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Lute and Harpsichord Duos

The music for harpsichord and lute, by Bach, De Visée, Froberger and Couperin, was intended to test the feasibility of that combination of instruments in a number of different musical roles; equal partners, as they had been during the sixteenth century, co-conspirators, a role placed on them by endless continuo duty, and competitors, in which the expressive but quiet lute eventually lost out to the harpsichord's clarity and extroverted character.

In the Froberger suite the lute plays from the bass. The vocal-style music is accompanied with chords whereas the woven-texture pieces, the Courante and Gigue, are given what would have been called a "contrepartie" or a written counterpoint. In the Bach trio sonata, both instruments treat exactly the same material with different results. The De Visée and Couperin musettes carry the writing of contrepartie to its limits as the harpsichord suggests the drone of the hurdy-gurdy and bagpipe, and the lute plays the heavily ornamented melody.

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