User:NicolasSceaux/French baroque instruments and voices



In 17th and 18th century, in France, female voice names are:

  • dessus, noted with G-2 clef;
  • bas-dessus, noted with C-1 clef (most female characters of Lully's works);
  • petite haute-contre, noted with C-2 clef;

Male voices are:

  • haute-contre, noted with C-3 clef;
  • taille, noted with C-4 clef;
  • basse-taille, noted with F-3 clef;
  • basse, noted with F-4 clef.

A typical four voice chorus will be composed of dessus, haute-contre, taille and basse.

Lully: Armide, Prologue. Ballard 1686. dessus (with a mistaken clef: read G-2 clef), haute-contre, taille, basse
Couperin: Precatio ad Deum. Philidor, 1705. basse-tailles, basse


In an instrument family, instruments are distinguished by their tessitura, which can be recognized by the used clef (the instrument names are usually not written):

  • dessus, noted with G-1 clef;
  • haute-contre, noted with C-1 clef;
  • taille, noted with C-2 clef;
  • quinte, noted with C-3 clef;
  • basse, noted with F-4 clef.

Intermediate parts (haute-contre, taille, quinte) are also refered to as parties.


A typical orchestral opera score by J.B. Lully consists in 5 violin parts:

  • dessus;
  • haute-contre. In some works by Lully, the ambitus is that of a violin, in some others it can be lower, like a viola;
  • taille. Same ambitus as a viola;
  • quinte. Same ambitus as a viola;
  • basse.

Alternatively, the clefs used for the five violin parts may be: C-1, C-2, C-3, C-3, F-4.

Lully: Armide, Ouverture. Ballard 1686
Lully: Phaëton, Act I, scene III. Ballard 1683

Oboes tessiturae encountered in Lully's works:

  • dessus;
  • haute-contre;
  • taille;
  • basse.

Flutes: G-1 and C-3 clefs.

Lully: Atys, Entrée des Phrygiens. Ballard 1689
Lully: Atys, Act IV, scene V. Ballard 1689


M.A. Charpentier violin orchestra counts four parts:

  • dessus;
  • haute-contre. In David et Janothas, haute-contre has the ambitus of a violin;
  • taille. Same ambitus as a viola;
  • basse.
Charpentier: David et Jonathas, Ouverture. Philidor Laisné, 1690


In early Rameau's works (e.g. Hippolyte et Aricie, les Indes Galantes), orchestra is composed of:

  • dessus: violin, oboe, flutes;
  • haute-contre. Same ambitus as a viola;
  • taille. Same ambitus as a viola;
  • basse.

In later works (e.g. Les Paladins), the orchestra parts are:

  • premiers dessus;
  • seconds dessus;
  • parties (taille);
  • basses.
Rameau: Les Paladins, Ouverture. Manuscrit autographe