Naoki Ueo
(Revised by M. Spencer and P. Spencer)

Although this small bagpipe called "Musette de cour" is not well known as a baroque woodwind instrument these days, by the late 17th century it was very popular in France. It's popularity blossomed in the 18th century, and painters of the period like Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), bear witness to this with their paintings of the instrument.
The musette had developed alongside other woodwind instruments like the flute, oboe and bassoon in the workshops of French makers such as the Hotteterre family, therefore because it could for example, execute articulations and staccato like the other woodwind instruments, it too inspired a huge repertoire of "Art Music".

The "Bande de la Grande Ecurie"

Early use of the bagpipes in the French court is seen in the "Bande de la Grande Ecurie" which was founded in 1543 by Francis I. The purpose of the "Bande de la Grande Ecurie" was to supply the "musique militaire" for court celebrations such as anniversaries of military victories, triumphal royal entries etc. But they also played for outdoor entertainment held for example in woods, in gardens or on the water.

Musettes de Poitou

In the "Ecurie", there was a section called "Hautbois et Musettes de Poitou" which consisted of soprano, tenor and bass Hautbois de Poitou (a type of shawm) and one Musette de Poitou which doubled the soprano hautbois part.
According to Mersenne, "Poitou" refers to a type of reed cap instrument.(P. 305)
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The Musettes de Poitou were surely bagpipes, but we do not know exactly what these instruments looked like. However, in the section where Mersenne mentions the Hautbois de Poitou there is a picture of a bagpipe (shown left), which is helpful. It is a mouth-blown bagpipe which has a chanter with one key, and looks like a shawm (oboe). This bagpipe might be the Musette de Poitou.

The lowly "Cornemuse" as opposed to the courtly "Musette"

Because in the 17th century the bagpipe was considered to be the instrument country folk used for their festivals, weddings and other types of recreation, the French Courtiers felt bagpipes were rather too unsophisticated for them and were prejudiced against the lowly "Cornemuse".
It is interesting therefore to note that the "Bande de la Grande Ecurie" chose to use the word "Musette" for the "Hautbois et Musettes de Poitou" instead of "Cornemuse" which was the common term for bagpipe.

In the chapter on the musette with bellow, Mersenne mentions that a court oboe player, Destouches, plays this bellow-blown bagpipe "Musette" very nicely.

" When one has heard the musette in the hands of those who play it perfectly, as does Mr. des Touches, one of the Royal oboists, it must be admitted that it yields to none of the other instruments, and that there is a singular pleasure in hearing it. " (p.359)

Here Mersenne implies that the musette played by court musicians belongs to a different class from the rustic cornemuses played by common folk.

In the chapter on the bagpipes in his "Harmonie Universelle", Mersenne excuses himself for talking about this rustic instrument by referring to the nativity story:

" But since the Shepherds are lacking in neither reason nor wit, and some are found capable of understanding the ratios of the intervals which they use in sounding the cornemuse, the flageolet, and other instruments which are familiar to them, I am placing here the harmonic table of this register ......... so as to assist them, for they deserve to have one work for them, since they had the honour of being the first to be warned of the Nativity of the Son of God by the music of the Angels. " (p.357)

Here, Mersenne is very clever to use the word 'shepherds' to describe the country folk who played the cornemuse. By so doing he associates this type of instrument with the nobility and their "Amusements Champêtres" (described below) rather than with the lower classes. It was a fact however, that the musette had by this time been developed far beyond the original simplicity of the rustic "Cornemuse".

Michael Praetorius also describes the musette in his Syntagma Musicum (1619)(5). The drawing of this instrument is placed with the crumhorns and the mute cornets thus indicating that he thought the instrument did not belong in the same category as the other bagpipes. He describes the instrument as follows:

" Then there is a small bagpipe or Hümmelchen (bagpipe) which has been imported from France, in which the wind is produced solely by a small arm-operated bellow. " (Chapter 19)

"Amusements Champêtres"

By the 17th century, the new fashion of "Amusements Champêtres" was all the rage amongst the nobility.
These "Amusements Champêtres" were a type of outdoor recreational event where the courtiers would play at being shepherds in Arcadia : The courtiers imagined or possibly even believed that the shepherds in Arcadia in ancient mythology used to play the musette, so by singing and dancing with this instrument they felt themselves to be recreating their own little piece of Arcadia.
In the minds of the people of this time, the bagpipes were also a symbol of eroticism and fertility, thus many of the verses written for musette songs sung at the (to our minds somewhat naïve) "Amusements Champêtres" had a
definite sexual innuendo.

The mode for pastoral music

In the second half of the 17th century, these popular pastoral scenes were imported into ballet and operas, and the musette also started to be used in the Royal orchestra. As the orchestra played the pastoral scene with musette, these "Arcadian" strains must have set hearts fluttering with excitement as memories "Amusements Champêtres" were surely evoked!
At this time, as the mode for pastoral music and the Arcadian fantasies which inspired it caught on, the musette became very popular amongst amateur musicians. Thus at the beginning of the 18th century with the ever increasing popularity of musette playing, a good deal of sheet music was being published; an undertaking which was made easier by the improvement in printing techniques and by the fact that under the new administrative body of Louis XV, the laws regulating printing and publishing were much less stringent.

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Copyright : Naoki Ueo 2000