François Couperin – Pièces de violes (1728)
(b. Paris, 10 November 1668 – d. Paris, 11 September 1733)
Prelude / Allemande Légere / Courante / Sarabande Grave
Gavotte / Gigue / Passacaille ou Chaconne
Prelude / Fuguette / Pompe funèbre
La Chemise Blanche
Born into an illustrious musical family in Paris, François Couperin (ii) “le grand” presumably studied first with his father Charles—an organist and composer—till the latter’s death when François was ten. As young men, Charles and his brothers Louis and François (i) moved to Paris from Chaumes-en-Brie beginning around 1650 at the instigation of Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, a third-generation royal court keyboardist and “father” of the burgeoning French harpsichord school. In April 1653, Louis became organist at the church of Saint Gervais in Paris, inaugurating a remarkable 173-year dynasty of Couperins in this post; Louis was followed upon his death in 1661 by Charles. At Charles’ death in 1679, the organist post was reserved for his underaged son François till his eighteenth year, until which time the great Michel Richard de Lalande was engaged and François continued his studies with Jacques-Denis Thomelin, organiste du roi. François effectively assumed the Saint Gervais post’s duties by 1683, and ten years later he also succeeded Thomelin at Louis XIV’s court.
Couperin is a versatile composer: his output includes chamber motets, Leçons de ténèbres, two organ masses, and other sacred works; secular songs; chamber music for three or more instruments, and twenty-seven suites (ordres) for solo harpsichord in four published books. From within the loftiest French circles he was an early admirer of Italian music; his compositional attempts to unite the best of French and Italian approaches resulted in his artistic philosophy of goûts-réünis (“united tastes”); the term also served as the title of his 1724 chamber music collection.
By the 1660s the bass viol had developed in France into an admired solo instrument whose repertoire and technique owed much to those of the lute, but whose bowed tones also emulated the voice. Beginning in the mid-1680s, published music and treatises for the viol appear in Paris, including the first book of suites by Marin Marais (1656–1728), a member of Lully’s opera orchestra and part of both Louis XIV’s and XV’s chamber music. The 1720s and 30s saw notable activity in the publication of solo viol music, especially for the bass. Besides a few works for violoncello or bassoon by Boismortier and Masse that list viol as an alternative, these publications were aimed specifically at the viol: …
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