Next week on November 10 marks the 350th anniversary of Francois Couperin’s birthday. He will be the Composer of the Week for host Kathleen Kajioka’s “A Little Night Music” which airs weeknights at 7 PM. I asked her what makes Couperin special:
“Couperin was an extraordinary talent, and held a unique place in the court of Louis XIV. While everyone else was compelled to turn their art towards state propaganda – i.e. to amplify the image of the Sun King – Couperin’s presence there was considered in itself a testament to Louis’ greatness. As a result, his music is freer and more personal than that of his colleagues. There is an intimacy, combined with incredible detail. One look at any of his scores, with all its trills, turns and curlicues reveals why, in an era when meticulous elegance was hot currency, Couperin was ‘the man.'” (Now I want to go and look at his scores for curlicues – more tattoo ideas …)
Francois was known as Couperin le Grand (“Couperin the Great”) to distinguish him from other members of his talented musical family. His father and uncle were well-known keyboard virtuosi. When organist Michel Richard Delalande was hired as organist of Saint-Gervais Church, it was on the condition that Francois would inherit the position when he turned 18. However, when he was 17, the church council provided him with a salary despite no formal contract. He did well, personally – he married a woman well-connected in society, and rubbed shoulders with the well-to-do. Couperin succeeded Jacques-Denis Thomelin at the royal court, a nice turn of events, given Thomelin was his music teacher and a mentor. This royal gig was a huge boost to Couperin’s career, and Couperin was in contact with other fine composers and members of the aristocracy.
Couperin wrote a significant number of works for the keyboard and wrote four volumes for harpsichord. He also wrote a manual on how to play the harpsichord. All pianists today can thank him for how he advanced the art of playing the keyboard.
Have a listen to Olivier Baumont perform the first book of harpsichord works.
Francois Couperin was born in France on November 10, 1668, and died September 11, 1733.