The problems of rhythmic alteration are among the most controversial issues facing today's historically oriented performers of Baroque music. Hitherto, anyone seeking to understand the French practice of notes inegales and the related concept of overdotting had to absorb an unwieldy and frequently polemical literature of essays. Now, for the first time, Stephen E. Hefling's Rhythmic Alteration in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Music provides a comprehensive compendium of what is known about notes inegales and overdotting, including tables and summaries that make pertinent historical evidence readily accessible to performers and scholars alike. The volume concludes with a concise overview of problems and choices faced by performers.
Notes inegales is the historical name of the French practice, prevalent from 1690 to 1780, of performing diminution-like passages as uneven pairs of notes despite their notation in equal values. "Overdotting" (a modern term) designates the Baroque custom of rendering certain dotted rhythms longer than their notation indicates. Appropriate adoption of both practices in performance requires that the performer weigh a wide range of interrelated variables, including tempo, articulation, and national musical styles.
The book is divided into two parts. Part I, "Notes inegales," distills information from over 160 sources concerning conventional aspects of French rhythmic inequality, the negation of inequality, discrepancies among the sources, and the practice of notes inegales outside France. Part II, "Overdotting," examines the value of the dot, the relationship of overdotting to notes inegales, overdotting in French dances and overtures, and rhythmic alteration in the "Handel tradition." The final chapter functions as summation and practicum, focusing on specific performance situations in light of the conclusions drawn about rhythmic alteration. Here, Hefling's approach to interpretive strategies will be welcomed by every Baroque performer. The book also includes notes, an extensive bibliography, music examples, and facsimiles.