François Couperin, 1668 – 1733

November 10, 1668 – Birthdate of François Couperin, French harpsichordist, organist and composer (d. 1733).

Couperin was a French Baroque composer also known as Couperin le Grand (“Couperin the Great”) to distinguish him from other members of the musically talented Couperin family.

Couperin acknowledged his debt to the Italian composer Corelli. He introduced Corelli’s trio sonata form to France. Couperin’s grand trio sonata was subtitled Le Parnasse, ou L’apothéose de Corelli (“Parnassus, or the Apotheosis of Corelli”). In it he blended the Italian and French styles of music in a set of pieces which he called Les goûts réunis (“Styles Reunited”).

His most famous book, L’art de toucher le clavecin (“The Art of Harpsichord Playing”, published in 1716), contains suggestions for fingerings, touch, ornamentation and other features of keyboard technique.

Only one collection of organ music by Couperin survives, the Pièces d’orgue consistantes en deux messes (“Pieces for Organ Consisting of Two Masses”), the first manuscript of which appeared around 1689–1690.

The longest piece in the collection is the Offertoire sur les grands jeux of the first Mass, which is akin to an expanded French overture in three large sections: a prelude, a chromatic fugue in minor, and a gigue-like fugue. Bruce Gustafson (Professor of Music Emeritus at Franklin and Marshall College) has called the movement a “stunning masterpiece of the French classic repertory.”

The stamp pictured here today was issued by France in 1968, honoring the 300th anniversary of Couperin’s birthday.

francois couperin - france

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