This critical commentary aims to explore the reciprocal relationship between harpsichord decoration and its repertoires in a wide context in order to provide a useful discussion of performance practice in French harpsichord music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Connections between musical conventions and the elements of harpsichord decoration in France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries shall be explored.
The genre of solo harpsichord music flourished in this period, established by the composers of the ecole de clavecin, or the French harpsichord school. This period of popularity of harpsichord repertoire coincides with the transition between perspectives in social history, moving from the absolute monarchy of Louis XIV in the seventeenth century to the decline of royal authority and the emergence of Enlightenment thought in the eighteenth century.
During the height of the monarchy, different arts were organized according to a uniform theory which adopted ostentatious classical language, overseen by Academies, in order to further the image of the King as absolute ruler of both the people of France and their taste. Elements of this theory can also be observed in the lid decoration of harpsichords and in much of the repertoire for this instrument from the seventeenth century. The earlier section of this research draws together a number of aspects of the presentation of visual art and music, relating them to the political propaganda observed in the decorative motifs of the harpsichord and its music.
Elements of performance practice, such as melodic ornamentation, are also explored.
In contrast, the conventions of French artistic thought in the eighteenth century underwent a transformation at the same time as the emergence of the new intellectual world of the Enlightenment. A correspondence can be observed in some of the harpsichord repertoire, due to the rise of 'sensitivity' the expression of thoughts, sentiment and passions particularly in the artistic language established by one of the most eminent French harpsichord composers, Francois Couperin. This particular style parallels the introverted features of the highly metaphorical images of soundboard decoration, which consists primarily of naturalistic elements. The later section of this research examines common metaphoric languages between the harpsichord music of the eighteenth century and soundboard paintings, linking them to the social aspects of the period.