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Musete de Taverni
Composer: F. Couperin
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6-course Mandore after an anonymous French model middle 18th century, by Clive Titmuss, 1991 - used for Musette de Taverni by Couperin

This tiny instrument is a demonstration of the sometimes distorted picture that we have of music and musical instruments of the past. While we focus heavily on the 13-course lute, of which there are comparatively few extant examples in a just a handful of museum collections, there are literally hundreds of these little wonders still preserved. Many of them are highly ornate in a way that the larger lutes of the period were not, and that is a clue to their usage and their owners.

This instruments had a vogue, if the paintings and drawings are any indication, as the vehicles of music education among the newly-rich merchant middle class in all the countries of Northern and Eastern Europe. This was at a time when 13-course lutes were played only by a handful of professionals in German-speaking countries. Tuned in fourths or thirds, mandores were used to play simple diatonic tunes and dance music. It was used at social and family gatherings for several generations before the turn of the 19th century to accompany the rehearsal of dances in the way that the kit (pocket violin or poche) was used by dancing masters to play Minuets, Sarabandes and country dances.

They were simple to construct, easy to play and tune, and had a charm which went along with minature pianos, doll houses and minature furniture. The highly-prized porcelain figurines which adorn many mantles and tea tables are often depicted holding them. Their high pitch made them easy to hear over conversation and children's games, at parties or during the exertions of the dance.

The anonymous French model from which I copied these two was originally five courses, but many 6-course models are seen from the late 17th to early 18th centuries, and it seemed an obvious improvement to include a lower string to make it more usable in solo material. Many of the dancing master books and recorder tune books from the Lowland countries and the British Isles, as well as concerted music by Vivaldi, are its natural repertoire. The Musette is one such country dance, as I have used it here.


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