The “Couperins” are one of the largest families of French musicians of the 17th and 18th centuries. Francois Couperin therefore excels in secular music on the harpsichord, during the Evenings at the King's Apartments, but we would be unforgivable if we forgot his sacred music and in particular his masterful Leçon des Ténèbres.
The life of François Couperin
François Couperin was born in November 1668 in Paris. Bathed in the musical world, his grandfather being an “instrument master”, his father Charles, musician, organist at Saint Gervais church and harpsichord teacher of the Duchess of Orleans, it was natural that François learned music. very young, before even knowing how to read and write.
Having survived his father's organist charge, but much too young to exercise it on his father's death (he was only eleven years old), Michel De Lalande, very prominent organist, serves as tutor and signs the contract for François. De Lalande, much too busy (he is stationed in the churches of Saint Louis, Saint Antoine and Saint Jean de Grève) does not perform this function, but keeps it for Couperin once the young man has reached the age of majority.
Before being of age and to improve his skills, François Couperin took lessons from Jacques Thomelin, organist at Saint Jacques la Boucherie and one of the king's four organists at the Royal Chapel, until 1685 when he finally took charge. reserved for the organ of Saint Gervais. In 1690, he obtained a privilege for his Organ Pieces (two masses) and Louis XIV appreciating his qualities, appointed him in 1693 organist of a district (that of January) at the Royal Chapel. Couperin performs his various functions discreetly, and not being a man of intrigue, he therefore never obtained the post of "King's harpsichordist" so sought after by all musicians. He is, however, a much sought-after piano teacher and teaches the Duke of Burgundy as well as many princesses.
Not making the headlines, he still has his coat of arms in 1696 and then was made a knight of the Lateran order in 1702. Exercising his art with love and conscience, he became “ordinary music for the harpsichord” during the Regency. in 1717, but left the organ of Saint Gervais to his cousin Nicolas in 1723. In fragile health, he gave up his place as king's organist to the son of his rival Marchand in 1730 and on his death in 1733, his daughter inherited his usual charge of the king for the harpsichord.
Organist, he therefore creates many secular pieces for one, two or three voices, religious pieces such as motets and magnificat, and two masses for organ (one for the ordinary use of parishes and the other for convents of men and women religious), the best known of which is Les Lessons de Ténèbres intended to accompany the Office during a night of Holy Week. In this work, he knew how to magnificently render the pathetic by transmitting in his song the anguish of mortal man on earth and the confidence of the Christian soul in an eternal life.
He also dabbled in trio and quartet sonatas such as La Steinkerque and Astrée, as well as pieces with viols. During "apartment evenings" in Versailles, Couperin excelled when he composed pieces for royal concerts. These fine and refined works will be listened to daily by the king towards the end of his life.
But it was with his works for the harpsichord that Couperin became famous. Between 1707 and 1730 he published four collections of twenty-seven orders and eight preludes. From there he wrote a treatise on the Art of Touching the Harpsichord in 1717.
As is customary, an inventory is taken upon his death. It is a very interesting source of information and we discover the instruments belonging to Couperin: a large harpsichord mounted on a trestle made by Blanchet for an amount of three hundred pounds, three spruce of varnished wood for an amount of seventy pounds, two viols and two violins, a small wooden organ flute buffet (the latter items amounting to fifty pounds). The inventory also includes scores: twenty operatic manuals, two on motets, twenty-three volumes of cantatas, as many for sonatas, books on artists such as Marin Marais and Albinoni. In the library, around a hundred textbooks are on display, bringing together the works of François Couperin for the harpsichord, the viol and other music for a total of around four hundred and fifteen books. At that time, the works being very often engraved on copper or tin, we discover more than seven hundred and thirty plates by Couperin for a value of one thousand five hundred pounds.
- Couperin, the Musician of Kings by Olivier Baumont - Gallimard, 1998.
- Couperin by Pierre Citron. Solero, 1996.
- CD "Lessons of Darkness for Holy Wednesday"
- CD n ° 5 from the box set "200 years of music at Versailles" - Royal concert