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LOUIS COUPERIN  

(d 1661 )

Little is known of Louis Couperin’s first twenty-five years. Even the exact date of his birth is unclear, as the registers for Chaumes, the Couperin family home, are missing. Although Chaumes was in the very provincial region of Brie in North-east France, there was at that time a large community of wealthy aristocrats who patronised the arts. Reports of Couperin’s burgeoning talent are purely anecdotal, though charming. Together with his brothers, he is said to have marched the fifteen kilometres to the chateau of Monsieur Chambonnières and there performed one of his own compositions. The grand old harpsichordist was so impressed that he persuaded Louis Couperin’s father that the young composer should accompany him to Paris and be presented at the Royal Court. This he duly did and the young man was received there to great acclaim.

Louis Couperin became a full-time musician at court and as a result travelled widely outside Paris. He refused the post of resident harpsichordist, ‘joueur d’espinette’, in deference to his mentor Chambonnières, who still held the position. Instead, he took a post as a treble-viol player, showing what a remarkably versatile musician he was. In fact Chambonnières soon retired, as he was unable to play the ever more complicated figured bass (improvised harmonic patterns above a given bass line) so Louis Couperin became ‘joueur d’espinette’ in all but name.

Much of Couperin's music has been lost. What we have consists mostly of harpsichord pieces, though there is also music for organ, viol consort and shawm choir. Two hundred and fifteen pieces survive and these are found in two manuscripts, neither in Louis Couperin’s own hand. The ‘Parville’ manuscript mixes movements by Louis Couperin with music of other composers. In the more comphrehensive ‘Bayn’ manuscript the Préludes appear together at the beginning, followed by groups of pieces based around the thirteen respective tonal centres represented. In neither manuscript are these Suites arranged in the order in which they would have been performed.


Role: Classical Composer 
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