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date: 28 March 2020

Coussemaker, Charles-Edmond-Henri delocked

  • Robert Wangermée


(b Bailleul, April 19, 1805; d Lille, Jan 10, 1876). French musicologist. He showed great musical ability as a child, particularly as a singer and pianist, but his professional career was in law. He studied law in Paris from 1825 to 1830, during which time he participated actively in the musical life of the city, attending concerts and private salons, and studying singing with Félix Pellegrini and composition with Jérôme Payer and Reicha. Upon receiving his degree, Coussemaker became a barrister at Douai, where he also studied counterpoint with Victor Lefebvre, produced several compositions and began his musicological studies. He later held various jobs in the legal profession, moving to Bailleul, Bergues, Hazebrouck and Dunkirk, with occasional promotions, and finally becoming a judge at Lille in 1858.

In spite of his busy professional career, he devoted much of his life to musicology. He was one of the first scholars to investigate the music of the Middle Ages, and his numerous books opened paths into the topics of Gregorian chant, neumatic and mensural notation, and medieval instruments, theory and polyphony (which he called ‘harmonie’). His publications are frequently contrasted with those of Fétis, who expressed reservations about Coussemaker’s scholarship: though Coussemaker apparently did not have Fétis’s broad knowledge and ability to synthesize large quantities of information into abstract theories, his approach was more precise, more scientific and less speculative. Using primary sources (many of which he had himself discovered), he presented little more than descriptions based upon careful observations; he has been criticized for this approach by those who think him a good collector of data but an inadequate historian. He demonstrated the value of presenting facsimiles of manuscripts, but also provided his own transcriptions into modern notation. His most important work is probably the ...

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F.-J. Fétis: Biographie universelle des musiciens