1-Musical expression


As becomes clear from the methods, the primary goal of a performance is, beyond instrumental mastery and musical knowledge, to play with expression and to communicate with the audience. For example, in his Méthode de clarinette Lefèvre (1802) says:


"Clarinet playing is monotonous when the artist does not nuance his sounds and articulation and performs without intention, without expression, and without aplomb. It is not enough to read the music and make notes, one must still add the necessary and appropriate nuances to the character. It is necessary to penetrate the author's intention, to understand the genre he wanted to paint, to substitute for what he did not write".1


Frédéric Berr, in the Traité complet de la clarinette (1836), expresses the same idea:


Taste and expression are everything for the musical phrase, and contribute to destroy the monotony that would spread through a uniformity of dynamics and articulations. It is up to the performer to vary his inflections according to the intentions that the composer has indicated, and to find in his sensibility nuances and accents that can please and touch."2

These two clarinetists insist on the absolute necessity to give variety to the performance, especially through the diversity of articulations and dynamics. The composer's intention guides the performer in making his or her choices. This allows to play with expression and to avoid monotonous playing.


It appears that this variety in performance can be referred to through the concept of accent. Mengozzi, in the Méthode de chant du conservatoire (1804) explains:


One must still consider, in the art of rendering the text used in song, the meaning of these words, the situation of the singing character, and the ideas, the feelings, the passions he must express;

the result, in the emission of the voice and in the articulation, is nuances that contribute powerfully to the emotions that music is intended to excite. These nuances constitute in singing what is called expression or accent.

The situation and the text have determined the character of the music, the singer must be the faithful organ of the poet and the musician: to be the interpreter of their intentions, he must penetrate them, he must be inspired by them both and then forget them. Then the sounds he renders and the words he pronounces take on an accent that contributes, so to speak, even more powerfully than the words and sounds themselves to touch and move."3



The notions of expression, accent and character appear to be intrinsically linked. The accent is in the hands of the performer and is related to the character of the music, defined by the composer.

The approach to musical expression does not evolve significantly over the period studied. This approach will be explained in this chapter by discussing in detail the concepts of character and accent. I will base myself on two important theoretical sources of the time: Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Dictionnaire de musique (c.1775) and Dictionnaire de musique moderne (1825) by Castil-Blaze, largely based on Rousseau's definitions. These two authors are frequently quoted in the methods.



While the notion of character is omnipresent in all of the methods consulted, it can be seen that the authors of the first corpus of the Conservatory's methods write very little about its precise meaning. In Rousseau's dictionary, the term character, although very present, does not have its own definition. Later sources attempt to define it more precisely. Baillot, in the violin method l'Art du violon (1834), seems to suggest that this notion is in fact not so obvious:


"This character is so often misunderstood and even taken in the wrong sense that it is necessary to define it"4


The choice of the character to be given to the music appears in Rousseau's writings as one of the first steps in the composition process. He writes that:


"To give expression to his works, the composer [...] must know or feel the effect of all the characters, in order to bring exactly the one he chooses to the degree that suits it"5


In general, it seems possible to consider the character of music as a musical representation of a feeling. Indeed, still according to Rousseau, the choice of character in vocal music is relative to the meaning of the words and especially to the feelings felt by the person saying them. Therefore, the composer seeks to find musical inflections that correspond to the general feeling of the protagonist or in the words of the author, to "the color of the general feeling that dominates".6  This relationship of character to the meaning of words corresponds to what says Mengozzi in the quotation at the beginning of this chapter. This idea appears to be valid for instrumental music as well. Baillot, with a vocabulary close to Rousseau's defines the character as:


"the general color given to the expression of the composition and of which the author has made a choice [...] in order to capture the soul of the listener by making him experience the feeling he wanted to paint."7


Before Baillot, Castil-Blaze had supported the same idea with a more detailed definition by describing general characters related:

-to the affects. For example, happy or sad.

-to the degree to which they are felt. For example, strongly or softly.

-to the way they are expressed. For example, the sublime or simple.

These general characters can be combined to form mixed characters. For example, the tragic character combines sadness with strength and the sublime.8 

The musical character can also aim to represent a situation or circumstances. It appears that it is still a question of a feeling, but connected to a certain situation. The character can be inspired by the customs of a nation or groups of individuals. We can speak, for example, of the pastoral character, the religious character...9


After having chosen the character of his composition, the musician must find ways to express it through the musical language. The knowledge of this language and these means is fundamental for the performer since it is by highlighting this musical language that he or she will be able to communicate to the listeners the feeling that the composer wished to represent.

According to Rousseau, the elements of musical language are the melody, the harmony, the tempo, the rhythm as well as the choice of instruments and voices.10 Melody and harmony are directly related to tonality and modulations. All these elements are found in Baillot's method.11 

While going into the details of each of these elements would certainly be fascinating, it would require further research. As this work focuses primarily on performance, the next part of this section will rather seek to underline what the importance of each of these elements implies as qualities for the performer.


Melody, harmony and tonality


The melody, because it represents the musical element closest to the spoken speech, is the most important for the expression of character. According to Rousseau, in the same way that the spoken speech varies according to the feelings of the speaker, the melody is constructed according to the feeling that the musician seeks to represent. Thus "The melody, [...] gives character to all the others. [elements of musical language]."12 

The same author points out that consequently, there is a clear hierarchy between melody and harmony which requires that the accompanying parts never take the advantage over the main part. The main role of the harmony is thus to support or even increase the expression of the melody.13 

For the performer, this implies being aware of the nature of his part, and ensuring the balance between accompaniment and main part.


Melody and harmony are connected to the choice of tonalities and modulations. Both Rousseau and Castil-Blaze assert that each tonality has its own expression, its own character.14 15 Therefore, these differences offer the composer a rich variety of expressions. For the performer, this implies harmonic knowledge and precise intonation, allowing him to underline the various modulations of the piece. This requirement is explicit in many of the methods consulted. For example, Lefèvre discusses this question of intonation when he talks about enharmonic notes. He explains that although these notes have only one possible fingering, the clarinetist must be able to adapt the intonation of these notes according to the harmonic context, by varying the pressure of the lips.16 


Mouvement and rhythm


The choice of character determines the Mouvement defined by Rousseau and Castil-Blaze as the "Degree of speed or slowness given to the bar by the character of the piece."17 18 From this definition, it appears that this term refers to tempo. According to them, there are five main tempos in increasing order of speed: Largo, Adagio, Andante, Allegro and Presto. Other words can be used to clarify the character of the piece. For example appassionato, con fuoco.... Therefore, the tempo is chosen according to the character of the piece. Baillot supports this idea in his first method co-written with Rode and Kreutzer, Méthode de violon, (1803) as well as in his new method in 1834. It is written that: 

"the character of a piece depends largely on its tempo".19 20

Rousseau reminds us that a melody corresponds to a sequence of sounds measured by rhythm. The same sounds organized by a different rhythm can lead to a very different melody and therefore to a different character.21 

Considering the importance of rhythm and tempo in the expression of the character of music, it can be said that rhythmic precision is an indispensable quality for the performer. The redundancy of the concept of aplomb throughout all the methods confirms this. It is found for example, in Lefèvre's quotation at the beginning of this chapter. According to Castil-Blaze, aplomb is a "metaphorical term that indicates precision within the bar."22 This notion is also developed notably by Baillot in his two methods.23 24

The concept of hierarchy within the bar appears to be essential for the clarity of rhythm. Frédéric Berr, for instance, writes that:


"'One cannot change the rhythm without making the phrase unrecognizable; in order for it to be well understood, one has to mark the strong beat of the bar; then the ear is satisfied, and the listener is never uncertain."25


This point will be developed in more details in the chapters Dynamics and Articulations.


Choice of instruments and voices


There is a clear link between the choice of instruments or voices and the character that the composer wishes to express in his work. Indeed,


"Although the greatest expressive force comes from the combination of sounds, the quality of their timbre is not indifferent for the same effect. ".26 


The different voices or instruments and their different registers are thus seen as more or less adapted to one or another character. This association between instrument and character depends in particular on the intensity of sounds and timbre. For example, generally speaking, the flute is associated with a tender character, the oboe with a joyful character and the trumpet with a warlike character.27

Fifty years later, Castil-Blaze retains this paragraph28which shows that this idea of instrument specific character is still alive. This is also found with Berlioz in his Grand traité d'instrumentation et d'orchestration moderne (1843). In this work, he shares notably the ideas he had used in his program music: the Symphonie fantastique.(1830) For example, he describes the character of the sounds of the clarinet's middle register (also called Clairon) as "imbued with a kind of pride tempered by a noble tenderness" that "makes them favorable to the expression of the most poetic feelings and ideas." He hears in these sounds the voice of a heroic love.29 

In the first corpus of the conservatory's methods, considerations about the character of the instrument are systematically found. The notion of the character of the instrument also refers here to the technical possibilities and limits of the instrument. With the progress of instrument making and instrumental technique, these limits tend to decrease, offering more diversity of character to each instrument. Aurea Dominguez Moreno, in her thesis Bassoon playing in perspective (2013) develops this point in detail. In the conclusion of her work, she writes:


"On the whole, performers accept this character assigned to their instruments, although, according to romantic ideology, they make an effort to expand the possibilities of their instruments. As the 19th century progresses, the idea of associating instruments with character weakens, while concept like timbre and tone color grow in importance."30 


The evolution of the clarinet and its technique during the period studied will be discussed in the third chapter.



The notion of Accent appears in all the methods studied. It is not really explained in detail in the first corpus of the Conservatory's methods. More precise explanations can be found in the Rousseau and Castil-Blaze dictionaries, as well as in later methods. In France at the beginning of the 19th century, the concept of accent has a rather broad meaning which is far from being limited to the idea of playing a specific note louder.


According to Rousseau, the term Accent, in its most common sense, refers to a:


"Modification of the speaking voice, in the duration or in the tone of the syllables and words of which the spoken speech is composed".31 


Thus, the concept of Accent appears to derive from the art of discourse. The duration and tone (pitch) of syllables are parameters of the spoken voice that vary during the speech. These parameters are very close to those that define the melody, that is to say the pitch of the different notes and the rhythm. Therefore, it is possible to apply the concept of Accent to the field of music.

Rousseau, with regard to spoken speech, distinguishes three types of accent32

- The grammatical accent, determined by the rules of language, defines the length and the pitch of the syllables.

-The logical or rational accent. It refers to the way the various ideas in speech are related to each other. Punctuation allows to indicate it partially.

-The oratory or pathetic accent. It allows the orator to express what he or she feels and to communicate it to the audience. It is manifested by inflections in the voice or variations in the speed of speech.

Each of these accents also has its application in music, obviously in vocal music with text, but also in instrumental music. Finally, Rousseau defines a fourth accent that is specific to the art of music: the musical accent. It depends on the nature of the melody and must be the musician's priority because:


"The first and principal purpose of every music is to please the ear; thus all Air must have a pleasant melody: this is the first law, which it is never permitted to break."33


The notion of logical accent, related to punctuation, seems to find its application in the conception of phrasing. This point will be developed in Chapter 2.

The notion of the musical accent, related to the construction of the melody will be discussed in the chapter 6.

On the subject of the pathetic accent, Rousseau explains that it is difficult to define rules concerning it. It is linked to the performer's sensitivity, to his or her ability to feel the emotions he or she wants to communicate. This idea is summarized as follows: " One has to be moved oneself to move others."34 Or also in this very poetic formulation:


"There is no other Art in this part than to light in one' s own heart the fire that one wants to carry in that of others."35 


The character being, as explained in the first part of the chapter, the representation of a feeling or an emotion, its link with the pathetic accent appears very clearly.


Baillot writes a very complete and detailed article on the Accent in l'Art du violon (1834). Claude-François Buteux totally integrates this article in his Méthode de clarinette published in 183636, adapting it to the particularities of his instrument. The link between character and accent as well as the preponderant role of the performer for the expression of the latter are explained very clearly:


"The accent [...] makes the dominant expression of the composition immediately recognizable and [...] supports its effect in every detail. Thus, the character is drawn by the composer and the accent is rendered by the performer."37 


Baillot describes two ways of considering the accent38:

-the general accent, which concerns the whole piece or one of its passages.

-the accent particulier (specific accent), which concerns only one or a few notes.


It seems nevertheless that general and specific accent are fundamentally linked. Indeed the general accent will lead to different specific accents, and will decide the right degree to give to their expression.  Conversely, these specific accents, expressed with the right degree, will participate in the expression of the general accent.


Accent particulier (specific accent)


Baillot's idea of the specific accent echoes the definition of musical accent found in the Castil-Blaze dictionary:


"A more marked energy, attached to a passage, to a specific note of the bar, of the rhythm, of the musical phrase. Either

1-by articulating this note louder or with a graduated force;

2-by giving it a greater time value;

3-by detaching it from the others by a distinct intonation from low to high."39


The 3- appears to be a bit confusing. Baillot, who explicitly quotes this definition, interprets it as the possibility of underlining a note that is in a different register from the others, by detaching it from the others.40  Eugène Walckiers, in his Méthode de Flüte (1829), defines the musical accent almost identically to Castil-Blaze and for this third manner only writes "3-by detaching it from the others."41 Therefore, it seems to be a matter of using articulations.

Castil-Blaze adds that the Accent depends entirely on the performer, his or her talent and sensitivity.

The distinction between four different accents made by Rousseau is not retained by Castil-Blaze. Nevertheless, it is possible to establish a link between the different ways of doing the accented notes detailed by the author and the different accents defined by Rousseau.

Indeed, the second idea of the above definition, ("to give a greater value of time" to the accented note) echoes the grammatical accent which defines syllables longer than others. Given the influence of singing on instrumental music in the 18th and 19th century, it is very likely that this principle, which was first linked to the text, applies to all music, vocal as well as instrumental.

Moreover, the ideas no.1 and 3, seem to be close to the "inflections in the voices" which express the pathetic accent.

Thus, according to Castil-Blaze, the accented note can be emphasized through different dynamics, (which will be detailed in chapter 6) a brief modification of the rhythm or a specific articulation. The Accent is therefore to be sought in the way of making the note.42


From the definition of Castil-Blaze, Baillot introduces the concept of accent material. These include dynamics and bow strokes.43 (Buteux replaces "bow strokes" by "tongue strokes".) 

The performer must study this material in order to have the means to express the Accent that suits the character. The way of making the note depends partly on the mastery of this material. But it also depends on the right choice at the right time. This choice will depend on the signs indicated by the composer but also and above all on the sensitivity and inspiration of the musician when he or she interprets these indications. On this subject, Baillot refers to Rousseau and the pathetic accent: "One has to be moved oneself to move others".44 


Frédéric Berr, in the Traité complet de la clarinette (1836) gives very precise indications about different musical accents that are clearly linked to the concept of specific accent. Although he does not explicitly quote Castil-Blaze, the same vocabulary is used to describe this kind of accent:


"We also mean by the word dynamic, the musical accent that gives a more marked energy to one of the notes of the bar, by articulating it more strongly, and by giving it strength and brilliance."45


These accents depend on the place of the notes in the melody, which echoes Rousseau's explanations of the musical accent.

The choice to use dynamic as a synonym for musical accent suggests a very clear preference on how to make the accented note. It is the use of a dynamic that is most appropriate. These different accents will therefore be developed in Chapter 6.


General accent


The general accent must be appropriate to the general character.46 It seems possible to link it to the pathetic accent in its most general sense. That is to say, it is not directly related to the inflections themselves, but rather to the nature of the feeling that the composer has chosen to represent and that the performer seeks to communicate.

Therefore, the notion of general accent appears to be very close to the notion of Character, but from the point of view of the performer.

In order to illustrate this concept, Baillot proposes a table that lists the different possible accents for four main characters, related to the different ages of human life: the simple and naive character, the vague and indecisive character, the passionate and dramatic character, and the calm and religious character.47 This table also presents the indications often used by the composer to make the performer understand the Accent to be expressed.48 (example 1)



A musical example is given for each of these different Accents.49 

The example 2 illustrates the general accent Retenu (restraint).

In order to express the character, the composer clearly asks the performer to play a sempre piano over the whole passage.50 It doesn't exclude any specific accent, but they must be in the color of the general accent and of this sempre piano.


Example 2. Baillot51

Example 1. Baillot.52