On today’s date in 1733, the French composer François Couperin, known as “François Couperin the Great,” died in Paris. The building where Couperin lived for the last decade of his life still stands in Paris at the corner of the rue Radziwill and the rue des Petits Champs, and like the building, the high esteem afforded this Baroque composer has stood the test of time.
François Couperin is known as “The Great” for two reasons: first, to distinguish him from other talented Couperins, who like the Bach Family, were also well-known musicians, and second, because, well, he WAS great—a strikingly original composer, admired for his harmonic invention and programmatic wit.
Although Couperin wrote organ and chamber works, he is most famous for his 226 pieces for solo harpsichord, many with descriptive titles indicating they were portraits or caricatures of real people or recognizable types of people. Others have poetically ambiguous or rather baffling titles like “The Mysterious Barricades.”
Was Couperin writing miniature tone poems as private “insider” jokes for himself and his friends? Who knows—and maybe not knowing the secret “program” is even part of the music’s appeal.
Couperin was admired by fellow composers ranging from Bach to Brahms and Ravel, and some of his harmonically-adventurous keyboard pieces have been orchestrated by Richard Strauss in the 20th century and Thomas Ades in the 21st.
Music Played in Today's Program
Francois Couperin (1688-1733)"Les Baricades misterieuses," from "2nd Livre de Clavecin"Kenneth Gilbert, hcHarmonia Mundi 190354/56