article 63: Attaining Attaingnant

Just before the Covid crisis, a small British music publisher offered to print anything I cared to send him. I thought a thorough revision of some dances published by Pierre Attaingnant in 1531 might be useful. His seven volumes of keyboard music, of which only six survive in single copies at Munich, were the first attempts at printing keyboard music in France. They must be some of the most corrupt sources in music history. Missing bars, large fragments of pieces out of place, others duplicated, incorrect titles, and a plethora of errors of pitch and note values such as to make many passages incomprehensible have kept this music well out of reach of normal understanding.

I undertook a restoration for the selection which I recorded for Naxos in 2018 – my last commercial CD – with no thought of publication. A proper critical apparatus would have come out longer than the musical text. But the little Yorkshire outfit in question didn’t mind dispensing with all that, and agreed that a version based simply on old-fashioned trust in the editor’s judgement would be a good thing to have. So I sent them a manuscript of 15 dances.

After a few months of silence from Great Britain, I inquired if any progress was being made. The answer came back that their typesetter was on furlough because of the pandemic. That was the last I heard. Now I will offer these delightful pieces to the world at large as a parting gift from my recording career, with apologies for the faint scans, inserts and handwritten notes. All of them are arrangements, presumably by one of François I’s joueurs d’espinettes. A fairly reliable reconstruction was possible in most cases, using the originals for instrumental ensemble printed by Attaingnant in part-books – a far simpler and more reliable procedure than cramming multiple voices onto two staves with Attaingnant’s highly innovative single-impression / movable-type technology.

August 15, 2022

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