A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Courante

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COURANTE (Ital. Corrente), (1) A dance of French origin, the name of which is derived from courir, to run. It is in 3-2 time, of rather rapid movement, and begins with a short note (usually a quaver) at the end of the bar. It is distinguished by a predominance of dotted notes, as in this, from Bach's 'English Suites,' No. 4,

{ \time 3/2 \key f \major \partial 8 << \relative f'' { f8 f4. c8 d4.\( f8 c4 bes8\prall a16 bes\) | a8 c d e f a g a bes a g e | }
\new Staff { \clef bass \key f \major \relative g { r8 | << { r g a4 bes c d e } \\ { f,1. } >> f'4. c8 d4. f8 c4 bes8\prall a16 b } } >> }

and requires a staccato rather than a legato style of performance. Like most of the other old dances, it consists of two parts, each of which is repeated. A special peculiarity of the courante is that the last bar of each part, in contradiction to the time-signature, is in 6-4 tune. This will be seen clearly by an extract from the movement quoted above:—

{ \override Score.Rest #'style = #'classical \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/2 << \relative a'' { a4. e8 f4. g8 d4.\prall c8 | << { c2. ~ c2 r8 \bar ":|" } \\ { s2. <g e>2 r8 } >> }
\new Staff { \clef bass \key f \major \relative f { f8 e d c b g c4 g' g, << { c2. c2 r8 } \\ { r4 c,2 ~ c r8 } \\ { s4 r g' } >> } } >> }

As a component of the suite, the Courante follows the Allemande, with which in its character it is strongly contrasted. In losing its connection with the dance, it underwent a slight modification: whereas in its earlier shape the 6-4 rhythm was only to be found in the concluding bar of each part, courantes are frequently to be met with in suites wherein the two rhythms are mixed up, and sometimes even where, in spite of the time-signature, the 6-4 rhythm predominates throughout. This is especially the case in many of those by Couperin. The endeavour to bring out these various features clearly and prominently, without injuring the flow of the whole, led to the adoption of the polyphonic style, by which the Courante is so strongly contrasted with the Allemande. Its chief points may be briefly summed up thus—triple time, prevalence of dotted rhythms, alternations of 3-2 and 6-4 times, and polyphonic treatment.

(2) The Italian courante (Courante Italienne), called also, like the preceding, simply Corrente or Courante, is a different form, quite independent of that just mentioned. It answers more nearly to the etymological meaning of its name, consisting chiefly of running passages. This courante is also in triple time—usually 3-8, but sometimes 3-4—and of rapid tempo, about allegro, or allegro assai. It is thus, like the French courante, contrasted with the allemande. As an example of this class may be taken the following from Bach's 'Partita' No. 5:—

{ \time 3/8 \key g \major \partial 8. \relative d'' { d16 e fis g d b d g, b d b g' d b' g a fis d fis a, d fis d a' fis c' a } }
etc.


Other specimens of this kind of courante may be found in No. 5 of Handel's 'First Set of Lessons,' and in Nos. 5 and 6 of Bach's 'Suites Francaisee,' these last being in 3-4 time. They are also frequent in Corelli's ' Violin Sonatas.'

(3) One more species of courante remains to be noticed, which is founded upon, and attempts to combine the two preceding ones, but with the peculiarity that the special features of both—viz. the French change of rhythm, and the Italian runs—are not introduced. It is in fact a hybrid possessing little in common with the other varieties, except that it is in triple time, and consists of two parts, each repeated. Most of Handel's courantes belong to this class. The commencement of one, from his 'Lessons,' Bk. i. No. 8, will show at once the great difference between this and the French or Italian courante.

{ \override Score.Rest #'style = #'classical \time 3/4 \key aes \major << \relative c' { r8 c f c aes' f g c, c' bes aes g | << { r4 c f r e g } \\ { aes,2. bes2. } >> }
\new Staff { \clef bass \key aes \major \relative f { <f f,>4 r r r1*3/4 | r8 c f c aes' f g c, c' bes aes g } } >> }
etc. Bach, on the other hand, chiefly uses the first kind of courante, his movements more resembling those of Couperin.

[ E. P. ]