On Nov 25, 2018, Bennington Baroque will come together in the Carriage Barn at Park-McCullough House in North Bennington to present a final tribute to François Couperin, organist of the King’s Chapel and harpsichordist for chamber music at the French court. Couperin le grand was born in Paris on November 10, 1668, almost exactly 350 years ago. Late in the seventeenth century, alongside other Parisian musicians, he began to explore “modern” Italian styles in the cantatas and sonatas then circulating in Paris. For musicians of the day, the Italian style stood in marked contrast to the older French styles favored by Louis XIV (d. 1715). Couperin’s interest in juxtaposing and uniting these styles is the focus of our concert, which we hope will let our modern audience appreciate the differences. The instruments themselves were strongly associated with the two national styles, the violin with the Italian, viol and baroque flute with the French. Emily Hale will represent the Italians in one of Corelli’s virtuosic solo violin sonatas from his Opus 5, published in 1700. André O’Neil will take us to Paris with one of the two suites Couperin published for viola da gamba. Couperin said he favored music that moved him over that which surprised, perhaps more French than Italian, respectively, at least from an eighteenth-century French point of view.
But Couperin wanted the best of both styles in his own compositions. In 1722 he published Concerts royaux, appended to his third book of harpsichord pieces. Mathieu Langlois will play the first of the concerts. Couperin notes in the preface to that collection that these pieces were among those played for Louis XIV, at Sunday concerts in the last years of his life. As the king was a partisan of the older French styles, we should not be surprised if the integration of the two national idioms is subtle rather than blatant. The king was ill: why shock him to death? Finally we will play Couperin’s extended essay attempting a more secure rapprochement between Italian and French styles: His Apotheosis, written in memory of the “incomparable Monsieur Lully.” The narrative titles of its movements portray Apollo’s efforts to persuade Lully and Corelli that a merger of the two styles will bring about perfection in music. Apollo is successful, and the suite concludes with a sonata, entitled “The Peace of Parnassus” as Corelli and Lully take their places side by side.