Notes and Editorial Reviews
Á l’usage des paroisses; Á l’usage des couvents
Serge Schoonbroodt (org)
AEOLUS 10301 (81:31)
(1668–1733) needs no introduction; next to Rameau, he is the composer who comes immediately to mind when we think of French Baroque music. Aside from his fame as composer and harpsichordist at the court of the Sun King, Couperin devoted much of his adult life to
the service of the Church. From age 15 he held the post of organist at St. Gervais, one of the most important in Paris, and in 1693 was appointed organist of the Chapelle Royale. Despite the vast stylistic differences between France and Germany in other areas of music, church organists of both countries had remarkably similar duties. They were expected to improvise most of the music for the service on the spot, always basing it on the prevailing hymn or psalm tune of the liturgical calendar. New hires in particular were required to furnish a collection of organ music as proof of their prowess; usually one such book was all that was needed, hence Couperin’s two solitary Organ Masses, written at the beginning of his career (1690). A parallel in Sebastian Bach’s career are the many chorale preludes he composed while organist at Mühlhausen in order to impress the church elders.
So what does Couperin’s liturgical organ music sound like? It is part and parcel of a uniquely French version of the Low Mass, consisting of many shorter movements loosely titled after the Ordinary: Kyrie, Benedictus, Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, etc. The only extended movement in both Masses is the multisectional
Offertoire sur les grands jeux
. The music is intended to alternate with sections of chant (not included on this recording), which replace the rubrics normally assigned to the priest. The pieces usually also bear a title that gives a clue to the intended registration:
sur le jeux d’anches, dialogue sur la trompette, dialogue en trio du cornet
, etc. I like to think of this music as providing a foretaste of Couperin’s harpsichord to come; there is a similar variety of mood and tempo, and it is not at all irreverent or disrespectful to imagine the music with titles such as
Les Petites crémières de Bagnolet, Le Dodo, ou l’amour au berceau,
Les Barricades mistérieues.
This is an enormously successful rendition of the music, even without the plainchant (which I don’t miss). Credit is certainly due to Belgian organist Serge Schoonbroodt, who has the requisite stylistic approach. But the star of the CD is ultimately the organ, a wonderfully preserved instrument in the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Le-Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne, near Lyon. There is an amazing variety of sound available on this instrument, including snarling Iberian reeds, an excellent
, delicious flutes, piquant
Best of all, Schooonbroodt knows how to hold our interest by intelligently varying the registration. Much of the music is given a big-boned interpretation with full organ, but there are quieter moments in which the reeds and other solo stops are featured. If you are a fan of historic German organs but are curious about what a classic French instrument from the same era sounds like, this CD is an ideal opportunity.
A handsome booklet with extensive notes, photos, and stoplist completes the offering. Marvelous recorded sound. Recommended unhesitatingly to organ fans, but this release deserves much wider exposure.
FANFARE: Christopher Brodersen
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