Dance to the Music of Time

Louis Couperin (1626-1661) Suite in F major

Prélude – Allemande grave – Courante – Sarabande – Branle de Basque – Galliard – Chaconne – Tombeau de Monsieur de Blancrocher

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) French Suite in D minor BWV 812

Allemande – Courante – Sarabande – Menuet I – Menuet II – Menuet I – Gigue

 Jukka Tiensuu (b.1948) Fantango

An intimate relationship exists between music and its performers. For this programme, all three composers – Couperin, Bach and Tiensuu – are also known as accomplished players on the harpsichord. This makes the music a joy to play. Coming across Couperin’s music for the first time as a new student of the harpsichord at the Royal Academy of Music in London, I immediately felt drawn to it, especially his unmeasured preludes. It’s not easy to say what appeals to me about this music: it’s both simple and subtle at the same time, with a strong sense of melody and rhythm. It has a kind of energy and vitality that is full of joie de vivre.

All three composers know the harpsichord from the inside: its nuances, its sounds, its touch. To my mind, Couperin’s unmeasured preludes are a unique species in the repertoire. For although the sweeps and swift changes in mood recall earlier styles in composers such as Froberger and Frescobaldi, Couperin’s music invites a kind of freedom in the musician which is different, perhaps more modern. The musical score also looks curiously different on paper. Free from the constraint of bar lines, the contour of the music seems to leap off the page and allows elasticity and spontaneity.

The use of dance forms in both Couperin and Bach gives us a glimpse into the roots of a secular musical tradition that emphasizes movement and gesture. Far from being austere or remote, this music is very direct and immediate. It finds an echo in Tiensuu’s Fantango (1984), where in places the composer uses the instrument in unusual and imaginative ways. In contrast to these dances, the last movement in the Couperin suite, Tombeau de Monsieur Blancrocher, is contemplative, even melancholic. It is a tribute to a well-known Parisian lutenist, Charles Fleury, Sieur de Blancrocher, who died after falling down a flight of stairs. Here the music seems at times to evoke tolling bells, sobbing, angels in heaven and perhaps even the stairs themselves!