article 21:   A postscript to Article 1 / Charles Couperin

Since I wrote “The Other Mr. Couperin” in 2001, a number of prominent experts, among them the late Kenneth Gilbert, Graham Sadler, John Koster and Jane Clark, have expressed their agreement with its findings. On the other hand, the silence of those with a vested interest in maintaining the “Louis” myth has been notable, but new discoveries have been made which continue to chisel away at it.

On 27 July 2017 I received the following email from Francis Knights, a professor at Cambridge University and former editor of “Early Music”:

“Pablo Padilla, Francis Knights and Dan Tidhar (University of Cambridge) have been working on a project called ‘Formal Methods in Musicology’ which uses mathematical and statistical tools to help understand stylistic difference and change in early music…results to date confirm Glen Wilson’s observations, both as to the stylistic difference between the Louis Couperin organ works and the Bauyn MS ‘Couperin’ harpsichord works; and that there are also some stylistic outliers in the Bauyn MS.”

The recently-discovered “Borel” MS (US BE, Ms 1365) contains one bit of news relevant to this discussion – it gives a title to the Volte in D minor: Boemiene. This is most likely an allusion to the “Winter Queen”, James I’s daughter Elizabeth, who was the grandmother of Liselotte von der Pfalz, Charles Couperin’s employer. The volta was in vogue in the16th century, and was seriously out of date even in Louis Couperin’s time, but Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, who had harpsichord lessons from John Bull, would have been expert at it. This nod to Madame’s illustrious family places the piece squarely in Charles Couperin’s orbit.

In a manuscript recently discovered in the Regensburg library of the princely family Thurn und Taxis, a courante in D-minor appears as nr. 51 which is identical to nr. 41 in Gustavson’s edition of the Bauyn MS. The piece is traditionally attributed to Louis Couperin, but since the appearance in the Early Keyboard Journal (edited by John Koster) of my article “The Other Mr. Couperin” (nr. 1 on this site), that is no longer tenable. The piece is in the highly advanced style of Louis’ younger brother Charles, and very different from the three courantes in G which are most likely indeed by Louis.*

The mostly retrospective Regensburg MS can hardly be dated earlier than 1701, since that is the date a Polonaise by Marais, which is included there in the same layer as the courante, first appeared. The courante in question is ascribed to “le vieux Couprin”. Since François was well-established by 1701, “le vieux Couprin” would be his father. This is one more proof that the pieces attributed to Louis in the past are in fact by Charles.

Possibly the strongest indication that more than one “Monsieur Couperin” was composing harpsichord pieces before François “le Grand" comes from the preface to his Premier Livre of 1713. Speaking of “rendering the harpsichord susceptible of expression”, he writes: “C’est à quoy mes ancêtres se sont apliqués: indépendamment de la belle composition de leurs pieces; j’ay tâché de perfectionner leurs découvertes; leurs ouvrages sont encore du goût de ceux qui l’ont exquis.”

Here are five plurals for François’ ancestors.

*The courante in the Regensburg MS is accompanied by an elaborate, unfinished double not found elsewhere, which bears no resemblace to anything from the generation of Couperins before François “le Grand”, Charles’ son; in fact, the closest thing to it are the agréments in pieces from François’ Première Ordre.

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