Another key to understanding French music: the development of the ornate system of ornamentation associated with their Baroque music arose, as I’m learning, from Airs de Cour composers. An Air de Cour is a song, usually in AA BB form, with an extremely limited melodic scope and chordal accompaniment (on lute). The diversity of the ornamentation, and the musical taste and techni
cal proficiency needed to execute it well, added scope to these melodies. Eventually Renaissance word-painting (aka the word “down” matched with a downward pointing line) gave way to stylization for it’s own sake. We are talking in the late 17th century here.The tone of these works was meant to be delicately emotional, refined, and melancholy–not passionate and violent like the Italian music of the time. Composers such as Boesset and Guerdon are two to listen to. To me, this music is strikingly like pop music of today. The values of emotion, simplicity, and mood overrode all. It also relates to their dance-centric musical culture (as France was at this time: their dance orchestras we’re working all over Europe); the often irregular melodic pulse lightens the what would be the heaviness of the metrical one. This was an entirely French thing, the Air de Cour; the homophonic accompaniment, the values of the form are very different from the directions other music was taking in the 17th century. Compare England at this time, just coming off their most radical polyphonic experimentation (Lawes, Locke, and finally and decisively Purcell); and here France went into this sunlit zone of melancholy, homophonic, wafting songs. Wtf.
*I also want to point out that I am in no way claiming myself as an authority on this. I’m learning about it as we speak. But I’m excited about it and wanted to share it*