic motion more constant (especially with octave leaps in the bass), removing the frequent stop-and-start effect of the viol pieces. There are many practical reasons for these additions. One explanation might be that the steady eighth notes make it easier for amateur players to keep time accurately. Perhaps Baptiste is also acknowledging that harpsichordists like to do interesting motions with their hands, instead of holding down harpsichord keys to listen through long notes. And of course the eighth-note texture also helps sustain the sound of an unresonant, weak harpsichord.

Architecturally, new motion can either enliven or relax the rhythmic profile. On the large scale it generally waters down the music's effect. Throughout La Laborde, La Forqueray, and La Portugaise it most often removes the big gestures of the viol version, the exciting places where the music makes the player and audience breathe together. Constant rhythmic motion removes startling contrasts. By supplying more surface interest it smooths out the weightiness of chords and melody: because there is always something happening somewhere, there is less opportunity to build up dynamics of tension and release. Constant motion lulls the listener. The harpsichord arrangement offers the listener an experience analogous to a series of gentle ripples lapping at a beach, instead of the viol version's huge waves crashing against rocks.

On the smaller scale, Baptiste most often enlivens the rhythmic profile through his addition of new lines in the left hand. In most cases they mimic or invert the motivic content of the right hand's material. A particularly interesting example is at (Forqueray: 5:31-35). First he constructs rising scales to counterbalance the right hand in dialogue. Then, under the right hand's scale in 32 and 34, he inserts left-hand leaps to compensate the right-hand leaps that the viol would have played in 31, 33, and 35! The most obvious and delightful rhythmic additions are throughout La Portugaise: the arpeggiated triads and the gestural swoops by scale and arpeggio. He hinted at this technique in (Forqueray: 7:78), with a new first ending to lead back to the repeat, and at (Cottin: 9:24 and 9:28): the left hand's measured arpeggios add definite forward motion and excitement to the pieces.


The general issue of texture is problematic in any music which includes basso continuo. Composers left basso continuo parts unrealized because they expected performers to adapt the part to the circumstances of each performance. The sensitive and flexible continuo player crafts an effective part in consultation with the other musicians, as well as at the moment of inspiration in performance. A fully-composed transcription, on the other hand, gives an explicit reading for every potential decision: the arranger has taken over part of the performer's role.

A player may certainly improvise continuo-like material on top of a given arrangement, recomposing it to enhance the moment of performance. Indeed, it is possible to view Baptiste's arrangement of this suite as merely a sketch for the player's exciting elaboration. This is not a prominent practice in 20th-century performance of solo music from earlier times. The prevailing and anachronistic 20th-century performance method is that players do not try to "improve" the music, but instead seek to synthesize the hypothetical taste of earlier times. Such a view of this suite as an incomplete sketch is the inspiration for my own recomposition of the music (see below). But for the present study I instead consider this suite as most harpsichordists still play it: as a complete and finished product to be realized carefully and objectively "as is."

Textural changes for playing reasons

It is apparent throughout the suite that in [H] the right hand is to play the notes of the upper staff, and the left hand the notes of the lower staff; the distribution of notes between the hands is already composed into the arrangement. Baptiste's choices of hand distribution show clearly that he intended the harpsichordist's hands to play the notes as conveniently as possible, with a minimum of physical motion.

Baptiste's arrangement is designed very carefully for the player's comfort and relaxation. The sight-reader of this suite encounters music which feels natural under the hand: nothing seems surprising or awkward, and the notes are almost always remarkably easy to play. The two hands never cross, and they share a unison on only a few occasions. The player does not need to employ any finger substitutions to sustain long notes while playing other notes in the same hand. The arranger clearly avoids the requirement of these techniques which are so much a part of Rameau's or Royer's harpsichord music.

In the viol version the places where the player must lift the bow off the string are numerous; the awkward physicality, requiring great agility from the player, is one of the strongest characteristics of Forqueray's music. This is a tremendous difference in overall effect from the harpsichord version, where the physical motion of playing the music forces few gestural separations between phrases or individual notes. When at all possible, the viol's string-crossing leaps are divided between the harpsichordist's hands. Generally at these places one hand sustains notes while the other hand performs the leap; there is a layer of glutinous resonance poured over these pieces like gravy, perhaps in partial compensation for dry acoustics. Furthermore, the hand redistribution virtually equalizes such completely opposite effects as (Laborde: 1:6, 1:7, 2:18, and 2:42 downbeats) and (Laborde: 2:26 downbeat): these examples are equally easy to play in [H] but not in [V]. Without examining the viol score the harpsichordist cannot see which octave leaps used to be soloistic and which are from the basso continuo (or newly composed, as are many left-hand octave leaps in this suite). Baptiste has this priority: it is more important that the notes be sounded easily within an airtight wall of harpsichord sound, than that those same notes be executed with violistic physical gestures and sharper, more varied articulations.

There is only one place in the entire suite where the hand distribution makes the execution look more difficult than it might be. At (Portugaise: 15:73) the left hand must play three different A's in succession, and the first one has a mordent! That is, the player must make a hand shift immediately after the mordent, and on the page the right hand's E clearly does not lead to the A; this clarity of separation is a good thing as the player analyzes the grammar and structure of the music. It is a technical question of which would be more difficult: giving the high A to the right hand, which would therefore land on a mordent immediately after a shift, or giving it to the left hand immediately before a shift. Either problem would likely cause some players to either slow down or become tense; full consideration shows that Baptiste again chose what is probably the easier option. And once again it is easier for the player to connect sound of the E with the A lazily when they are not both played with the right hand; there is no hand shift to force a break between them.

One notable transcription technique which further emphasizes ease of execution is the thinning of texture when ornaments are present. It is a high priority in the arrangement that when a hand has to execute an ornament, that hand is only rarely occupied simultaneously in playing other notes. As we noted earlier, the player is allowed to devote the hand's full attention to the ornament's clarity of sound and ease of execution. We examined some of these instances earlier; it is worthwhile to look at several more cases. As early in the suite as (Laborde: 1:3-6), where the viol plays thirds plus an ornament, the harpsichordist's right hand plays single ornamented notes. In many other places where the right hand must play two or more notes plus an ornament, the arranger freely moved the ornament to the place in the hand where it seems easiest to play. Sometimes the ornament is transferred to the other hand or omitted altogether. It is telling to examine places such as (Forqueray: 5:39), where the arranger judged that the clearly-executed and gentle ornament is more important than a noisy rolled chord; an accomplished player could quite easily execute the port de voix with the third and fourth fingers while playing other chordal notes lower in the right hand. As I mentioned above, the 4-# suspensions in La Laborde are often simplified when the right hand is already playing trills.

In numerous places where quick hand shifts would be difficult, Baptiste either thins the texture so that the hand can move easily, or he simply moves the notes to an easier octave. An especially interesting spot is (Forqueray: 5:35), where Baptiste apparently wanted to have both an octave F in the left hand (for sonority) and some ornamentation in both hands (for noise and excitement), as well as an effective termination to the newly-composed scale run. The octave itself would be difficult as an expansion of the hand after the run. The solution is that the left-hand octave is broken into eighth notes so that first the high F can be accented with a mordent, and then the low F played easily afterwards by an unstretched hand.

One issue of notational exactitude is quite interesting: Baptiste is careful to show the player when a note should be released early if that same key-lever will be replayed immediately in another voice. The player who sees such notation in Forqueray or Couperin needs to recognize it for what it is: a composer's keen awareness of the hands' movement on the keyboard, rather than a prescription to suddenly make those released notes sound short.

All these textural changes illustrate the principle that the arrangement is carefully designed to fit the abilities of the amateur player: musical content and overall musical/dramatic effect are freely compromised in favor of easy playability. Artistry is the servant of functionality. This shrewd business strategy translates to a greater number of potential customers.

Textural changes for acoustic reasons

It is of course possible to view the generally sustained gush of harpsichord sound as an artistic virtue. Baptiste notates overholding to get the big sonorous bloom that a later composer might get by requiring a pianist to use the damper pedal. At (Cottin: 9:26) we see both the overholding "pedaling" and extra sonority in the bass as Baptiste removes the rests. The left hand often plays in octaves for a richly thrilling, thunderously ringing sound. Sometimes the left hand is moved one or even two octaves lower, again for darkly sonorous effects. The arrangement calls for a harpsichord whose compass goes all the way down to FF (AA is the lowest string on a seven-stringed viola da gamba), and Baptiste employs these deep notes extremely effectively. In fact, at (Laborde: 3:32) he clearly might have used also a low EE had it existed! At (Laborde: 1:11-12) the voices are exchanged, giving a deeper and thicker sound; but examination of the analogous place at (Laborde: 3:36-37) shows that the reason was probably for easy playability, not primarily for the sound. Still, this voice exchange gives the harpsichord version a more interesting sound than a literal transcription would give.

Many of the textural changes derive from Baptiste's addition of continuo material to thicken the sound. This is most obvious throughout La Laborde, in which the hands add chords as they can. Often these chords of two or more notes are marked with the oblique stroke that signifies arpeggiation: a suggestion of the type of brisé sound which a continuo harpsichordist might provide in the ensemble version. The varying density of chords creates local dynamic contrast. This is most notable in the second half of La Cottin, where Baptiste variously employs slow arpeggiation (quarter notes as in 12-14), two- to four-note chords, bass octaves, and new continuo-like motion pushing forward (24 and 28). The phantom continuo player makes further appearances with downward-rolled chords in (Portugaise: 12:5-6) and pre-beat slides in (Portugaise: 13:22 and 14:29). As we saw earlier when we examined melody, some new melodic material is really only a bit of creative continuo playing moved to the top of the texture. At (Forqueray: 6:66) the continuo-chord addition creates a ripple of other interesting consequent changes: the low A is delayed to the second beat, and the rising scale which now starts later has to be twice as fast.

Let us move to the subject of the performer's artistic subtlety of timing, to examine what the basic notation does not show about execution. Carefully-applied arpeggiation between and within the hands is an important feature of tasteful harpsichord playing, as one of the player's principal devices for providing dynamics and clearly-singing lines. In the fifth suite's La Léon and La Sylva, and the fourth suite's La D'Aubonne, Baptiste attempts to notate precisely the speed and direction of arpeggiations, and instructs that the right hand should often play first. Perhaps a sensitive and subtle harpsichordist should take these ideas back to the first suite also, using a variety of arpeggiation far beyond the notation. One might also explore a much more extensive use of the suspension (delayed melody note), which Baptiste notates for his own La Du Vaucel in the third suite. A loose rhythmic execution of the melody in La Cottin, for example, can be extremely effective in performance. So, as I pointed out above, the harpsichord notation of this suite is not as comprehensive in detail as the more explicit notation of the viol score.

Where Baptiste thins the texture, it is most often for local reasons of technical execution (as pointed out earlier). But overall thinning, as a large-scale registrational device, also gives tasteful delicacy to La Cottin and La Bellmont, in contrast to the bigger booming sounds characteristic of La Laborde and La Couperin. This textural choice again shows great sensitivity to the ideal of making the harpsichord sound beautiful

Let us examine briefly the acoustical devices of parallel thirds (or sixths) and repeated notes. The arranger deletes thirds and sixths where they are awkward, or adds them freely to create a richer sound. This is something which a continuo player might do instinctively. Arpeggiated parallel sixths can substitute for the effect of vibrato, as we see in (Laborde: 1:9-10 and 3:34-35). At these same points we see the left hand keeping the sound going by repeating gently the tied bass note. This restriking of tied notes is a useful technique that the player might adapt freely when playing on different instruments and in different acoustic surroundings, sometimes adding ties when the sound seems to be sustained enough already, and sometimes restriking long notes if the sound has faded. This transcription gives a good picture of how it might be done tastefully. The player should consider these occasions carefully, especially the treatment of the new repeated notes which replace rests in (Portugaise: 13:18-21).

Compositional and artistic techniques; new problems for the player

Let us now see how these transcription details change the long-range effects in the composition. We have already seen several times how the harpsichord arrangement has more continuous sound, less silence. This continuity allows fewer surprises, and contrasts among phrases and motives are less intense. When distinctions of detail are regularized across sections, as in La Laborde, the music loses the quirkiness which is such a strong feature of the viol version. Everything becomes more predictable.

In Baptiste's gentler harpsichord arrangement the music is far less gruff or shocking. Instead it is worked out with the contrapuntal detail typical of much harpsichord music, and suggests a more "perfect" evenness of composition and execution. There is new connecting material between sections, such as the lead-backs to repeats in La Forqueray and La Couperin. As we saw earlier, musical lines are added or made explicit (especially in La Couperin, where subject entrances are made complete). Articulation markings are removed or altered. Ornaments are sometimes displaced from weak beats to strong beats, again making the musical surface less surprising compared with the viol version. The rhythmic handling of continuo chords is not always as effective as it might be; see (Laborde: 1:13, 2:15, 3:38, and 3:40) where the implied half-note pulse in [V] is converted to a heavier quarter-note pulse. The arrangement exploits the obvious advantage that on a keyboard all notes are equally easy to play, while on the viol the difficulty of individual notes varies greatly. But this also removes the valiant triumph over adversity, the sense of pushing the instrument and its player to the limits (as in the viol version). As I pointed out earlier, the harpsichord version emphasizes local events and regularity at the expense of dynamism.

Where does this leave us artistically? In my blunt opinion, Baptiste's harpsichord version overall is less effective, less exciting music. It does not sound nearly as difficult or impressive as the viol version. In these harpsichord pieces alone it is difficult to get an adequate sense of Forqueray the firebrand, the hot-headed virtuoso. The hand redistribution makes execution too easy, and the player must deliberately play more crudely if he or she wants to simulate some of the violistic effects. Because the music is easier to play, the player may not spend sufficient time practicing the seemingly backward technique of making the music sound more difficult and awkward (if, indeed, this is something which the player decides is worth striving for). But undoubtedly some listeners and players would interpret the same facts as leading to the opposite conclusion: the harpsichord version is more pleasant and agreeable, therefore more enjoyable. It is also very well-suited to the performance abilities of the amateur harpsichordist.

Baptiste's harpsichord version makes undisturbingly pretty harpsichord sonorities, but the harpsichord can also have far more expressive range than that. Again, the viol version exploits the entire expressive range of the solo instrument, especially the rough end, but with the harpsichord version we stay mostly in the realm of the genteel. There is a careful avoidance of the ugly sounds which a viol or a keyboard instrument can make. The harpsichord version sings artfully, but the viol version speaks with direct expression. The performer at the harpsichord (or the piano!) needs to decide consciously what style to adopt for these pieces. Should he or she play them "as is," in the later elegantly enlightened, easy-listening French style, or attempt to infuse the music with the earlier brash, bold, sweepingly intense, ultra-expressive Italianate style of Forqueray's viol original? Either approach seems valid. It depends on the performer's temperament and musical priorities.

To ask a converse question: what does this harpsichord transcription tell us about possible performance practices of the viol original? We have already examined (Cottin: 8:13-14), where [H] has new trills that the violist could indeed add in performance. And perhaps in (Couperin: 16:7-10) the placement of the trills shows how to execute the corresponding + signs between the notes in [V]. A larger question: how much should a violist attempt to play the viol part in the later, more easygoing style exemplified by the publisher of these pieces? If not for Baptiste's industriousness and strong commitment to the value of these five suites for viol or harpsichord, we would not have even this much of Antoine Forqueray's highly-reputed musical legacy; but should the editor's own style affect how we play the music?

Conclusions about Baptiste's priorities in transcription

By the middle of the 18th century the public's general musical taste had changed away from the dramatic, exciting, and disturbing toward music that was gentler and prettier, more enlightened. The transcriptions of Forqueray's harpsichord music can be seen as both a commentary on this trend, and as concrete evidence of it. The arranger chose to use the harpsichord's resources to create undisturbing, popular, relatively gentle music (traits generally associated with femininity) instead of shooting for brash, intense, dramatic effects (masculinity and fieriness). The piece in this suite which seems farthest removed in character from the viol original is, not surprisingly, La Forqueray. Antoine Forqueray would naturally name after himself a piece which confirmed his own reputation as a firebrand who could play more impressively than anyone else. Yet the arranger took so much of the fire and difficulty out of it!

So, who composed this transcription? We could assume that the arranger was indeed Baptiste himself, a violist equal in skill to his father, but we have no historical evidence that he himself played the harpsichord. How then do we explain that he does show careful consideration of harpsichord sound and technique most of the time, especially in the later suites? Perhaps the arranger was someone else, most likely Baptiste's second wife, the harpsichordist Marie-Rose Dubois. That possibility is obvious and eminently logical. Given a publication opportunity, one would (or should) work on the transcription task with someone nearby who understands the instrument well, in order to obtain effective results. It makes sense to speculate that the arranger played harpsichord rather than viol (if not both), as so many of the viol's effects are downplayed in the reworking. There is apparently a very different personality at work, transforming these pieces into idiomatic harpsichord music in a newer style.

Baptiste advertised in his preface: "Some of the pieces may perhaps seem a little low, but I was unwilling for two reasons to transpose them: I wanted to keep their character and also to avoid inverting the harmony if they should be played with a [viola da] gamba." These transcriptions can indeed be used with some success not only as solo pieces, but as written-out accompaniments to a violist. This option in itself implies that one should treat the scores with Baroque flexibility, changing things as needed or desired to construct an effective performance.

Baptiste's greatest priority seems to be that the transcription not be too difficult for the intended buyers (amateur harpsichordists) to play. This is certainly a reasonable premise for publishing music: give the people something which they will find enjoyable. In doing so, he successfully brought his father's wonderful music to the attention of a wide audience. For better or worse, he also updated the music to a more recent, popular style, giving us more ways to enjoy this music.

New edition/transcription

I present as Appendix B my own re-transcription of this suite. It is my effort to compose a version which reproduces as closely as possible the overall effects of the viol original, based on my own taste of what sounds beautiful and exciting (and sometimes appropriately ugly!) on the harpsichord. I based it on the groundwork by Baptiste, but then reconsidered every note and changed hundreds of details. Sometimes I rejected his strategies; sometimes I embraced them and took them much farther than he did. A transcriber's job, after all, is to recast an existing work so that it is as effective as possible in its medium.

Like Antoine, I approached the task of composition as a virtuoso writing for his own use, attempting to create intensely expressive and impressive music. I try to reproduce the actual sounds of a fiery virtuoso violist, as supported by a dynamic and imaginative continuo team. The viol version is extremely difficult, some of the most demanding music in the repertoire. The harpsichord version should then be comparably demanding, so that the player's struggle with and triumph over the difficulties becomes an important audible and visual part of the music in performance.

First I restore the all-important physical flashiness with which Antoine astonishes the intellect and moves the body: the music must not sound too easy as the player leaps all over the instrument. Baptiste's version can be played with quiet unruffled serenity. Antoine's version, and consequently my new version also, upholds his reputation of "playing like a devil:" the player must be very athletically mobile and mentally concentrated.

The viol version has numerous irregularities which are important parts of the music, adding richness of detail and sonority to nourish the spirit. There are many surprises along the way as Antoine sets up and fulfills or frustrates the listener's expectations. As I pointed out above, Baptiste ironed out these moments of variety; I have restored them and let them stand as they are.

I have attempted to add more continuo material using the strategic plan suggested by Baptiste's work, crafting a dynamic texture based on a varying number of notes sounded simultaneously. These additions also make the intense harmonic richness of the original more explicit. In some cases the extra notes enhance the strong effects and rich sonorities; in others they simply give the hands enough to do so that the music cannot sound too easy.

I have limited myself to the same Ramellian notation which Baptiste employed, plus the use of a dot above a note to indicate lightness and evenness of execution (as in [V]), and a dash to indicate a slight stress. I have chosen not to include fingering numerals in this score, but in performance I choose fingerings which emphasize the clear sound of the gestures (as we see in François Couperin's music). Often this translates to a strategy such as using the thumb for each note in a leap, or using 3-2 or 3-4 paired fingering in sequences.

Finally I add as Appendix C a simple unmeasured prelude of the type which may have been included in Antoine's own performances. It is of course to be played immediately before the suite, leading into La Laborde without pause. Forqueray was renowned as an improviser of preludes, and this example is the only extant notated prelude attributed to him. Whatever its provenance as a keyboard or viol piece, it seems to fit well with this suite in D minor. It ends with the player's fingers on exactly the same notes that begin La Laborde.

Therefore my version is a picture of what Baptiste or Marie-Rose could have done if they had been writing to make the harpsichord version effective in the same ways as the viol version. In other words, Baptiste's published harpsichord version did not come out like mine because he worked from a different set of assumptions and priorities. As a player seeking dynamic and sublime concert music, I treat Baptiste's arrangement as a half-finished job: a very admirable, well-considered, inspiring start, but simply not effective enough in itself for my taste as a listener and performer. It is in the wrong style.


Whoever the original transcriber of this suite was, he or she was successful in making stand-alone harpsichord pieces, and these pieces have independent virtues. The music has been transformed: it has similar notes, but very different spirit and effect. The informed performer confronted with Antoine Forqueray's music must decide to what degree he or she wants to blend the versions, or to take the harpsichord pieces solely on their own merit. The easiest and safest way out of the problem is to ignore the viol version altogether, simply playing the prettified harpsichord version well. The degree to which the viol version is allowed to influence the performance says much about the harpsichordist's performance goals and priorities of musical taste. And, obviously, not all listeners and performers are satisfied by the same things: some will prefer a gentle, pleasant experience, while others will be most pleased by extreme expressivity. A study such as the present one should at least encourage the performer to identify and consider carefully the issues of musical style and transcription.

Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Forqueray did succeed marvelously in bringing to the world this collection of well-loved harpsichord music. Even as he changed our view of his father's legacy by altering the artistic content of the music, he preserved his father's art by showing its adaptability. As we see with Albinoni's Adagio, the Boccherini-Grützmacher Cello Concerto in Bb, the Bach-Wilhelmj Air on the G String, the Italian string concertos which Bach arranged for solo harpsichord or organ, and anything by Bach-Stokowski or Bach-Busoni, later arrangements in a different style help to bring to these pieces some of their greatest and widest popularity. The Forqueray-Forqueray suites are wonderful music, regardless of how one ultimately chooses to play or recompose them.



Benoit, Marcelle, and Norbert Dufourcq. "A propos des Forqueray." Recherches sur la musique française classique 8 (1968), 229-241.

Bloch, Marie-Françoise. "L'influence du goût italien sur l'art des Forqueray." Luth et musique ancienne 1 (November 1977): 25-31 plus examples.

Bol, Hans. La basse de viole du temps de Marin Marais et d'Antoine Forqueray. Bilthoven: Creyghton, 1973.

Bonfils, Jean. "Forqueray." In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart.

Forqueray, Antoine. Pièces de clavecin. Facsimile edition. Geneva: Editions Minkoff, c1987.

Forqueray, Antoine. Pièces de clavecin. Ed. Colin Tilney. Le Pupitre 17. Paris: Heugel, 1970.

Forqueray, Antoine. Pièces de viole avec la basse continuë. Facsimile edition. Geneva: Editions Minkoff, c1987.

Forqueray, Antoine. Pièces de viole avec la basse continuë. Ed. Carlo Denti. Vol. 1: suites 1-2. Fribourg: Guilys, 1984.

LeBlanc, Hubert. Défense de la basse de viole contre les entreprises du violon et les prétentions du violoncel. Amsterdam, 1740.

McDowell, Bonney. Marais and Forqueray: a historical and analytical study of their music for solo basse de viole. Ph.D. diss., Columbia, 1974.

Prévost, Paul. Le prélude non mesuré pour clavecin. Baden-Baden: Editions Valentin Koerner, 1987.

Robinson, Lucy. "Forqueray." In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Schwendowius, Barbara. Die solistische Gambenmusik in Frankreich von 1650 bis 1740. Regensburg: Gustav Bosse Verlag, 1970.

Vertrees, Julie Anne. The bass viol in French Baroque chamber music. Ph.D. diss., Cornell, 1978.

Vertrees Sadie, Julie Anne. "Marin Marais and his Contemporaries." Musical Times 119 (1978): 672-4.

Footnotes (not yet reattached where they belong in the text...)

1 Hubert LeBlanc's famous essay, Défense de la basse de viole contre les entreprises du violon et les prétentions du violoncel (Amsterdam, 1740), draws this often-quoted distinction.

2 "PIECES DE VIOLE Composées par Mr. FORQUERAY Le Pere Mises en Pieces De Clavecin Par Mr. FORQUERAY Le Fils...."

3 These interpretive words are based on examination of the musical content; only "Allemande. La Laborde." is printed in the score.

4 Forqueray, Antoine. Pièces de clavecin. Ed. Colin Tilney. Le Pupitre 17. Paris: Heugel, 1970.

5 One glaring error, however, is the suggestion of a sharp on the downbeat of La Laborde, m. 28.

6 Geneva: Editions Minkoff, c1987 (both versions). There is also a recent viol edition of the first two suites, edited by Carlo Denti (see bibliography). It is well-presented, with both a score for the keyboard player and a separate part for the viol soloist. The notation is not modernized. This generously-spaced edition is much easier to read than Baptiste's cramped original print. One caveat is that Forqueray's fingerings are removed from the score and marked only in the separate viol part. The score shows slurs but no other explicit bowing instructions. Denti suggests one emendation of the text in the first suite: regularization of the dotted rhythms in the third and fourth measures of La Forqueray. He does not offer an explanation of his decision, but he documents this editorial alteration by reproducing the original print of those measures.

7 Notice that in Forqueray [V] has no 79: [H]'s 79 is the new second ending of the second half. In Couperin [V] has no 27: [H]'s 27 is the second ending of the first half.

8 I thank Enid Sutherland for her cogent advice on the viol's technique and repertoire, for being an inspiring and fiery performer, and for offering numerous suggestions for improvement of my own harpsichord arrangement.

9 Introduction to the Pièces de Viole, as translated by Barbara Sachs in Denti's edition.

10 It is conceivable that he could have left the completion of the bass line as a compositional exercise for his son, but there is no concrete evidence for this. Even in such a scenario, he still would have had the artistic responsibility for the bass line himself, correcting and sanctioning his son's work. I know of only one example where a composer left the composition of the basso continuo part as an exercise for his son: J. S. Bach's Flute Sonata in C, BVW 1033, whose continuo part is likely by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Nineteenth-century composers added accompaniment to Bach's solo violin works, and Schoenberg added a later piano part to his own violin Fantasy, but these are exceptional cases.

11 Review by Robert Haskins of Mitzi Meyerson's recording (Virgin 59310) of the third and fifth suites.

12 And when he does use slurs, in (Cottin: 8:18 and 9:19), their placement disagrees with the viol's bowing.

13 Some re-struck notes are definitely part of the arrangement, but in other cases the omission of a tie is an obvious oversight.

14 Even if they do consider the sound of every note, many harpsichordists do not mark their scores as thoroughly as Antoine marked his viol scores.

15 To avoid confusion in one detail of notation, the reader should keep in mind that a comma after a note does not have the same function in the two versions. In [H] it signifies a battement (mordent) with the lower auxiliary; in [V] the comma signifies a trill with the upper auxiliary. For consistency of nomenclature I will hereafter use the word "mordent" for battement or pincé (shake with lower auxiliary), and "trill" for cadence (shake with upper auxiliary).

16 These new notes are found at (Laborde: 1:5, 1:12, 2:23, 3:37), (Forqueray: 4:5, 6:63, 6:65, 7:71), and (Cottin: 9:25-26, 9:29-30), (Portugaise: 12:8, 15:62), (Couperin: 17:52-54).

17 Bear in mind that the violist and harpsichordist label the fingers differently; the violist's little finger is 4.

18 See the corresponding passages in Appendix B for a suggestion of what one might do to preserve the harmony in these passages.

19 e.g., (Couperin: 16:13 and 17:40-43).

20 And see the above note concerning the improper editorial sharp in Tilney's modern edition, in measure 28 of La Laborde.

21 e.g., (Cottin: 8:8-10), (Forqueray: 4:10-11).

22 In my own transcription I give all three A's to the right hand, deliberately making it difficult so that the player automatically gets a more labored, violistic sound; see Appendix B.

23 e.g., (Portugaise: 13:18-21).

24 (Portugaise: 14:39) or (Forqueray: 6:57).

25 (Portugaise: 14:42).

26 (Forqueray: 7:77).

27 Some examples of this are in (Laborde: 3:32), (Cottin: 7:5-6), and (Bellmont: 10:3 and 10:5).

28 See (Forqueray: 4:13, 4:21-23, and especially 7:73-76).

29 The removal of rests is a common technique for more sustained sonority throughout this arrangement, as at the beginning of La Couperin.

30 e.g., (Laborde: 2:20, 2:26-27, and 3:33-34).

31 This is surprising evidence for modern harpsichordists who are accustomed to playing the left hand invariably first when notes between the hands are arpeggiated.

32 Actually, Tilney has attempted this in his edition, albeit very sparingly. The player should note that the downward arpeggio at measure 19 of La Cottin is editorial, as the downward oblique stroke was not one of Baptiste's notational devices. Tilney does point this out, but the commentary about this is hidden in his preface, not obvious when one simply looks at the score.

33 Instrument builder Keith Hill is a persuasive polemicist in this issue. He encourages harpsichordists to adopt the principle of great rhythmic freedom of melody. He refers to this sound ideal as "cabaret style."

34 Another obvious instance of this thinning is Baptiste's employment of a second manual for echoes in La Portugaise.

35 The waved line in [V] signifies finger vibrato.

36 In my arrangement I choose to omit these repeated notes altogether, as I judge that they distract too much from the gesture of the right hand's notes.

37 Compare 1:12 with 3:37; 1:13 with 2:15, 3:38, and 3:40; last quarter of 3:39 with 3:41.

38 e.g., (Laborde: 3:38 and 3:40).

39 The violent character of this piece also appears to confirm Antoine Forqueray's reputation for being a difficult, abrasive, and abusive person.

40 Notes by Lucy Robinson to Ton Koopman's recording of the first and fifth suites, Erato CD 2292-45751-2. This recording is actually entitled Livre de clavecin de Madame Forqueray! Tilney also suggests this possibility that Baptiste's wife did much of the transcription work.

41 I sense this both intuitively and through examination of all the arranger's compositional choices.

42 Even if Marie-Rose was the actual arranger, it would be obvious to Baptiste that he would sell more copies by issuing the collection under his own name and responsibility rather than hers.

43 This statement about "keeping their character" is intriguing, because as we have seen, the character of the music is changed greatly through the transcription. Perhaps Baptiste was referring principally to the character of the original keys. Transposition would change the music's character markedly, especially in unequal temperaments.

44 The translation from French is by Tilney.

45 Bonney McDowell also points this out in her 1974 dissertation, Marais and Forqueray: a historical and analytical study of their music for solo basse de viole, p.91-93. She reports trying this technique with her colleagues.

46 The leaps and rapid hand shifts actually make it much easier for the player to phrase and breathe properly, instead of the more facile and nebulous effect suggested by the hand redistributions in Baptiste's arrangement.

47 See the article "Forqueray" by Jean Bonfils in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart.

48 This piece, "Prelude de Forcroy," is cited and reproduced in: Prévost, Paul. Le prélude non mesuré pour clavecin. Baden-Baden: Editions Valentin Koerner, 1987. The source for the piece is the 18th-century manuscript 4 Y 1, Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris), Fonds Conservatoire. It is not clear which "Forcroi" is the attributee of this keyboard piece.

49 Any arrangement inevitably reveals more about the arranger's priorities and convictions than about the work!