Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Music of Armand-Louis Couperin (Pieces de Clavecin) (Jennifer Paul)

Couperin是法國巴洛克時期最重要的音樂家族,相當於德國的Bach家族。從1653到1826之間這173年,Couperin家族中的六位成員完全壟斷了巴黎St-Gervais-et-St-Protais教堂風琴師一職。其中,有Louis Couperin以及音樂史上更有名的François Couperin。Armand-Louis Couperin (1727–1789)是François Couperin晚一輩的姪子,也是在Louis還有François之後,Couperin家族裡最重要的作曲家。

Armand-Louis的爸爸是Nicolas,是François Couperin的弟弟,在其兄過逝後,接著做St-Gervais的風琴師。Armand-Louis的早期生平不詳,不過自幼的音樂教育,如果不是來自父親,肯定也是家族其他親戚。他的爸爸在他二十一歲時過逝,因此Armand-Louis立即繼承了St-Gervais的風琴師的職位,成為Couperin家族裡擔任此位的第五人。

1752年,Armand-Louis Couperin娶了Elisabeth-Antoinette Blanchet。她的父親François-Etienne Blanchet是當時法國最有名的大鍵琴製琴師,其Blanchet家族所造的大鍵琴,在法國可是炙手可熱的樂器。今天仿法式的大鍵琴,多是參考Blanchet所做過的型。因此,娶了Elisabeth-Antoinette,Armand-Louis也得到了相當優渥的嫁妝。Elisabeth-Antoinette自己也是出色的鍵盤師,據說Armand-Louis在教堂表演風琴時,要是他們夫妻兩偷偷互換角色,一般人耳中也聽不出差別的。

Armand-Louis當時在巴黎是最有聲望的兩位風琴師,另一位是之前介紹過的Balbastre。 Armand-Louis同時也是當時非常重要的音樂老師。他一年的收入,是其他同名氣音樂家的六,七倍左右,可知道當時他的生活相當舒服。很不幸,1789年有天晚上,他參加完St-Chapelle教堂晚禱,趕著去St. Gervais教堂去探望他大兒子的路上,被一匹脫韁之馬給撞到,重傷後不治。他的大兒子,是當時教堂的風琴師,聞之惡耗,當場崩潰,在七個月之後也相繼過逝。

Armand-Louis一生所寫的曲子不多。或許自己伯父的名氣太大了,所以寫任何曲子,必定都會被拿過來做比較。除了一冊寫給大鍵琴的曲子外,他還出版了兩套作品,一套是作品二的Sonates en pièces de clavecin,一套是作品三的Sonates en trio,遵循Rameau還有Mondonville幾位前輩的模式,有小提琴(和大提琴)伴奏的大鍵琴曲。除此之外,Armand-Louis還寫了幾首專門給雙大鍵琴的曲子,是巴洛克時期佔少數的。

如果Armand-Louis Couperin作品二和三的奏鳴曲,已經採當時盛行的義大利曲風,那這張專輯的作品一大鍵琴曲,則是繼續保留了十七世紀開始的法國大鍵琴曲的文化和風格。這些是年輕Armand-Louis的創作,於1751年所出版,獻給了路易十五的女兒,Victoire公主。她曾是Armand-Louis堂姊,也是François Couperin的女兒–Marguerite-Antoinette–的學生。這冊裡共有25首曲子,嚴格上是分為兩首不同調性(G大調還有降B大調)的組曲。

這些曲子多為character piece,標題名稱有趣,音樂活潑生動。 Les Cacqueteuses(閒言閒語),左右手先是交換重覆彈著同一個音,然後再交插,描寫左鄰右舍聚在一塊大聊別人的八卦。L'Intrepide(無畏)有孔武有力的和絃,像徵著不管遇到什麼都不怕的精神。La Semilliante, ou la Joly(明亮,美麗),是整套裡最炫目的一首,整曲幾乎沒有任何休息的片段,無時無刻音樂都在進行當中,正是充滿著陽光的音樂。當然,這套裡並非都如此外向,總要有點內斂點的情緒。L'Affligee(折磨)的憂傷,像是一人將一生的不幸,娓娓道來。Les Tendres Sentimens(溫柔情緒)的甜美,像是情竇初開的小少女。

不然,當時作曲家就以其他音樂家或是當時社會上顯赫的家族而命名。La Blanchet,不是獻給他的妻子,就是給他更有名氣的製琴家岳父。La Foucquet是向巴黎的另一個音樂世家Foucquet致敬。他們如同Couperin家族,在St. Eustache教堂風琴師職位,一做就是一世紀。最後,Armand-Louis也沒有「忘本」,這套裡仍有幾首傳統的舞曲命,像是Allemande,Courante,Menuet,和Gavotte。

這套最後的四首,為Les Quatre Nations,是Armand-Louis Couperin以自己眼光描繪出當時幾個重要國家的音樂風格,分別為義大利,英國,德國,以及法國。「義大利」裡,除了聽得出早期古典風格的影響,Armand-Louis更想要傳達的是義大利音樂即興的藝術,有幾段感覺是音樂家在音符的空檔間自己隨想的裝飾奏。「德國」可能給他驍勇善戰的印象,所以他選擇了一首打獵歌來揣摹他們的精神。這是否流於刻板印象呢?至於「英國」,則更誇張,是個平淡無奇的鄉村之舞,似乎是他對於古板的英國人的寫照呢?對於「法國」,曲風細膩華麗又有深度,不難看出他要強調自己祖國音樂的優越性~~~

講了那麼多,不得不題題這張錄音的演奏者。美國大鍵琴師Jennifer Paul,曾經和Ton Koopman學過琴,聽得出那浮誇的演奏風格。對於那些炫技的曲子,Jennifer Paul不會讓你失望。她的技巧精湛,絕對會大呼過癮。有些需要較細膩情感的曲子,Jennifer Paul在速度的選擇上則可能稍稍快了點,太過於直接。這也可能和CD的容量有關,因為看到CD的總長逼進80分鐘的上限~~    但是,Jennifer Paul的整體彈奏流暢,比之其他音樂家可能會在奇怪的地方停頓下來,讓音樂卡住的,我還蠻欣賞Jennifer Paul的詮釋。也得感謝她,讓我得以有機會認識Couperin家族晚期成員裡最重要的音樂Armand-Louis Couperin的鍵盤作品。儘管1750這些曲子已經被視為化石了,但這也是法國鍵盤曲最後的重要傳承。

Armand-Louis Couperin (1727–1789) is probably known today as being one of the last important members of the Couperin music dynasty.  Starting with Louis Couperin, the family occupied the prestigious post of the organist of Paris's St-Gervais-et-St-Protais church for 173 years.  Among them, of course there was François Couperin "Le Grand."

Armand-Louis's father Nicolas was François Couperin's brother, who succeeded the great composer as organist after his death.  Needless to say, Armand-Louis's early music training must have come from his father, if not his other relatives.  At age 21, Armand-Louis's father passed away, and he quickly took over the organist position, being the 5th Couperin in the line of succession to do so. 

In 1752, Armand-Louis married Elisabeth-Antoinette Blanchet.  Her father was the famed Parisian harpsichord builder François-Etienne Blanchet, whose harpsichords and many replicas are still seen today. Elisabeth-Antoinette was a skilled keyboardist herself, so not only did Armand-Louis find a companion who shared and possessed the same passions and interests, he also received a sizable dowry amount.  Marrying for love and money, sweet deal....   Stories hinted that they probably had a happy marriage, and there are anecdotes on Armand-Louis and his wife secretly switching during the middle of his organ performances, and the average person would not be able to tell any difference.


double manual harpsichord built after Blanchet model 

Armand-Louis was known first and foremost, one of the two most brilliant organists of his time, the other being Balbastre, whose works I reviewed before.  English music scholar Charles Burney accounts in one of his visits to Paris, where he was marveled at Armand-Louis's great improvisations and choice of registers to create a grand symphonie.  Armand-Louis was also known as one of the most respected music teachers in Paris.  His income from teaching music, in addition to his organist position, would amount to roughly six or seven times his other music peers.  Unfortunately, his comfortable life came to a drastic end in 1789, when he was run over by a horse on his way to St. Gervais, where his eldest son Pierre-Louis had started service there.  He died within 24 hours.  Sadly, Pierre-Louis was so overcome with grief that he also died within seven months.

Armand-Louis did not compose a lot of works during his life.  In all honesty, when you have such a great uncle like François, anything you write is bound to be taken and measured to it.  Armand-Louis was also known to carefully destroy any piece he found unworthy.  Besides the collection of harpsichord pieces on this recording, he also wrote two sets of sonatas, in the Italian style, but with an arrangement like Mondonville and Rameau, where they are harpsichord sonatas accompanied by the violin and cello.  He also wrote a few pieces specifically for two harpsichords, including a Symphonie and a set of quartets, considered rarities in the genre.  
 
So, what's to be said about his Pieces de Clavecein?  For one, he composed them at a young age of 24, dedicated to Princess Victoire, Louis XV's daughter.  At one time, Princess Victoire studied with Armand-Louis's cousin Marguerite-Antoinette, who was François Couperin's daughter.  The first piece in the title "La Victoire" is evidence of that.

Armand-Louis's pieces also represent one of the last in the genre of French harpsichord compositions.  At one point in the 17th century, the French keyboard suite became the predominant art form in European harpsichord music.  Great composers such as Bach, Handel, and Purcell wrote their keyboard works in the form of suites.  In contrast, Armand-Louis pieces seemed like a dying trend, a swan song.  The keyboard sonata would become the main keyboard art form.

As expected with the later French keyboard works, most of them are character pieces, and many have titles dedicated to famous people or families of the time.  Just to name a few:  "La Blanchet," if not after his wife, would have been his father-in-law;  "La Foucquet" was after Pierre-Claude Foucquet, who was a member of another Parisian family of organists;  "La du Breuil" for Jean Dubreuil, a maître de clavecin.  

The character pieces are descriptive.  "Les Cacqueteuses" (gossips) has rapid repeated notes depicting a group of people gathering together discussing the latest tabloids.  "L'Intrepide" (intrepid) has strong chords to describe someone boldly going where no one has gone before (sometimes also foolishly).  "La Semilliant, ou la Joly" (bright, pretty) is the most stupefying piece, a display of sheer virtuosity and unrelenting excitement.  Then there are the more delicate pieces like "Les Tendres Sentimens" (tender feelings), a delicate piece of maybe a young girl first time experiencing love.  "L'Affligee" (afflicted), the most sorrowful piece, depicting the agony in each breath of the poor fellow.     

A set of four pieces called "Les Quatre Nations" wraps up the whole collection.  The selected countries are Italy, England, Germany, and France.  While it might have been an interesting study on the contrasting musical styles of the nations of the time, Armand-Louis adds a big hint of sarcasm that makes it a bit difficult to treat them seriously.  "England" is a bland country dance that Armand-Louis probably did not think highly of.  "Germany" is a hunting song, stereotypical more of the way of their way of life as opposed to music.  "Italy" is handled with some more dignity, reflecting not only the Italian musical style but also paying homage to the Italian tradition of improvisation by writing passages to imitate that.  And of course "France", delicate and graceful, the one that should be the undisputed "best".   

The artist on this recording is Jennifer Paul, American harpsichordist who studied at New England Conservatory with John Gibbons before going to Amsterdam and studying with Ton Koopman.  This seems to be the only recording she had made, and she seems to have disappeared, as of around 2001, in performing publicly.  Traces of Koopman's teaching reflect on her flamboyant style, especially on the vivid and animated pieces.  Her technical brilliance is without a doubt, but importantly it is her fluidity and her great assertive placement of chords that I enjoy the most.  The more contemplative pieces might have benefited from additional relaxing, but rather than have unwarranted pauses, Jennifer Paul's treatment is consistent and solid.  Overall, a good recording of keyboard pieces by a late French Baroque master.










2 comments:

John Hendron said...

Samples sound good; too bad she only got one CD out. Maybe it was the fishing or the ceramics that won her over?

Deadlockcp said...

I suspect that she married well and didn't feel the need or drive to keep playing/performing, and that she could then do fishing and ceramics~~ :)

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