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.