The following text is included in the research paper - it is repeated here to make it easier for the reader to listen to my recorded examples. You can hover the mouse over each audio bar to see which example it is.
In preparation for making my own experiments, I went through Bruno Cocset’s recordings to see what kinds of choices he made. There is a lot of variety in his instrumentation. He uses a cello, double bass, harpsichord, and theorbo, and all sorts of combinations of them: all together; cello, theorbo (and bass); cello and bass; cello and harpsichord (and bass); just theorbo; and just cello, to name a few. He also adds organ a few times, but usually just for one movement within a piece, a choice that only really works on a recording, in my opinion (though it is quite effective).
For my own experiments, I chose three different Barrière sonatas. These are: Book 2 No. 4 in E major; Book 2 No. 6 in C minor; and the first and third movements of Book 3 No. 4 in B-flat major (there were enough fast movements of similar character already). These were not chosen for any particular reason, except for that they are contrasting in character, involve most of the main components of Barrière’s cello music, and contain some of the issues discussed above (such as bass line splitting). I asked four colleagues of mine to help me with these experiments, the process of which I recorded, and I have choses samples to demonstrate some of the effects discovered. These colleagues are George Ross (cello), Alon Portal (double bass), Punto Bawono (archlute and guitar), and Gabrielle Resche (harpsichord). We met for a few hours, reading through excerpts of these sonatas, trying various combinations of instruments, and trying some different techniques (especially with the double bass, on which octavation, reduction, and pizzicato was experimented with) – I left these decisions up to my colleagues, asking them to do what they saw fit.
The most striking thing I took away from doing these experiments was how the instrumentation changed the way I played the music. Not only did it alter what dynamics I did, but also the affect in general, and thus the tempo choice as well. For instance, in the first movement of the C minor sonata, we tried it all together first (Example 1). Whenever the whole group was playing with me, I felt very supported, and I imagine that if it were in a performance, I would feel a lot less nervous. The fact that so many other musicians were playing with me, as well as the immense sound that comes out of such a group, is something I had not experienced before in solo sonata playing. However, we next tried it with just the cello and the archlute (Example 2). This completely changed the character of the piece. Instead of making a bold, strong opening statement, it felt more appropriate to sing, and have a more melancholic character. I think the first version is more suitable to this piece, but the change was shocking to me. Adding the harpsichord instead of the archlute was somewhere in between these two extremes (Example 3), and the addition of the bass without the whole group seemed too heavy (Example 4). Playing this opening with only another cello felt far too empty (Example 5). These same observations can be applied to the second movement, in which the combinations that felt the best was with everyone together (Example 6, 7, and 8). In Example 7, you can hear that we started as a trial for just archlute, but George and Alon both felt the need to join in because the texture was much to sparse.
For the third movement of the same piece, the instrumentation was a very different story. This piece is tender and melancholic, and everyone playing together felt overwhelming and clumsy (Example 9). The combination I felt worked the best was cello, archlute, and bass, with the bass reducing the part and playing only the first of every two or four notes (Example 10 and 11). This had more support and direction than just cello and archlute (Example 12), and much more lightness than when the bass played everything (Example 13). The final movement worked with everyone playing together (Example 14), but was more effective with a reduced ensemble. I feel that the bass in this movement took away from the light character (Example 15 and 16), and that the best options were either cello and harpsichord (Example 17) or cello and archlute (Example 18).
For the E major sonata, Punto decided to play guitar instead of archlute, partially because of the key, and partially because the character suited it. I was very pleased with the results of using guitar in this sonata – it is much lighter than most of Barrière’s works, and the use of this more gentle, strumming instrument emphasizes that, while also bringing energy and vigour to the fast movements. The first movement worked best with only cello and guitar, in my opinion (Example 19). Adding the double bass works as an option too, and we tried both with and without the bow. The bow is perhaps a bit heavy for this piece, and works better with the harpsichord than with the guitar (Example 20). The pizzicato is lighter, but feels a little too playful, or even “pop-y” (Example 21). Everyone together was simply too heavy for this movement (Example 22). The second movement worked better tutti than the first (Example 23), though I think the best combination was cello, bass, and either harpsichord or guitar (Example 24 and 25). We tried this movement with only a cello, but that did not work since the bass line split and we lost the fundamental for a few measures (Example 26) – we then added the bass, but it felt far too empty and bass heavy (Example 27). This combination would work much better with a treble instrument playing the solo, as we saw was sometimes practiced in the baroque.
The third movement worked with everyone playing, but movements like this are where intonation becomes a real problem, because it is truly a four-voice texture and the solo part is not easy (Example 28). We tried this movement with only cello, harpsichord, and bass, and it first it did not seem to work so effectively (Example 29), but then Alon played the bass line at pitch and it worked quite well (Example 30). It also worked with guitar instead of harpsichord, but it lost some of the largeness (Example 31). The standard combination of harpsichord and cello was comfortable to play with, but the bass felt quite empty (Example 32). The final movement felt very comfortable with everyone playing and had a nice groove (Example 33). We once tried the first couplet with guitar and the third with harpsichord, which had a very nice effect (bringing out the guitar rhythm at the beginning, and showing a stark change of character in the minor) (Example 34).
The bright opening movement of the B-flat sonata worked well with everyone playing (Example 35). Reducing down to just archlute and cello felt a little bit empty, but it changed the way I inflected the melody, giving me room to come down more (Example 36). Adding the bass to this seemed to help fill in some of the emptiness, yet still giving me flexibility in my line (Example 37). We tried with cello and harpsichord, which felt and sounded very rich and comfortable (Example 38), but adding the bass to this felt like we found a well-suited combination (Example 39). The final movement we experimented with was the short, slow third movement of this sonata. Again, this worked well with the whole ensemble (Example 40), but when we reduced to any combination without the harpsichord, the character was lost (Example 41 and 42). The version with only cello and archlute was much more effective than with the double bass as well, since its addition made it much too bottom heavy – its addition to our trials with the harpsichord were much more effective (Example 43).
In general, the only instrumentation I was always comfortable with was the cello and the harpsichord together. This is probably because I am most used to playing with this combination, but also perhaps because it is most likely how the music was intended to be played. As C.P.E. Bach said, it is a combination “free of criticism.” That being said, I did not think it was always the most effective choice, and the variety of characters and affects created with different instrumentations was impressive. Adding the bass frequently adds richness to the sonatas, especially in movements where the bass line splits for an extended period.
I would like to thank George, Alon, Punto, and Gabrielle for their enthusiasm, creativity, and talent in helping me with these experiments, and create the recordings included here.