'Committed, highly intelligent and impeccably controlled performances which breathe the rarefied air of French Baroque style' (BBC Music Magazine)
'An elegant, insightful premiere recording of a recently published manuscript [on] two marvellous instruments, superbly recorded' (Classic CD)
'Fine playing and crystal-clear recording throughout' (Gramophone)
'Wholly enjoyable ... This makes for interesting, varied listening, and turns up some real gems that might otherwise have been passed over. Far from being a curiosity, then, this CD is a fascinating document of 17th century musical practice, and most enjoyable in its own right.' (Gramophone Early Music)
'80 minutes of exceptional music.' (Goldberg)
'Very highly recommended' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)
Menuet de Couperin 1 [0'51]
Sarabande de Couperin [2'12]
Entrée des Gardiniers [0'27]
Folies d'Espagnes [11'56]
Menuet de Couperin 2 [1'00]
Courante de Couperin [1'08]
Petit Rigodon [0'29]
Dance Allemande [0'23]
Dance Angloise [1'45]
This magnificent anthology of late 17th-century French harpsichord music presents a complete autograph manuscript of Marc Roger Normand Couperin, a newly discovered member of the Couperin dynasty (he was François Couperin's cousin). He worked at the Court of Turin and was known as 'Coperino'. The manuscript contains 57 pieces, including many fine works composed or arranged by 'Coperino' himself, and beautiful works by Chambonnières, d'Anglebert, Le Bègue and Hardel, as well as the otherwise unknown La Pierre family.
All of this music is completely new to disc, as is the composer.
Other recommended albums
The elegant manuscript of which this is a complete recording came to light in a private collection in Italy, in 1997. A facsimile edition of the volume has now been published (Geneva, Éditions Minkoff, 1998). Most of the compositions in the manuscript are not otherwise known, including a fine Allemande by Le Bègue, and several pieces by ‘la Pierre’. The high quality of these new works would in itself be sufficient to give the source great interest. However, the first page states that is it a ‘book of harpsichord pieces for Monsieur de Druent, written by Couperin’. The name of Couperin gives the book an immediate historical importance, especially in view of the fact that several otherwise unknown works are specifically attributed to ‘Couperin’.
I have been able to identify this ‘Couperin’ as Marc Roger Normand (December 1663 – 25 January 1734), François Couperin-le-Grand’s first cousin, who was active as organist and harpsichordist at the Turin court of Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy. From the moment of his arrival in Turin in about 1687, aged 24, Marc Roger seems to have used the name ‘Couperin’, preferring to rely on his mother’s illustrious name rather than use his father’s unknown name of ‘Normand’. In court documents, while he is sometimes referred to as ‘Marco Rogero Normano’, he is often mentioned as ‘Couperin’ (or indeed ‘Couprin’, ‘Coprin’, ‘Cuoprin’, ‘Coprino’ or ‘Coperino’). When he left for Italy, his young cousin was not yet twenty and had not even published his two organ masses. Marc Roger’s pride in the family name is thus a moving testimony to the musical reputation of his three uncles, Louis, François I and Charles II Couperin. Marc Roger signed his own pieces ‘Couperin’ and apparently called himself ‘Couperin’ all his professional life in Italy. We should also therefore now do so; certainly, referring to him as ‘Normand’ will not help his present reputation in any way, and the reasons for calling him Couperin today are the same ones that, three centuries ago, caused him to use the name.
Marc Roger’s mother, Elisabeth Couperin, was the daughter of Marie Andry and Charles I Couperin, who married in 1621; she was baptised in Chaumes-en-Brie on 6 February 1636. His father, Marc Normand, was the son of Jean Normand and Marguerite Dufer. As with Louis Couperin, Marc Normand’s exact date of birth is unknown but must fall between 1626 and 1633, the years for which a baptismal register is missing at Chaumes. He must have grown up alongside Louis Couperin, so it is not surprising that he married Louis’s sister Elisabeth, shortly after 20 November 1654. (Louis had already moved to Paris.) Marc Normand and Elisabeth Couperin are known to have had at least thirteen children between 1655 and 1680. The fifth child, Marc Roger Normand, was baptised in Chaumes on 30 December 1663. He grew up in the family house in rue de l’Ordre, described as having ‘a little courtyard in front of the house’. He is the last musical member of the Couperin family to have been born in Chaumes-en-Brie.
It is not surprising that, like the other musicians of the family, Marc Roger left Chaumes, and sought his fortune elsewhere. We know nothing about his musical education, which must have taken place more or less during the years 1673–1687, yet we can assume his uncles took him under their wing in Paris. Louis Couperin (c1626-1661) had already died, of course, but his brother François I Couperin (c1631–c1710) was much reputed as a harpsichord teacher. The youngest brother, Charles II Couperin (1638–1679), was also known as a fine harpsichordist and organist as well as a competent composer and may have taught him. Charles’s connections at court could have helped Marc Roger come into contact with such eminent figures as Jean Henry d’Anglebert (1629–1691). After Charles’s death, and outside the immediate family circle, another musician comes to mind. Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657–1726) was engaged by the authorities at Saint-Gervais to oversee the musical education of the young François Couperin-le-Grand from 1679 onwards until about 1685; he could also have had his eye on the young Marc Roger’s training as an organist. De Lalande was at that time organist at Saint-Jean-en-Grève, just a few yards away from the Couperin family’s home. One of his pupils, Militon, succeeded him as organist at Saint-Jean in 1685. The only known piece by Militon, a Sarabande, is found in this manuscript.
By the time he arrived in Italy, Couperin was clearly a fully competent professional harpsichordist and organist. He was soon playing for ballets and was named harpsichord teacher to the royal family in 1690, notably to the Prince Emanuele Filiberto Carignano until 1703. He was also named valetto di camera to the royal household, a post probably connected with his role as a harpsichordist accompanying chamber music. In 1699, some five years after François Couperin-le-Grand took up his duties as organiste du roi at Versailles (January 1694), Marc Roger was named by Vittorio Amedeo II as organist of the royal chapel in Turin, and he ended his illustrious career as controller of music there.
François Couperin-le-Grand refers to his Turin cousin in the Aveü that prefaces Les Nations (1726), where he mentions ‘one of my relatives, who does indeed exist, in the service of the King of Sardinia’ (‘un parent que j’ay, effectivement, auprés du Roy de Sardaigne’), in a context which implies they corresponded. Marc Roger died in January 1734, just two months after François, having occupied for most of his life a post very comparable to that of his famous cousin. Until the identification of this manuscript no music by him was known.
The first known mention of Couperin in Turin is in January 1688, as harpsichordist for the opera Amore vendicato by the local composer Giovanni Carisio which contained dances and intermezzi by the French emigré composer from Avignon, Paul de la Pierre the elder, who had moved to Turin in about 1662 and died there in 1689. Twelve pieces in the present manuscript are attributed to various members of the la Pierre family. The composer referred to as ‘Mr. de la Pierre le Vieux’ or ‘le Vieux la Pierre’ is presumably Paul de la Pierre the elder, and his works, in their original, non-harpsichord form, must therefore date from before 1689. He had several children who were musicians, including one also called Paul; this is probably the composer referred to as ‘Mr. Paul’ and ‘Mr. Paul de la Pierre’. The eldest son, however, was known as a dancer, and may well be the ‘Mr. de la Pierre l’ésné’ [l’Aîné] who was apparently the composer of at least two pieces. Another son was Théophyle de la Pierre, whose daughter Jeanne Constance (Giovanna) became Couperin’s wife in July 1725.
A last element conclusively linking the volume with Marc Roger is the name of Monsieur de Druent on the first page. On 4 August 1704 (as Marie-Thérèse Bouquet has shown), Marc Roger is listed in the police records of foreigners living in Turin. He is described as being unmarried and had been living for twelve years (that is, since 1692) in the ‘S. Brigida’ part of Turin. His address is given as the ‘Casa Druent’. I am grateful to Mercedes Viale Ferrero for identifying Monsieur de Druent and directing me to Elisa Gribaudi Rossi’s study Cascine e ville della pianura torinese (Turin, 1970) and Cristina Mossetti’s article ‘Un committente della nobiltà di corte: Ottavio Provana di Druent’ (in Torino 1675–1699, Strategie e conflitti del barocco, Turin, 1993), which fill in many details of his colourful life. (See also the doctoral thesis by Cristina Mossetti, Committenti e artisti a Torino 1690–1720. Ottavio Provana di Druent e altri problemi, Università degli Studi di Milano, 1989–1992.)
Count Ottavio Provana di Druent (Druento being a small town close to Turin) was a member of Vittorio Amedeo II’s close circle. He was born in 1652 and came from the highest ranks of the nobility. Count Ottavio was very rich and was known locally as Monsù Druent. He seems to have spent some years in Paris (notably 1671-1675). Owing to his impetuous youthful adventures (he plotted against the Savoy regency in 1682), he was for a time imprisoned in Nice, and then spent some time in exile in France. While in prison he formed the idea of building a magnificent palace in Turin, which he soon set about doing in the ‘S. Brigida’ part of Turin. In 1692 the architect Giovanni Francesco Baroncelli finished the plans for the building, which was to become second in splendour only to the royal palace itself. It was inaugurated in 1695, although the main staircase collapsed at the opening ball (at which Marc Roger could perhaps have played). The building seems to have been ill-fated. On 24 February 1701, Monsieur de Druent’s only child, Elena Matilde (who had married Gerolamo Falletti di Barolo in 1695), committed suicide by throwing herself from a high window. His wife, Anna Costanza, died in 1716, and Druent himself finally died in 1727. The house still stands and is now known as the Palazzo Barolo. It is undoubtedly the same ‘casa Druent’ mentioned in the police records of August 1704, the home not only of Monsieur de Druent but also of Marc Roger.
Couperin’s manuscript was probably started some time after 1692, when he was in his early thirties and had already become an established musical figure at court. His own compositions include tracks (6) (7) (34) (40) (41) and (43), but probably also track (17) and possibly tracks (1) (2) (9) (11) and (12). The volume also contains French works Couperin must have taken with him to Italy from Paris, by Chambonnières, Le Bègue, Hardel, Militon, and several works derived from Lully’s operas. The Lully transcriptions are interesting and Couperin may have been responsible for all of them except the slow Chaconne from Acis et Galatée, which is known to be by d’Anglebert.
The manuscript also contains keyboard arrangements of instrumental works by local composers, members of the la Pierre family. I am grateful to Mercedes Viale Ferrero for identifying the probable origins of the pieces on tracks (20) (29) (37) (39) (50) and (55), listed below. Most of the remaining unattributed pieces seem to have originated as stage works and were probably composed in Turin. Couperin was probably responsible for making all these arrangements. In much the same way, Purcell, in the autograph manuscript of harpsichord pieces discovered by Lisa Cox in 1993 and now in the British Library (MS.Mus.1), included numerous harpsichord transcriptions of his stage works alongside some of his original keyboard compositions. Marc Roger’s contribution to the manuscript is thus of outstanding importance.
There remains the question of who composed the doubles to the Gavotte by Le Bègue, to Chambonnières’s Le Moutier, and to the Gavotte by Hardel. These works exist in slightly different versions in numerous other manuscripts, where they are said to be by Monsieur Couperin. They have traditionally been attributed to Louis Couperin. It is disturbing to find these pieces in a manuscript written by Marc Roger Normand, the Turin Couperin, who signed his own works ‘Couperin’ and used that name all his professional life. Moreover, the Rigodon and Air from Lully’s Acis et Galatée are also found, arranged for the harpsichord in a somewhat different manner, in the Parville manuscript, where they are followed by a Double du Rigaudon fait par Mr. Couprain. It is impossible that this could be by Louis Couperin (unless Lully had used a popular tune as a Rigaudon in 1686, twenty-five years after Louis Couperin’s death). It seems logical now to question whether all the doubles written by Monsieur Couperin and normally attributed to Louis may not be by his nephew, Marc Roger Normand Couperin.
The discovery of this new source throws light on a much wider repertory than just the 57 pieces it contains. Our perception of French harpsichord music in the late seventeenth century is considerably enriched by the wealth of information in this ‘book of harpsichord pieces for Monsieur de Druent, written by Couperin’. Apart from its fine new music, its new composers, and its historical significance for the glorious Couperin dynasty, it is also important evidence of the influence of the French art of harpsichord playing in Italy in the closing years of the reign of Louis XIV.
This leaves us with a final question, to which for the moment there is no clear answer. On what kind of instrument were these works played in Turin – a French or an Italian harpsichord? Even if Couperin had access to a French instrument, it is surely inconceivable that these works were not also heard sometimes, perhaps even often, on Italian instruments. I have therefore played some on a fine little anonymous Italian virginal dating from the seventeenth century.
For this recording, the order of pieces has been changed from that found in the manuscript but the principle of grouping pieces by key has been retained. (One short work at the start of the manuscript is incomplete and has been omitted.) The mixture of works by different composers in a group of pieces is typical of seventeenth-century practice. The folio numbers following the titles refer to the numbers found in the Minkoff facsimile.
(1) (2) Allemande l’Agréable (f. 67v) and Courante (f. 68v). Anonymous, but possibly composed by Couperin.
(3) (4) Sarabande de Mr de Chambonnier (f. 74v) and Gigue de La Vredinguette (f. 72v). The Sarabande survives in at least nine other sources, but is anonymous in all of them except one, where there is a clear attribution to Mr Monnard; it is not known which member of the Monnard family might have written it. Couperin’s conflicting attribution to Chambonnières must be weighed against the fact that Chambonnières never published it. The Gigue was published by Chambonnières with the correct title Gigue la Verdinguette (Paris, 1670).
(5) Chaconne (f. 73v). This well-known piece is by Jean Henry d’Anglebert, although Couperin’s version is different from that known from the composer’s autograph manuscript.
(6) (7) Menuet (f. 86v) and Sarabande (f. 84v). These are two of the works specifically identified as being composed by Couperin.
(8) Le Courier (f. 85v). The original work, of which this is no doubt an arrangement, must predate the elder la Pierre’s death in 1689.
(9)—(15) These dances (ff. 4, 4v, 2, 3, 3v, 5v & 21v), partly by la Pierre, are no doubt arrangements made by Couperin of instrumental works composed for court ballets. Three of them, and possibly also the ‘English Gigue’, may have been composed by Couperin himelf.
(16) (17) Air de Trompette (f. 76v). Derived from Scene 3 of the Prologue of Lully’s opera Isis, first performed at Saint-Germain on 5 January 1677. The double or variation (f. 77) is possibly by Couperin.
(18) (19) Rigodon de l’opera d’Acis et Galatée (f. 78v) and Second Air (f. 79). Derived from the Prologue of Lully’s opera Acis et Galatée, first performed at Anet on 6 September 1686.
(20) Ballet pour les Combattans (f. 77v). This is probably an arrangement made by Couperin of an instrumental work from the Balli di Combattenti in the otherwise lost opera Silvio Re degli Albani, performed at the Turin court in 1688. The arie dei balli are known to have been composed by M. La Pierre vechio.
(21) Autre Rigodon (f. 79v). This may be an arrangement made by Couperin of an instrumental work composed for a court ballet, but see also the ‘Echo’ in Zéphire (March, 1688), Act 2, Scene 4 (probably by Louis Lully).
(22) Menuet d’Aubois de l’opera de Roland (f. 72). Derived from the hautbois (oboe) trio in Act IV, Scene 2 (‘j’entens un bruit’) of Lully’s opera Roland, first performed at Versailles on 18 January 1685.
(23) (24) Gavotte de Mr Le Begue (f. 75). This was an extremely popular piece by Nicolas-Antoine Le Bègue. It was published in the composer’s Les Pieces de Clauessin (Paris, 1677) but also circulated in varying forms in many manuscripts (well over a dozen sources are known to survive). The double, or variation (f. 75v) is possibly by Couperin.
(25) (26) Gigue de Mr de Chamboniere (f. 69v). Several of the concordances for this famous piece, known as Le Moutier, call it an allemande. It would be too easy to dismiss Marc Roger’s title ‘Gigue’ as an error. Even a cursory glance at Le Moutier confirms it to be a rather strange allemande, quite unlike other allemandes in the repertoire. Moreover, it resembles Frobergerian (and Bachian) gigues in having conspicuously imitative textures not only at the start but also at the opening of the second half. The double, or variation (f. 70v), is possibly by Couperin.
(27) Chaconne de Galatée (f. 80v). Apart from some minor differences at the opening, this is the same as the arrangement found in d’Anglebert’s published volume of harpsichord pieces (1689) of the famous slow chaconne from Act II, Scene 5 of Lully’s opera Acis et Galatée (1686). The present text may be derived from an early version by d’Anglebert himself. Other keyboard versions are known and all, like Lully’s original, are in D major. Couperin’s version (marked Lentement) is transposed down to C major, with beautiful effect.
(28) Ouverture (f. 28v). No doubt an arrangement by Couperin of an instrumental work composed for a court ballet.
(29) Entrée des Gardiniers (f. 31v). This must be an arrangement from the otherwise lost Balli di Giardinieri in Gemelli rivali, performed at the Turin court in 1690.
(30)–(32) These dances (ff. 29v, 32 & 30v) by members of the la Pierre family are no doubt arrangements made by Couperin of instrumental works composed for court ballets.
(33) Folies d’Espagnes (f. 6v). By far the longest and most difficult piece in the collection, this work is a series of variations on the well-known theme and bass of La Folia. Couperin’s set is noteworthy for more than one reason. First, its unusual length is impressive; containing no fewer than 27 couplets, it is longer even than d’Anglebert’s famous set. The set in Couperin’s manuscript has clear links with d’Anglebert’s work, which was published only after Couperin left for Turin: 4th couplet = d’Anglebert’s 4th; 7th couplet = d’Anglebert’s 6th; 13th couplet = d’Anglebert’s 22nd; 16th couplet = d’Anglebert’s 21st; 26th couplet = d’Anglebert’s 16th. Some of these correspondences are extremely close, even down to the little ornamental notes, and cannot be the result of coincidence. We may conclude that Couperin had some contact with d’Anglebert; perhaps he studied harpsichord with him. The work is conceived according to a solid plan, not without its own internal subtlety. After the opening statement of the theme, there follow four groups of six variations (couplets 2–7; 8–13; 14–19; 20–25), followed by a short coda (the last two variations). Each group of six is different as a result of the increasing virtuosity but is nevertheless built in the same way structurally and organised identically: (i) figuration for the right hand, followed by (ii) the same figuration for the left hand and (iii) a melodic variation starting on D; then (iv) the two previous figurations of each hand combined together in both hands, followed by (v) a melodic variation starting on F, derived from (iii); each group of six variations ends with (vi) a bass solo. The most elaborate and rapid figuration is reached in the 23rd couplet, after which the intensity relaxes somewhat.
(34) Menuet (f. 58v). One of the few works specifically identified as being composed by Couperin.
(35) Sarabande de Mr Militon (f. 55v). This piece is presumably by the Militon who became organist at Saint-Jean-en-Grève.
(36) Gigue (f. 54v). This dance by the oldest of the la Pierre sons is no doubt an arrangement made by Couperin of an instrumental work composed for a court ballet.
(37) Marche des drapaux (f. 49). This may be an arrangement made by Couperin of an Entrée from the otherwise lost opera Lisimaco, performed at the Turin court from 1681 onwards. The music of the dances is known to have been composed by M. La Pierre vechio.
(38) (39) Menuet en Rondeau (f. 47) and Petit Branle (f. 37v). These two dances are no doubt arrangements made by Couperin of instrumental works composed by the la Pierre sons for court ballets.
(40) (41) Entree des Mariniers (f. 50v) and Second Air (f. 51). The Entree, one of the few works specifically identified as being by Couperin, is probably an arrangement of an instrumental work he wrote for one of the court ballets. The Second Air, simply attributed to ‘C’ in the manuscript, is undoubtedly also by him.
(42) Allemande de Mr Le Begue (f. 42v). This work by Nicolas-Antoine Le Bègue is one of the composer’s finest pieces. It makes a useful complement to his first published book of harpsichord pieces (Paris, 1677), which lacks an allemande in G major.
(43) Courante (f. 43v). This fine work is one of the few pieces specifically identified as being composed by Couperin.
(44) Sarabande Les Zephires (f. 44v). This is by Chambonnières and is one of the most famous harpsichord pieces of the century. It survives in different versions and in many sources. This beautifully ornamented version is not directly derived from any other known copy.
(45) Chaconne de Mr de Chamboniere (f. 45v, f. 46v). The form here is not the same as that found in the other two known sources, which are also in a different key.
(46) (47) The Petit Rigodon (f. 63) is a popular tune, presented in a simple arrangement. The Dance Allemande (f. 63v) is probably an arrangement by Couperin of an instrumental work composed for a court ballet.
(48)–(50) Entrée des Sattires (f. 61v), Ballet (f. 61v) and Trio (f. 62v), followed by a repeat of the Ballet. These movements are probably arrangements made by Couperin of dances from the balletto che formano i medesimi Satiri in the otherwise lost opera Amore deluso, performed at the Turin court in 1688. The music of the dances is known to have been composed by M. La Pierre vechio. In Couperin’s manuscript, the Entrée is notated simply as a bass solo, with an unusually large number of ornaments and without any figuring for a figured bass. It links directly with the Ballet, in gigue form. Perhaps the Entrée is incomplete, but this bass line is more melodic than usual. As a somewhat lurching solo for the cellos and basses, it would not have been inappropriate for the entry of the satyrs. It is interesting to note that the rhythm is similar to that of François Couperin’s Les Satires Chevre-pieds (published in the Quatrième Livre de Pièces de Clavecin, 1730), marked ‘Gravement, ferme et pointé’.
(51) (52) Dessente de Cibelle de l’opera d’Atys (f. 59v, f. 60v). Derived from Act I, Scene 8 of Lully’s opera Atys, first performed at Saint-Germain on 10 January 1676. The two versions given in Couperin’s manuscript are particularly interesting, being almost identical apart from the bass solos, which are ornamented in the version for Basse Roulante.
(53) (54) Gavotte de Mr Hardel (f. 56v). Another very popular piece, occuring in nearly a dozen sources; it is by Jacques Hardel (who died in 1678). The double or variation (f. 57v) is possibly by Couperin.
(55) Ballet des Ouvriers (f. 36v). This may be an arrangement of part of the Balletto dei Fabbri from the otherwise lost opera Amore deluso, performed at the Turin court in 1688. The music of the dances is known to have been composed by M. La Pierre vechio.
(56) This Chaconne (f. 47v) is no doubt an arrangement made by Couperin of an instrumental work composed by la Pierre for a court ballet.
(57) Dance Angloise (f. 49v). This little work, whose English association (specified in the title) remains unclear, is one of the most charming in the whole collection and among the most memorable. It is similar in rhythm to Bach’s Angloise in the third French Suite (BWV814).
Davitt Moroney © 1999