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  • FRANÇOIS COUPERIN Les Concerts Royaux
  • FRANÇOIS COUPERIN Les Concerts Royaux
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FRANÇOIS COUPERIN Les Concerts Royaux
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Reference: AVSA9840

  • Le Concert des Nations
  • Jordi Savall

Following our versions of François Couperin’s “Pièces de Viole”(1728), “Les Nations” (1726) and “Les Apothéoses” (1724), recorded in 1976, 1985 and 1986, respectively, we now offer our interpretation of these “Concerts Royaux”, mindful of the responsibilities that the composer laid at the performing musician’s door. Although he points out that these pieces “are of a kind quite different from those I have previously published”, adding that “They may be played not only on the harpsichord, but also the violin, the flute, the oboe, the viol, and the bassoon”, he leaves the instrumentation of each piece and Concert entirely up to us. Couperin tells us that “These pieces were executed by Messieurs Duval, Philidor, Alarius and Dubois: I myself played the harpsichord”.

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Following our versions of François Couperin’s “Pièces de Viole”(1728), “Les Nations” (1726) and “Les Apothéoses” (1724), recorded in 1976, 1985 and 1986, respectively, we now offer our interpretation of these “Concerts Royaux”, mindful of the responsibilities that the composer laid at the performing musician’s door. Although he points out that these pieces “are of a kind quite different from those I have previously published”, adding that “They may be played not only on the harpsichord, but also the violin, the flute, the oboe, the viol, and the bassoon”, he leaves the instrumentation of each piece and Concert entirely up to us. Couperin tells us that “These pieces were executed by Messieurs Duval, Philidor, Alarius and Dubois: I myself played the harpsichord”. One could hardly imagine more precise indications than those concerning the instruments given in the preface, together with the roles of the musicians as described by Couperin himself. It is in this context that we have re-conceived the instrumentation of each Concert, the choice of instruments differing from piece to piece to ensure the best expression, as well as the greatest definition, of the musical character of each one:

FIRST CONCERT (in G major and minor): with Oboe and Bassoon, Violin, Bass Viol and Bass Violin.
SECOND CONCERT (in D major and minor): with Bass Viol, Violin and Bass Violin.
THIRD CONCERT (in A major and minor): Flute, Violin, Bass Viol and Bass Violin.
FOURTH CONCERT (in E major and minor): with all the instruments playing together in the Prelude, the Rigaudon and the Forlano, and separately in the various dances: Oboe and Bassoon (Allemande), Flute and Bass Viol (Courante Françoise), Violin and Bass Viol and Bass Violin (Courante à l’italiene), Flute and Violin, with Bass Viol and Bass Violin (Sarabande).
The continuo is on the Harpsichord, the Theorbo or the Guitar, either together or separately.

The years 1714 and 1715, when Couperin composed the “Concerts Royaux”, were at the height of the Grand Siècle, which was soon to founder and gradually disintegrate. Molière, Lully and Charpentier were dead, and the Court of Louis XIV, totally indifferent to the abject poverty and suffering of the people, attempted to stave off the imminent, rampant decline. Racine, La Fontaine, Bossuet, La Bruyère and Marais were nearing the end of their brilliant careers, while the new great names of the period were gaining ascendancy: La Lande, Girardon, Le Sage and Couperin himself, who left his post as organist in the King’s Chapel when Louis XIV died in 1715.

Notwithstanding his great prestige, what do we really know about Couperin the man? His square face and lucid gaze, his almost severe expression, do not tell us a great deal about his character; all we have to go on is his infallibly sublime music and his writings which, despite their somewhat limited literary style, are invariably distinguished by the author’s intelligent thought and elegant wit: “I beg the indulgence of the purists and the grammarians on account of the style of my prefaces: in them, I speak of my art, whereas if I endeavoured to imitate the sublimeness of theirs, I should perhaps speak less well of my own”.

Couperin is the poet musician par excellence, who believes in the ability of Music to express itself in “its prose and its poetry”. His love of detail and precision and his obsession with precise nuances go hand in hand with his rejection of Opera and large orchestral formations. Nevertheless, despite their precision, the elements which make up his musical language are extremely subtle and highly subjective – so much so, that he states “In my view, the way we write music shows the same faults as the way in which we write our language; for we compose differently from the way we play music”. This also explains the “circumstantial works” legend surrounding the “Concerts Royaux”, composed as they were for Louis XIV in the twilight of his life. If, however, we enter into their profoundly poetic dimension, we discover that they are endowed with a grace which is “even more beautiful than beauty itself…”. As La Fontaine observed, beauty commands admiration, whereas grace subtly suffuses the human soul to bring it fully to life. That is also the essence of Couperin’s thought, as summed up in his own words: “I willingly admit that I much prefer what moves me to what surprises me.”

Jordi Savall

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