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Francois Couperin

1668 - 1733

François Couperin (10 November 1668 – 11 September 1733) was a French Baroque composer, organist and harpsichordist. He was known as Couperin le Grand ("Couperin the Great") to distinguish him from other members of the musically talented Couperin family.

"...poet musician par excellence, the ability of Music to express itself in prose and poetry, ...if we enter into the poetry of music we discover that it carries grace that is more beautiful than beauty itself".
                                     Jordi Savall  on the music  of Couperin


Key Works

Les Lis naissans (for harpsichord)

Les Barricades Mystérieuses - harpsichord

(b. Paris, November 10, 1668; d. Paris, September 11, 1733)

French keyboard player and composer, 
with Rameau the most important figure in French music during the first half of the 18th century. He was known as “le grand” (“the Great”) because he was the most illustrious member of a family of musicians that dominated the French keyboard scene for more than a century. In 1685 he succeeded his father as organist at the church of St. Gervais, taking his rightful place in the family dynasty (Couperins would eventually rule the organ loft at St.

Gervais for 173 years). In 1693 he was named organ-iste du roi (court organist), a position that carried considerable prestige and financial benefit, and brought Couperin into contact with the movers and shakers at the court of Louis XIV. A second royal appointment came in 1717, when he was finally named ordinaire de la musique de la chambre du roi pour le clavecin (court harpsichordist) , after having deputized for the incumbent d’Anglebert for many years.

Couperin’s prosperity continued after Louis XV ascended the throne in 1715; he kept a busy teaching schedule into the 1720s, but gradually had to give up performing as his health failed. He continued composing and publishing music right up to the time of his death.

Naturally enough, Couperin’s output consisted mainly of keyboard works and the sacred vocal pieces expected of a church organist. Of prime importance to his legacy were the four books of harpsichord pieces, called Ordres, that he published in 1713, 1716, 1722, and 1733. He also composed several collections of chamber pieces, including Les gouts reunis (1724) and Les nations (1726), both much influenced by Corelli, and wrote a treatise on harpsichord playing, L’art de toucher le clavecin (1716).

Musically, Francois Couperin bridged two eras, the Baroque and the Classical, to which many of his ideas look forward. He was born in Paris into a family with a musical tradition stretching back 200 years. Their church, St Gervais, employed a member of the Couperin family as organist for an unbroken period of 173 years.

The ten-year-old Couperin's musical abilities were already evident when, upon his father's death, the position of organist to St Gervais was formally offered to him. postponed until his eighteenth birthday. In the meantime a temporary appointment was made, although accounts suggest that in fact Couperin frequently played at services and was given a wage before he was 18. He married Marie-Anne Ansault when he was 21, and the following year secured a royal licence to publish his only two organ Masses.

Couperin was an admirer of Corelli and around 1692 composed a set of tour sonatas; this marked the beginning of his life-long affection for the Italian Baroque. At this time it was principally as a keyboard player that Couperin's reputation grew. He became one of tour organists to Louis XIV in 1693 and gamed an increasing reputation as a harpsichord teacher, his pupils including the King's children, the Duke of Burgundy, the Count of Toulouse, the daughters of the Duke of Bourbon, the Dowager Princess of Conti, and numerous others. Performing also made great demands on his time, and there are accounts of him playing at Versailles, Sceaux, and Fontainebleau.

Etching by Jean-Jacques Flipart, after painting by André Boüys of François Couperin

In 1696 he was presented with his own coat of arms, and six years later had the distinction of receiving the Order of Chevalier de Latran. He became the King's harpsichordist, and when in 1715 the King died, the composer's position remained secure as the new court surrounding Louis XV brought a fresh influx of distinguished pupils. Around this time Couperm composed one of his most impressive pieces of religious music, Lecons de tenebres, a setting of sacred texts for solo voices with sparse accompaniment, to be performed during Holy Week.

Couperm's most important achievements, however, are the four books of harpsichord works that he wrote between 1713 and 1730. The individual pieces arc known as Ordres, consisting, like suites, of a succession of dance movements. Each Ordre has a title that might be the name of a person or object, or might be intended to evoke a particular scene or mood. Examples are Les ombres errantes (The roving shadows), La visionaire (The dreamer), and Papillons (Butterflies). The works demonstrate a great variety of techniques, and display clearly Couperin's success at fusing elements of French and Italian music.

Pieces de Violes

Les Nations

Messe des paroisses

I Book of Harpsichord Works

First book (1713) - Ordres 1 to 5
Ordre 1er de clavecin in G minor: Allemande L'Auguste; Première courante; Seconde courante; Sarabande La majestueuse; Gavotte; La Milordine, gigue; Menuet (et double); Les silvains; Les abeilles; La Nanète; Les sentimens, sarabande; La pastorelle; Les nonètes (Les blondes, Les brunes); La bourbonnoise, gavotte; La Manon; L'enchanteresse; La fleurie, ou La tendre Nanette; Les plaisirs de St Germain en Laÿe
Ordre 2ème de clavecin in D major: Allemande La laborieuse; Premiere courante; Seconde courante; Sarabande La prude; L'Antonine; Gavote; Menuet; Canaries (avec double); Passe-pied; Rigaudon; La Charoloise; La Diane; Fanfare pour la suite de la Diane; La Terpsicore; La Florentine; La Garnier; La Babet; Les idées heureuses; La Mimi; La diligente; La flateuse; La voluptueuse; Les papillons
Ordre 3ème de clavecin in C major: La ténébreuse, allemande; Premiere courante; Seconde courante; La lugubre, sarabande; Gavotte; Menuet; Les pélerines; Les laurentines; L'Espagnolète; Les regrets; Les matelotes provençales; La favorite, chaconne; La lutine
Ordre 4ème de clavecin in F major: La marche des gris-vêtus; Les baccanales; La pateline; Le réveil-matin
Ordre 5ème de clavecin in A major: La logiviére, allemande; Premier courante; Seconde courante; La dangereuse, sarabande; Gigue; La tendre Fanchon; La badine; La bandoline; La Flore; L'Angélique; La Villers; Les vendangeuses; Les agrémens; Les ondes

Francois Couperin III Book of Harpsichord Works

Third book (1722) Ordres 13 to 19
Ordre 13ème de clavecin in B minor: Les lis naissans; Les rozeaux; L'engageante; Les folies françoises, ou Les dominos; L'âme-en peine
Ordre 14ème de clavecin in D major: Le rossignol-en-amour; Double du rossignol; La linote-éfarouchée; Les fauvétes plaintives; Le rossignol-vainqueur; La Julliet; Le carillon de Cithére; Le petit-rien
Ordre 15ème de clavecin in A major: La régente, ou La Minerve; Le dodo, ou L'amour au berceau; L'evaporée; Muséte de Choisi; Muséte de Taverni; La douce et piquante; Les vergers fleüris; La Princesse de Chabeüil, ou La muse de Monaco
Ordre 16ème de clavecin in G major: Les graces incomparables, ou La Conti; L'himen-amour; Les vestales; L'aimable Thérèse; Le drôle de corps; La distraite; La Létiville
Ordre 17ème de clavecin in E major: La superbe, ou La Forqueray; Les petits moulins à vent; Les timbres; Courante; Les petites chrémières de Bagnolet
Ordre 18ème de clavecin in F major: Allemande La Verneüil; La Verneüilléte; Sœur Monique; Le turbulent; L'atendrissante; Le tic-toc-choc, ou Les maillotins; Le gaillard-boiteux
Ordre 19ème de clavecin in D major: Les Calotins et les Calotines, ou La piéce à tretous; Les Calotines; L'ingénuë; L'artiste; Les culbutes Ixcxbxnxs; La muse-Palantine; L'enjouée

II Book of Harpsichord Works

Second book (1717) - Ordres 6 to 12
Ordre 6ème de clavecin in B flat major: Les moissoneurs; Les langueurs-tendres; Le gazoüillement; La Bersan; Les baricades mistérieuses]; Les bergeries, rondeau; La commére; Le moucheron
Ordre 7ème de clavecin in G major: La Ménetou; Les petits âges: La muse naissante, Lenfantine, L'adolescente, Les délices; La Basque; La Chazé; Les amusemens
Ordre 8ème de clavecin in B minor: La Raphaéle; Allemande L'Ausoniéne; Premiere courante; Seconde courante; Sarabande L'unique; Gavotte; Rondeau; Gigue; Passacaille; La Morinéte
Ordre 9ème de clavecin in A major: Allemande à deux clavecins; La rafraîchissante; Les charmes; La Princesse de Sens; L'olimpique; L'insinüante; La séduisante; Le bavolet-flotant; Le petit-deüil, ou Les trois veuves; Menuet
Ordre 10ème de clavecin in D major: La triomphante; La Mézangére; La Gabriéle; La Nointéle; La fringante; L'amazône; Les bagatelles
Ordre 11ème de clavecin in C major: La castelane; L'etincelante, ou La bontems; Les graces-naturéles; La Zénobie; Les fastes de la grande et ancienne Mxnxstrxndxsx
Ordre 12ème de clavecin in E major: Les juméles; L'intîme, mouvement de courante; La galante; La coribante; La Vauvré; La fileuse; La boulonoise; L'Atalante

IV Book of Harpsichord

Fourth book (1730) - Ordres 20 to 27
Ordre 20ème de clavecin in G major: La Princesse Marie; La boufonne; Les chérubins, ou L'aimable Lazure; La Croûilli, ou La Couperinéte; La fine Madelon; La douce Janneton; La Sezile; Les tambourins
Ordre 21ème de clavecin in E minor: La reine des cœurs; La bondissante; La Couperin; La harpée; La petite pince-sans rire
Ordre 22ème de clavecin in D major: Le trophée; Le point du jour, allemande; L'.anguille; Le croc-en-jambe; Menuets croisés; Les tours de passe-passe
Ordre 23ème de clavecin in F major: L.audacieuse; Les tricoteuses; L'arlequine; Les gondoles de Délos; Les satires, chevre-pieds
Ordre 24ème de clavecin in A major: Les vieux seigneurs, sarabande grave; Les jeunes seigneurs; Les dars-homicides; Les guirlandes; Les brinborions; La divine-Babiche, ou Les amours badins; La belle Javotte, autre fois l'infante; L'amphibie, mouvement de passacaille
Ordre 25ème de clavecin in E flat major: La visionnaire; La misterieuse; La Monflambert; La muse victorieuse; Les ombres errantes
Ordre 26ème de clavecin in F sharp minor: La convalescente; Gavote; La Sophie; L'epineuse; La pantomime
Ordre 27ème de clavecin in B minor: L'exquise, allemande; Les pavots; Les chinois; Saillie

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