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Department of early music

Subsidiary subjects

The subsidiary subjects of the Early Music Department of the Lyon CNSMD are Ars Musica 1, Ars Musica 2, Ars Musica 3, Basso Continuo for Players of Melodic Instruments and Singers, Musical Discourse, Ornamentation, Tuning and Temperament and Vocal Workshop for Instrumentalists.


Teacher: Raphaël Picazos

Ars Musica 1 course is an introduction to the practice and theory of the grammar of medieval music. Students learn to understand the general and specific characteristics of the idioms of early music (modality, solmisation, rhythm, counterpoint, ornamentation, etc.).

It is divided into three interconnected workshops each lasting an hour and forty-five minutes: Reading Material from Original Sources (A), Improvised Polyphony (B) and Medieval Counterpoint (C). Each student must follow the workshop (A) on Reading Material from Original Sources and choose one of the other creative workshops (B) or (C). it is also possible to follow all three workshops. Class-contact time varies from three and a half hours to five and a quarter hours per week.

Reading Material from Original Sources

Objectives. To become familiar with facsimilé documents and how to read them.  To learn how to read and transcribe the main forms of musical notation used between 1100 and 1370. To know the main additional inflections used at different times (musica ficta).

Content. Reading technique (figured notes and bars) for the repertoire of St Martial de Limoges, the Notre Dame School, 13th century motets and French Ars Nova.

Assessment. Modern, diplomatic transcription of three or four excerpts from pieces in different forms of notation (continuous assessment, personal work and six-hour time-constrained examination).

Improvised Polyphony

Objectives. To be able to invent a one or two-part improvisation on a secular or liturgical monody in accordance with the different medieval techniques.

Content. Gregorian monody, Guidonian organum, contrary organum, organum of the School of Notre Dame.

Assessment. By examination consisting of the presentation of pieces prepared by small groups working together in exam conditions over a three-hour period. The pieces are a monody to be prepared in the octoechos mode from a given text, a Guidonian organum and a Notre Dame Organum.

Medieval Counterpoint

Objectives. To train the musical ear by writing, analysis, singing and stylistic imitation. To acquire grammatical and stylistic competence in the critical interpretation of repertoire between 1150 and 1350, including musica ficta, and in composition and the restoration of missing parts (analysis of works and treatises).

Content. Early polyphony, organum, discant (the relation between improvisation and writing) solmisation, repertoire from St Martial de Limoges and then the School of Notre Dame; 13th century motets, French Ars Nova (Guillaume de Machaut and the great masses of the 14th century).

Assessment : Composition or restoration of a piece in one, two or three parts from elements provided (motet, chanson, movement of a mass, etc.). Six-hour time-constrained examination.


Teacher: Barnabé Janin

Ars Musica 2 is a course in the study of the musical idiom of the Renaissance. 
The first semester is devoted to the 15th century, the second to the 16th century. The course is divided into three modules each based on a different aspect of musical practice: Reading Facsimile Documents, Written Counterpoint and Improvised Counterpoint.

The Reading Facsimile Documents module is mandatory. The student must also choose at least one of the other modules. Progress is assessed each semester by continuous assessment of written work submitted during the term (50% of the final mark) and by oral exam (50% of the final mark).

Module 1 – Reading facsimile documents

Singing at sight pieces of music in two, three and four parts in original manuscript and printed editions.

Theoretical points studied.
- mensural notation (figures, ligatures, tempus, prolation, coloration)
- proportions (indications of bars and their interpretation;  tactus)
- solmisation and musica ficta
- modes

Assessment. - oral exam: Singing at sight (solo) using facsimile material (15 mins preparation).
Vocal performance of polyphonic pieces prepared in class (two to four parts, one singer per part).
- continuous assessment: Transcription and analysis of pieces of music.

Module 2 – Written counterpoint

Composition of pieces of music in period styles:
 15th century - chansons from Burgundy in two and three parts, three-part hymns, four-part motets.
16th century - chansons and two-part motets (bicinia), chansons and psalms in four parts.

Theoretical points studied.
- rules of counterpoint in two, three and four parts.

- oral exam: Performance of pieces composed in class
- continuous assessment: composition of pieces in two parts.

Module 3 – Improvised counterpoint

Vocal improvisation on a written melody (“singing from the book”):
- 15th century:  chansons from Burgundy in three parts, English carols in two and three parts, hymns
- 16th century: French chansons, psalms, villancicos, etc. in three and four parts; excerpts from masses in two-part canon.

Theoretical points studied in the context of improvisation.
- in two parts: gymel, canons in unison, at the octave, at the fifth.
- in three parts: faux-bourdon, gymel with contratenor bassus, gymel with contratenor altus and/or bassus
- in four parts: simple counterpoint (SATB)

Assessment.- oral exam: Improvisation of pieces prepared in class (groups of three and four singers, one singer per group)
- continuous assessment: Composition of pieces in two, three and four parts in accordance with the principles of improvisation


Teacher: Barnabé Janin

Ars Musica 3 is a course in the study of the musical idiom of the baroque era (17th and 18th centuries).
The first semester is devoted to the 17th century and the second to the 18th century. The course is divided into two modules each based on a different aspect of musical practice: Composition and Improvisation.

Progress is assessed each semester by continuous assessment of written work submitted during the term (50% of the final mark) and by oral exam (50% of the final mark).

Module 1- Composition

Composition of pieces of music in the style of the period:
 17th century: pieces for two upper parts (‘dessus’) and basso continuo, keyboard pieces.
 18th century: pieces for ‘dessus’ and basso continuo (airs, sonatas, etc.), pieces in four parts (chorals, symphonies, instrumental suites), pieces for solo instrument (sonatas, partitas, dance suites).

Theoretical points covered.
- rules of composition in one, two, three and four parts

- oral exam: Performance of pieces composed in class.
 continuous assessment: Composition of pieces in the styles studied in class.

Module 2- Improvisation

 Instrumental and vocal improvisation:
 17th century -  on an ostinato  bass (passamezzo, romanesca, follia, etc.)
- 18th century – depending on the instruments, pieces for solo instrument seul, pieces for dessus and basso continuo.

Theoretical points covered in the context of improvisation.
- tonal structure of the movements of the suite and the sonata
-harmonic and contrapuntal
elements – typical rhythmic characteristics.

- oral exam: Improvisation of pieces of music prepared in class.- continuous assessment: Improvisation of pieces of music in front of the other students in the group.


Teacher: Martial Morand
Dirk Börner for the clavecinist


One thirty-minute private keyboard lesson each week.


The study of basso continuo enables the student to accompany and also to understand the way in which a musical text is written. For beginners the objective of this subsidiary subject is not, therefore, to train competent accompanists but rather to give the player or singer the wherewithal to base his or her interpretation on a well-founded analysis of the piece. For students who already have a grounding in basso continuo the course objective is to progress in the ability to differentiate between styles of realisation. By participating in the act of creation, which is the guiding principle of basso continuo, students learn how to assume different artistic mentalities, for example those of 17th century Italy or 18th century France.

The choice of notes implied by the figured bass, the manner of handling the transitions, the pitch range used for the realisation and its ornamentation are all ways of giving the accompaniment a characteristic “colour”.

Content and methods

The first semester is generally devoted to the French style of the 18th century, which allows students to make use of the experience of theory and harmony they usually bring with them when they arrive at the CNSMD. Modern terminology is used at first and then students progress towards the use of early forms of figured bass notation and the conventional vocabulary which is summarised in the “octave rule”.

The second semester is devoted to the 17th century and leads to a more contrapuntal perception of basso continuo. If the figured bass is incomplete or missing, the melodic movements of the bass are used to identify certain idiomatic transitions, which remain adjustable, depending on the writing in the dessus parts and also the manner of voice leading chosen for the realisation.

As lessons are one-to-one the course content is adapted to each student’s needs. For the more advanced students the idiom of each century can be narrowed down in the direction of the style of a particular country. On at least one occasion during the year the singers have to accompany themselves, viol players have to realise a piece on their instrument and the others have to invent a counter-melody.


There is a short exam each semester in the presence of at least one external examiner. At the end of the first the content is a piece to sight-read using the “octave rule” and an 18th century French piece to accompany on the harpsichord (prepared in advance). At the end of the second semester the student accompanies a 17th century piece on the harpsichord and possibly also another piece on his own instrument (for example in the form of a counter-melody).

The final mark combines the opinion of the external examiner(s) with that of the teacher with regard to the progress made by the student, depending on his or level at the outset.


Invited guests


Teacher: Jaky Piscione


Teacher: Jaky Piscione


Teacher: Anne Delafosse

Singing involves using the larynx to cause the air contained in our lungs to vibrate and enriching the vibration with harmonics to enhance the tone quality. The singer’s instrument is the vocal organs, which also serve to produce speech. It therefore follows that anyone who can speak can sing! The quality of the sound depends, as for playing an instrument, on the acquisition of muscular and skeletal agility, and on the individual’s ear, culture and musical imagination.

The course is aimed at the instrumental players of the early music department of the Lyon CNSMD and concentrates on teaching students to acquire a certain number of reflexes and a basic sense of mobility, so that they feel more at ease with their voices both for singing and also quite simply for personal expression.

The course consists of twenty classes (ten each semester), which are the result of personal reflection and teaching experiences in widely differing circumstances (with amateurs, in schools, with beginners, at advanced levels, and so on). They are designed to allow all participants to learn on the basis of their own experience, whatever their level. In addition to this work on vocal technique there is practical work on the vocal repertoire of early music from the 9th to the 18th centuries. There is usually only one singer per vocal line and the activity is run in parallel with the Ars Musica course:
 Semester 1 of Year 1 of the bachelor’s programme: gregorian (10th – 11th centuries)
 Semester 2 of Year 1: repertoire of Notre Dame (12th  – 13th centuries)
 Semester 1 of Year 2: music of the 14th and 15th centuries
- Semester 2 of Year 2: Renaissance music 
 Semester 1 of Year 3: music of the 17th  century
 Semester 2 of Year 3: music of the 18th century

Assessment is focused on the acquisition of three skills:
 the ability to propose a warm-up exercise for a choir
 the ability to sing a line of melody alone
 a knowledge of the specificities of the art of singing in order to play “colla parte”.


Additional details

One-year professional residency in string quartet

Get a one-year professional residency in string quartet, classical, contemporary, pop, jazz & world music !

The National Conservatory of Music and Dance of Lyon offers a professional training residency in string quartet allowing to deepen its practice and to perform for a year, in collaboration with the Opéra de Lyon and cellist Vincent Ségal for the 2021-2022 season.



Training Course | strengthen, open and enrich your repertoire
  • Chamber music lessons supervised by the team of teachers from the CNSMD Lyon
  • Artistic accompaniment in current music by cellist Vincent Ségal (world repertoires, polyrhythms, improvisation, arrangement)
  • Cultural mediation, participation in Master Classes
  • Additional courses may be chosen among the CNSMD Lyon offer (subject to availability)
Stage | give your future a boost

The selected quartet will be associated with several concerts produced by the CNSMD de Lyon and the Opéra de Lyon, as a quartet or with Opera Underground guest artists of the season.
Along with various professional partnerships (Belle Saison, Pro Quartet, etc.)

Application | timetable and conditions

• October 14th, 2021

Deadline for submitting applications : send your quartet CV and the copy of the highest diploma of each member of the Quartet on concours.cnsmd-lyon.fr/

• October 22nd, 2021

Hearing in Lyon after selection on file
15 minutes free program
it may include a contemporary piece

• November,  2021

Start of residency in Lyon, France


Admission fees (for information purposes only)

general fee to be paid by the Quatuor : 178 €
individual schooling fees to be paid by each Quatuor’s member : 529 € + 91 €

Certain concerts may be subject to pay. This training is qualifying but not leading to qualification. It could be if the quartet or one of its members wishes to enroll in a longer course within the CNSMD (after a competitive entrance examination).

Sophie Leleu
sophie.leleu @ cnsmd-lyon.fr
+33 (0) 4 72 19 26 91
+33 (0) 6 83 82 57 15