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Violons en basse as Musical Allegory

DEBORAH KAUFFMAN
The Journal of Musicology
Vol. 23, No. 1 (Winter 2006), pp. 153-185
DOI: 10.1525/jm.2006.23.1.153
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/jm.2006.23.1.153
Page Count: 33
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Violons en basse as Musical Allegory
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Abstract

ABSTRACT An unusual type of orchestration sometimes called violons en basse is encountered in arias by French Baroque composers, including Couperin, Campra, and Rameau. In such pieces, the basse continue line is played by violins or violas notated in a high clef; the solo voice and any additional obbligato instruments remain in the treble register as well. This phenomenon has gone practically unnoticed by modern scholars and was seemingly unremarked upon by writers of the time, despite the striking color and lightness that it entails. A study of the texts of the arias in which violons are used en basse suggests that there are identifiable allegorical associations implicit in such pieces, and that they were clear to listeners of the time. Perhaps the most important and most frequent reference is to the pastoral, which is invoked by the texts and musical settings of a number of the airs. The pastoral can also be linked to the themes of peace and quiet delights present in other texts. Another important association shared with the pastoral is innocence, which is often conjoined with the idea of youth; youth is directly referred to in some texts, and also through several personages who sing them, such as Cupid (a boy), Diana (depicted in mythology as eternally young), and Hebe (the personification of youth). By identifying the allegorical use of violons en basse, we are able to add another texture and sonority to the common musical language of topics that was central to 18th-century musical rhetoric.

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