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FRANCOIS COUPERIN
(1668 - 1733)

François Couperin, known as le grand to distinguish him from an uncle of the same name, was the most distinguished of a numerous family of French musicians, officially succeeding his uncle and father as organist of the Paris church of St. Gervais when he was eighteen. He enjoyed royal patronage under Louis XIV and in 1693 was appointed royal organist and belatedly royal harpsichordist. As a keyboard-player and composer he was pre-eminent in France at the height of his career. He died in Paris in 1733.

(from Naxos website - http://www.naxos.com/person/Francois_Couperin/27135.htm)

I just heard the music of Couperin for the first time yesterday. His two organ masses, one "for the parishes," the other "for the convents," played by New Zealand organist Gillian Weir (recorded in the 1970's & now on Decca Eloquence). The first mass is more dance-like and animated, the second somewhat more laid back. Apparently he used the plainchant in the first, but the second has characteristics of a freer fantasia form. One can certainly pick this up quite easily, there's a big difference between the two. But the thing I was most surprised by is the abrupt ending of each of these two works. Perhaps the choral accompaniment, which is omitted on this recording (and most others?), would have made up the actual ending. In any case, these works are effective on their own as virtuostic organ pieces. Apparently, the pedals are hardly used, most of it is played on the keyboards.

What do people think of this important French Baroque composer?
 

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Not a bad French composer. I have all of his harpsichord music Pièces de clavecin books 1 to 4 (1713, 1717, 1722, 1730). They are more subtle without the technical virtuosity demanded by the Italian harpsichord styles of his fellow Europeans outside of France.
 

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I'll second HC. I've been making a concerted effort recently to explore the Baroque in greater depth and I have been most impressed with the French (who I have long underestimated) and the German composers. I quite like this disc:



At the same time, I must say that I have not come across enough of anything to suggest that he is a composer on par with Lully or Rameau when it comes to orchestral, choral, or operatic compositions... but his keyboard work is quite something else altogether. I find it quite entrancing... although I'll admit that I generally prefer performances on piano to the harpsichord.

If I was to consider Couperin on Harpsichord, who would you recommend, HC?:confused:
 

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If I was to consider Couperin on Harpsichord, who would you recommend, HC?:confused:
You could try Laurence Cummings on the Naxos label. Nicely played. Cheap price as usual. "Low risk strategy" if you are a little averse to the harpsichord.
 

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I enjoy Couperin, but even when I was at the height of my baroque binge some years ago I felt the French composers, with harpsichord works in particular, overdo the ornamentation for my tastes. Lully, Marais, Forqueray, Leclair, all seem to share this trait -- at least that is how they are most often interpreted. That doesn't stop me from listening. I just usually prefer the German and Italian baroque to the French. Rameau is the exception.

Couperin evidently inspired Ravel, but I haven't quite heard the connection between Le Tombeau de Couperin, a piece I occasionally enjoy, and Couperin's music or the baroque keyboard suite in general.
 

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I enjoy Couperin and his music seems lush and delightful to me, both sensual and sensitive. I imagine it must have been perfect for Versailles. I found the recording of Les Concerts Royeaux that's pictured earlier unusual and interesting but I'd suggest that Les Nations recorded by Savall's Hesperion XX might be a better way into his music:


Les Concerts Royeaux by contrast seem to me to take his love for the eclectic and unusual to an extreme. The Apotheoses are also well worth checking out, and I have an excellent recording by London Baroque which seems a bit more muscular than the excerpts from Savall's effort that I found on YouTube. However, Savall's versions of his Pieces de Violes most definitely did float my boat. His Lecons Tenebres are also, I hope you'll agree, extremely beautiful:


I have a different recording to this one, though this certainly seems lovely. Mine is by William Christie's Les Arts Florissants which I'm happy to recommend. Unlike the clip it features a soprano rather than a counter-tenor in this piece.

FWIW I also enjoy French baroque harpsichord. Both Francois and Louis Couperin, Rameau, D'Anglebert and Chambonnieres. All good stuff.
 

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Just listened to two short pieces for the first time including Les baricades misterieuses on a very warm sounding instrument played by Igor Kipnis. A lovely melody. I must hear some more!
Then I would like to suggest you get hold of one Leonhardt's recordings of the Preludes from L'art de toucher le clavecin and Blandine Verlet's recent CD. Skip Sempé is also an outstanding Couperin player. You could try his record of the viole sonatas and his solo CD. Also Pierre Hantaï's record of Solo keyboard music.

If you're interested in the vocal music let me know, I've heard some very exciting records of the Leçons de ténèbres, and one or two good ones of Les apthéoses.

Maybe surprisingly, F Couperin has done OK on modern piano, with some good attempts by Sokolov and Madeleine de Valmalète.
 

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Any recommendations for a recording of the organ masses?

I see releases from James Tibbles, Edward Higginbottom, and Gillian Weir that are affordable and attractive.

Thoughts?
 

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Generally I would say Couperin is the baroque composer who speaks the most to me. This is the one that got me hooked, can't really find it anywhere anymore, it's pretty old. A lot of his beauty in the harpsichord pieces is lent by the really delicate ornaments, to me it sounds like a different approach than say Bach, Handel, and so on.
 

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Generally I would say Couperin is the baroque composer who speaks the most to me. This is the one that got me hooked, can't really find it anywhere anymore, it's pretty old. A lot of his beauty in the harpsichord pieces is lent by the really delicate ornaments, to me it sounds like a different approach than say Bach, Handel, and so on.
Be sure to try his suites for viols too, there's an excellent recording with your favourite, Skip Sempé, in fact.

And you might follow the Sempé lead and explore his Chambonnières, Rameau and (above all) Louis Couperin.
 

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Be sure to try his suites for viols too, there's an excellent recording with your favourite, Skip Sempé, in fact.

And you might follow the Sempé lead and explore his Chambonnières, Rameau and (above all) Louis Couperin.
Thanks, I actually just listened to a measureless harpsichord piece by Louis.
 

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Does anyone have any favorite Couperin pieces? To me there are a few of his pieces that stand out as being more delicate and elegant than anything else in the baroque, the l'espagnolete from the C minor suite (those ornaments just never get old) and the rondeau from the B minor, to name some. Some of his pieces in the Bb major stand out as well, such potency.
 

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Does anyone have any favorite Couperin pieces? To me there are a few of his pieces that stand out as being more delicate and elegant than anything else in the baroque, the l'espagnolete from the C minor suite (those ornaments just never get old) and the rondeau from the B minor, to name some. Some of his pieces in the Bb major stand out as well, such potency.
Messe des paroisses, Leçons de tenèbres, viol suites, Apthéoses, the two harpsichord transcription of les Nations. I was listening to the 9eme ordre a couple of days ago and I was struck by how complicated the polyphony is.
 

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Les Baricades Misterieuses

This is the piece that hooked me, on a Columbia LP by Anthony Newman. The Couperin (not the Bach) is available on this NPR CD. If you have not heard this, you must get it!

The original LP


The CD:


 
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