Louis Couperin


French composer, violist, harpsichordist, and organist. Son of Charles Couperin (ca. 1595--1654) and thus an uncle of the only more distinguished member of the Couperin family, François "le grand." Came to Paris from Chaumes, with his two brothers, under the sponsorship of Chambonnières by the year 1651. Spent the rest of his short life there, except for visits to Meudon (near Paris) in 1656 and Toulouse in 1659. In 1653 Louis acquired the post of organist at St. Gervais in Paris; this position was held by members of the Couperin family until 1826. He played treble viol and, according to one 18th-century scholar, organ in the French royal chapel, played in the productions of several ballets, and was in contact with many notables of his time, including Froberger.

His known works number slightly over 200. All instrumental, they include about 130 for harpsichord, about 75 for organ, and fewer than ten for small ensembles. About two-thirds of the pieces for harpsichord are dance movements. About thirty other works for harpsichord are conceived on a larger scale: the preludes and the chaconnes and passacailles.Of the preludes, about three quarters are unmeasured throughout; several more include a mixture of measured and unmeasured sections.

The organ music is for the most part still unpublished; until about 1955 it was virtually unknown to modem scholars. Couperin was the first composer to conceive some pieces for particular organ registrations or colors. He wrote over thirty fugues or fantaisies, nearly as many plainsong versets, a few division basses (imitating the style of bass viol solos), and several more compositions of diverse types.

The pieces for instrumental ensemble include two works for 5-part shawm choir, two for 5-part string choir, and several for smaller groups (viol duets, or one or two unspecified instruments plus continuo).

Particularly in his keyboard music he shows the influence of Chambonnières, but he also knew Froberger, and may well have been introduced to Italian music by him; he became an excellent composer of chaconnes and passacaglias and is noted for his harmonic daring. The corpus of his keyboard music, though smaller and less well known than that of his nephew, is remarkable and well worth discovering.

Link to: Scores at Werner Icking Music Archive

A Partial Discography of Louis Couperin | VIIB: At the Court of Louis XIV | The Research Periods