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Friday Night Organ: The French Finale!
Well our tour of the French baroque is sadly at an end. And the finale is appropriately Louis-Nicolas Clerambault, (1676-1749) and Francois Couperin (1668-1733), the nephew of the Great Louis Couperin who I featured some time ago. These two gentleman represent of the culmination of all that went before. They are the apex of the French organ school. They are a cornerstone of, (dare I say it?) our culture. And so it was with my past reviews of Italy, and Britain. And beginning next week we will begin analysis of another cornerstone of our culture—Germany.
Clérambault came from a musical family (his father and two of his sons were also musicians). While very young, he learned to play the violin and harpsichord. He also studied organ with Andre Raison who I featured last week. Clérambault became the organist at the church of the Grands-Augustins and entered the service of a one Madame de Maintenon. After the death of Louis XIV he became the organist of the church of Saint Sulpice in Paris and ironically the royal house of Saint Cyr, an institution for young girls from the poor nobility. He was responsible there for music, the organ, directing the choir, etc. It was in this post that he developed the genre of the "French cantata" of which he was the uncontested master. In 1719 he succeeded his teacher André Raison at the organs of the church of the Grands-Jacobins. He remained in this post until his death.
Although he composed hundreds of published works his best know work is the Basse et Dessus de Trompette
And this short work the Dialogue sur les grand-jeux:
This is his Suite du Deuxième Ton, presented WITH the appropriate plain chant. This is one of the best performances of this work I have ever heard. Organ aficionados will note that the pedal division is not played at all until the last two minutes of the work where it enters dramatically:
Here is the same work played on a different instrument and performer and notice that is sounds completely different:
And here is his superb Suite du Premier Ton:
OK not everything he composed for for the organ. So here is his Exultet Omnium, motet de Saint-Sulpice.
Francois Couperin was born into one of the best known musical families of Europe. His father Charles was organist at the Church of Saint-Gervais in Paris, a position previously occupied by Charles's brother Louis Couperin, a highly regarded keyboard virtuoso and composer whose career was cut short by an early death. As a boy, François must have received his first music lessons from his father. Unfortunately, Charles died in 1679. The church council at Saint-Gervais hired Michel Richard Delalande to serve as new organist, with the condition that François would replace him at age 18. Meanwhile, the boy was taken care of and taught by organist Jacques-Denis Thomelin, who served both at the court and at the famous church of St Jacques-de-la-Boucherie. According to a biography by Évrard Titon du Tillet, Thomelin treated the boy extremely well and became "a second father" to him. François's talent must have manifested itself quite early, since already by 1685 the church council agreed to provide him with a regular salary even though he had no formal contract.
Couperin's mother Marie died in 1690, but otherwise his life and career were accompanied by good fortune. In 1689 he married one Marie-Anne Ansault, daughter of a prosperous and well connected family. The next year saw the publication of Couperin's Pieces d'orgue, a collection of organ masses that was praised by Delalande. (I've included these works below and if you don't listen to anything else you should “experience” these works—note I didn't say listen to---I said experience because that more aptly applies).
In three more years Couperin succeeded his former teacher Thomelin at the court. The new appointment was extremely prestigious and brought Couperin in contact with some of the finest composers of his time, as well as numerous members of the aristocracy. His earliest chamber music dates from around that time. The numerous duties Couperin carried out at the court were accompanied by duties as organist at Saint Gervais, and also by the composition and publication of new music. He obtained a 20-year royal privilege to publish in 1713 and used it immediately to issue the first volume (out of four) of his harpsichord works, Pieces de clavecin, followed in 1716, as well as other collections of keyboard and chamber music. In 1717 Couperin succeeded one of his most eminent colleagues, Jean-Henri d'Anglebert, as ordinaire de la musique de la chambre du roi pour le clavecin, one of the highest possible appointments for a court musician. However, his involvement in the musical activities at the court may have lessened after Louis XIV's death in 1715.
Couperin's health declined steadily throughout the 1720s. The services of a cousin were required by 1723 at Saint Gervais, and in 1730 Couperin's position as court harpsichordist was taken up by his daughter. Couperin's final publications were Pièces de violes (1728) and the fourth volume of harpsichord pieces (1730). The composer died in 1733.
The building where Couperin and his family lived since 1724 still stands and is located at the corner of the rue Radziwill and the rue des Petits Champs. The composer was survived by at least three of his children: Marguerite-Antoinette, who continued working as court harpsichordist until 1741, Marie-Madeleine, who became a nun and may have worked as organist at the Maubuisson Abbey, and François-Laurent, who according to contemporary sources left the family after François died.
OK he left us a LOT of music in fact here is his COMPLETE chamber music—yup six hours worth:
BUT oddly he left only two organ works, the pair of Masses mentioned above. The Pour les Couvents and the other is the Pour les Paroisses.
And here they are: BTW I have this album on CD—and these are masterpieces without equal. I crank it UP until the house shakes!
These last two selection are played upon the great Isnard Organ of St-Maximin-en-Provence which is perhaps the apex of French organ building during the baroque so here is an article about it with pictures the history and specifications.
Now I could post several hours of his harpsichord music but I will let you guys discover that treasure on your own. Further the question will be asked why I'm not including Claude-Bénigne Balbastre in this finale. Simple, Claude lived from 1724 until 1799 and my focus has been to use 1765 as the cut off for the time frame under evaluation. Claude is like Mozart a musically transitional figure: baroque to classical. So perhaps in the future I will return to him...after all he did prevent the destruction of the organ of Notre Dame by a Jacobite mob and that is noteworthy.
Here is the same work played on a different instrument and performer and notice that it sounds completely different:
Yeah, me notices that, too, and I find this to be a remarkable characteristic of organ music as a whole. Sometimes I do not again recognize what piece is played on an organ - and that must be for that matter.
Let alone the great differences in the recordings of organ music, which add to that "weirdness" of organs. Some recordings I have a hard time listening to, especially when not listening to them with headphones. In my humble opinion the sound of an organ is best to be experienced live inside the very building the instrument has been measured into. Churches and cathedrals to me are organ (and chanting) resonance bodies of a distinct, individual quality and they seem to me somewhat required to fully experience and enjoy the sound produced by their organ.
Listening to some of the organ music you presented over my speakers in my place produces very odd results in sound experience, indeed. Some of which I found to be "unbearable". The sound -sometimes very much so- seems to be "shrunken" or warped into this format, if this makes any sense. It is so different to listening to an actual organ, that I find it hard to compare this specific, organ related "recording effect" to any other instrument I can think of right now.
This site has been a scam from the start. I am outta here.