Monday, June 17, 2019

Couperin - Le Tic-Toc-Choc, ou Les Maillotins

François Couperin was a French composer of the Baroque era. He is most well known for his works for harpsichord,  of which over 230 were published in 4 volumes ofPièces de clavecin (Keyboard pieces).  He also wrote a treatise printed in 1716 titled L'Art de toucher le clavecin (The Art Of Playing The Harpsichord), specifically to instruct players how to play his harpsichord pieces in the correct style, while also offering instruction on fingering and ornamentation. This book is still used by early music performers and scholars for information concerning playing style of the time in France.

Even within the limited communication modes of the time, Couperin's music was known by other composers outside of France. J.S. Bach knew his music, and they may have written to each other. Couperin's influence reached to composers in the 19th century as well. Brahms played his music in public, and contributed as an editor with Friedrich Chrysander in a complete edition of the Pièces de clavecin published in London in 1888.  Modern harpsichordists and pianists have kept Couperin's music in the repertoire through some popular examples.

Couperin gave descriptive titles to some of his keyboard pieces. Some whimsical, some descriptive, some of them rather undecipherable. The title of this piece, Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou Les Maillotins has numerous possibilities for translation and interpretation. Le tic-toc-choc has been thought of as representing the rhythm of a clock in comparison to the tempo of the piece. The last part of the title , ou Les Maillotins has been interprested as knock-knocks, or even little hammers.

It was intended for a two-manual harpsichord, per Couperin's instructions;
Pièce croisée: devra être jouée sur deux claviers, dont l’un sera repoussé ou tiré. Ceux qui n’auront qu’un Clavecin à un clavier, ou une épinette, joueront le Dessus comme il est marqué, et la Basse une octave plus bas. (Cross-piece: must be played on two-manual keyboards, one of which will be pushed back or pulled. Those who have only one harpsichord with one keyboard, or a spinet, will play the top as it is written, and the bass an octave lower.)
Modern  harpsichordists that have a two-manual instrument can follow Couperin's instructions, but pianists usually play the notes as written, which makes this a piece where both hands are on top of each other. This makes the piece all the more intriguing and difficult, as notes are rapidly played by one hand and then the other:




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