Tag Archives: François Couperin

Third Sunday of Easter – 14 Apr 2013

François Couperin

François Couperin

Opening Voluntary: “Elevation” from Messe Pour Les Convents – François Couperin (1668-1733)

Offertory: Cromhorne sur La Taille – François Couperin (1668-1733)

Closing Voluntary: Dialogue – François Couperin (1668-1733)

François Couperin “le Grand” was born in Paris on 10th November of 1668, the son of organist and musician Charles Couperin, who was also his first teacher.  In 1685, he became the titular organist of the Church of Saint Gervais in Paris, a position that he inherited from his father and which would be later filled by other members of the Couperin musical dynasty.    He was made organist of the Chapelle Royale with the title “Organiste du Roi” by appointment of Louis XIV in 1693, and was later to receive the further honor of appointment as official court composer in the year 1717. 

Couperin was a prolific composer of keyboard works for the harpsichord, publishing during his later life 4 volumes of pieces numbering some 230 works.  Although it is undoubted that Couperin must have composed and improvised many pieces for the organ in his role as the organist of Saint Gervais and the Chapelle Royale, it is a tragic loss that only one collection of his organ music survives today, the “Pièces d’ Orgue Consistantes en Deux Masses,” which first appeared in print in 1689-90, when Couperin was only about 21 years old. Although he was of a very young age, the work was approved by one of his also-famous teachers, Michel Richard Delalande who wrote that the music was “very beautiful and worthy of being given to the public.” Of the two masses in this volume, it is the Mass for the Parishes that is most frequently performed.  Following the traditional practice of the times, this was an alternatim mass based on the Gregorian chant themes from the Missa Cunctipotens.  The Mass for the Convents which we hear tonight, while equally beautiful, is based, not on Gregorian melodies, but on themes of Couperin’s own creation and represents a somewhat more daring departure from traditional practice, although it still preserves the alternatim style of alternating couplets intended to be interspersed with the sung chants of the Mass.  It is possible that Couperin chose to write his Mass for the Convents based upon no definite chant because French monastic communities of the time maintained their own non-standard body of chant music, making it difficult to compose a chant-based setting that would have more than the most extremely local use.  

 

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4th Sunday in Lent – 10 Mar 13 – Lætare

François Couperin

François Couperin

Opening Voluntary: “Elevation” – Tierce en Taille – François Couperin (1668-1733)

Final Voluntary:Deo Gratias” Petit Plein Jeu – François Couperin (1668-1733)

Both of today’s incidental organ works are compositions of the French Classical Period master composer, François Couperin (1668-1733) known often by his title of “Couperin Le Grand” or “the great Couperin” in order to distinguish him from other composers and organists of this French musical dynasty. Couperin was born in Paris on 10th November, 1688 and was taught initially by his father Charles until his death and then later by Jacques Thomelin, who was organist to Louis XIV. At the age of only 17 years, Couperin followed his father as organist of the great Paris church of St. Gervais.  He succeeded his teacher, Thomelin, in 1695 as the titular organist of the Chapelle Royale at the palace of Versailles and was styled “organiste du Roi” (organist to the King) by appointment of Louis XIV.

Although Couperin composed many pieces for voices, harpsichord and various instruments, only one of his organ compositions survives – his two-part masterwork of the organ masses, respectively titled “for the Parishes” and “for the Convents.”  These works were composed by Couperin when he was quite young, and he was granted a license  from Louis XIV to publish them in about 1690, when only 21 years of age.   Both works are in a style, popular at the time, known as “alternatim” organ masses in which lines of plainchants of the mass were sung in “alternation” with solo organ music.  There were, as well, pieces such as “offertories” and “elevations” set as musical accompaniments to their respective liturgical actions.

Both our opening and closing voluntaries are from the “Mass for the Convents” intended for use in convents and abbeys.  Although the “Mass for the Parishes” is clearly based on the Gregorian plainchant mass, Cunctipotens genitor Deus, the mass for the Convents is based on no recognizable plainchant melody.  Speculatively, it is believed that it was written in this manner as each religious institution typically maintained its own, non-standard collection of chant music.

Following typical French practice, each organ piece is subtitled with a notation that indicates the intended registration (selection of stops) to be used (and which we must, understandably, adapt for our non-French style organ).  These “standardized” registrations were also typically associated with a particular style or texture of musical composition such that the “Tierce on Taille” for example, has the melody in a clear solo registration in the tenor line and is typically played rather slowly and is also greatly ornamented and embellished.  Such pieces made extensive use of the French practice of “notes inégales” in which the performer varies the written note lengths/rhythms according to musical taste and established convention to create an individualistic and more expressive musical performance.  The closing voluntary is designated a “Petit Plein Jeu,”  essentially a small, “full organ” registration.


Historic Organs – The Cliquot Organ of the Church of St. Gervais, Paris

Although the beauty of François Couperin‘s compositions comes through, even when played on an organ like the St. Mary’s Whalley which is distinctly different from the French Classical Organ, there is a definite excitement and thrill to hear the original.  This brief You-tube video, while a little difficult to watch due to the videography, allows a brief listen to the restored Cliquot organ of the Church of St. Gervais in Paris where François Couperin served as organist and where he was actively playing when he wrote the Masses for the Parishes and the convents.  The segment present in the video gives a flavor of the powerful reeds of the organ in a piece played on a registration known as the “Grand Jeu” a chorus of principal and reed stops without the use of high-pitched mixtures.

For “real” organ aficionados, the current disposition of the St. Gervais Organ is as follows:

Grand Orgue

  • Montre 16″
  • Bourdon 16′
  • Montre 8′
  • Bourdon 8′
  • Prestant 4′
  • Flute 4′
  • Grosse Tierce 3 1/5′
  • Nasard 2 2/3′
  • Doublette 2′
  • Tierce 1 3/5′
  • Fourniture III
  • Cymbale III
  • Cornet V
  • Trompete 8′
  • Voix humaine 8′
  • Clairon 4′

 Positif

  • Bourdon 8′
  • Prestant 4′
  • Flute 4′
  • Nasard 2 2/3′
  • Doublette 2′
  • Tierce 1 3/5′
  • Larigot 1 1/3′
  • Cymbale III
  • Cromorne 8′

 Recit

  • Cornet V

Echo

  • Bourdon 8′
  • Flute 4′
  • Cymbale III
  • Cornet V

Pédale

  • Flute 8′
  • Flute 4′
  • Trompette 8′

Feast of the Annunciation – 28 March 2012

Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Other Incidental Organ Music – “Mass for the Convents”  François Couperin (1668-1773)

François Couperinle Grand” was born in Paris on 10th November of 1668, the son of organist and musician Charles Couperin, who was also his first teacher.  In 1685, he became the titular organist of the Church of Saint Gervais in Paris, a position that he inherited from his father and which would be later filled by other members of the Couperin musical dynasty.    He was made organist of the Chapelle Royale with the title “Organiste du Roi” by appointment of Louis XIV in 1693, and was later to receive the further honor of appointment as official court composer in the year 1717.  Couperin was a prolific composer of keyboard works for the harpsichord, publishing during his later life 4 volumes of pieces numbering some 230 works.  Although it is undoubted that Couperin must have composed and improvised many pieces for the organ in his role as the organist of Saint Gervais and the Chapelle Royale, it is a tragic loss that only one collection of his organ music survives today, the “Pièces d’ Orgue Consistantes en Deux Masses,” which first appeared in print in 1689-90, when Couperin was only about 21 years old. Although he was of a very young age, the work was approved by one of his also-famous teachers, Michel Richard Delalande who wrote that the music was “very beautiful and worthy of being given to the public.” Of the two masses in this volume, it is the Mass for the Parishes that is most frequently performed.  Following the traditional practice of the times, this was an alternatim mass based on the Gregorian chant themes from the Missa Cunctipotens.  The Mass for the Convents which we hear tonight, while equally beautiful, is based, not on Gregorian melodies, but on themes of Couperin’s own creation and represents a somewhat more daring departure from traditional practice, although it still preserves the alternatim style of alternating couplets intended to be interspersed with the sung chants of the Mass.  It is possible that Couperin chose to write his Mass for the Convents based upon no definite chant because French monastic communities of the time maintained their own non-standard body of chant music, making it difficult to compose a chant-based setting that would have more than the most extremely local use.  In keeping with this concept of “local” usage, today’s “chants” for the mass are also ones that do not appear in the standard corpus of available  Mass settings but were freely composed in the style of Gregorian chant music by our parish Cantor.  Owing to constraints imposed by time and setting, only the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei will be performed in the alternatim style tonight, but we will also hear at the opening and closing voluntaries and other points during the Mass, selections from other movements of the composition.


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