François Couperin

François Couperin

François Couperin (1668-1733), called Le Grand (French, “the great”), French composer, organist, and harpsichordist, whose works stand at the apex of French baroque music.

François, the nephew of Louis Couperin, was born in Paris on November 10, 1668. His father, Charles, had succeeded Louis as organist at the Church of Saint Gervais in Paris (a post held by Couperin family members until 1826). He died in 1679, and François was carefully trained to take his place. He assumed the position at the age of 17, a few years later also becoming organist of the royal chapel and director of music at court. His four volumes of harpsichord music (1713-30), a monument of French keyboard music that influenced J. S. Bach, are groupings of short, evocatively titled pieces cast in dance rhythms varying from elegant, to satirical, to profound. His treatise L'art de toucher le clavecin (The Art of Playing the Harpsichord,1716-17) is a major document of 18th-century performance practice.

Couperin introduced the trio sonata to France, infusing this Italian genre with a characteristically French treatment of melody and ornamentation. Especially important are the collection of Les nations (1726) and the 12 concerts for harpsichord and instruments (1714, 1724). Of his church music the three Leçons de ténèbres (Readings for Tenebrae Service, c. 1714-15), for solo voices, organ, and instruments, are outstanding. His organ masses are among the finest examples of French baroque organ music.

Couperin died on September 12, 1733, in Paris.

Contributed By:
Genevieve Vaughn

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