François Couperin’s Pièces de Clavecin
Book 1, 1st Ordre
Pièces de clavecin, Book 1, 1st Ordre
1. Allemande L’Auguste
2. Premier Courante
3. Seconde Courante
4. Sarabande La Majestueuse
6. La Milordine Gigue
7. Menuet et double
8. Les Silvains
9. Les Abeilles
10. La Nanète
11. Les Sentiments Sarabande
12. La Pastourelle
13. Les Nonètes
14. La Bourbonnoise Gavote
15. La Manon
17. La Fleurie ou La tendre Nanètte
18. Les Plaisirs de Saint Germain en Laÿe
Andrew Appel, harpsichord
What do we encounter in the first measures of Couperin’s Allemande, L’Auguste? This majestic, varied, noble work serves as a doorway to four volumes of the most important music written for harpsichord. As palatial as the allemande presents itself, it is economical in its grandeur. With it (and in only four minutes) Couperin is able to take us on a tour of his Baroque palace. An entryway, long pillared corridors, history paintings lit by large windows overlooking gardens, ceilings painted with goddesses. Sections of purple and burnished gold contrasting with the pinks and yellows of sunrises.
Couperin will then unfold in a suite of pieces that honor the traditions of his family and teachers with dances embroidered with lacy ornamentations and expressing delicate sentiment. There is poetry in every piece and at every moment. The range of affect moves from high Racinian tragedy (La Majestueuse) to almost untouchable, ephemeral wistfulness (Les Sentiments). He pens out elaborations or ornamented repeats for the first courante and the gavotte. Here the refinement of the precious style of verse enters the world of music…it is a refinement that Moliere mocks in Les Précieuses Ridicules but demands of the player a delicacy of touch beyond all other works for keyboard. Yet, Couperin also loves the raucous and playful and for every tender gavotte there is a foot stamping one (La Bourbonnoise followed by the delightful La Manon).
But the Couperin that extended his musical reach well into the 20th century is the one that revels in sensuality. Debussy and Ravel will reclaim a pride in what is so essentially French in learning the repertoire that includes Les Silvains. Here Couperin calls upon harmony, light counterpoint, careful dissonance, to create a world of perfume and image and he does it on an instrument with a reputation for the inflexible and inexpressive! The gardens of Fragonard, the copper surfaces or strawberries of Chardin, the breeze on the island of Watteau’s Cythère are all living in the harpsichord. In his first Ordre, Couperin invites us onto his magical boat to drift into his unique world of thought and feeling.
Andrew Appel, Artistic Director of the Four Nations Ensemble, performs throughout Europe and the United States as soloist in many festivals including Italy’s Spoleto Festival, New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival, and the Redwoods Festival. In 2023 Appel was invited to join the performers at Music from Marlboro. As recitalist, Mr. Appel has performed at Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls in New York, as well as halls from the Music Academy of the West to the Smithsonian in Washington DC. Along with his focus on The Four Nations Ensemble, he has been a guest artist of Chatham Baroque, the Smithsonian Players, and Orpheus. He serves as harpsichordist for opera companies and has toured with several European chamber orchestras. He has enjoyed critical acclaim for his solo recording of Bach works with Bridge Records as well as his fortepiano performances of Haydn for ASV. He and the Four Nations Ensemble presently record for Orchid Classical in London.
As a writer, Mr. Appel has written program notes and articles for presenters around the country including Lincoln Center, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and National Public Radio. Mr. Appel has participated in discussions on education and chamber music programming at conferences of Chamber Music America, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, and the New York State Council on the Arts. He has served as President of the Board of Trustees of Chamber Music America. He has been regularly praised for pre-concert talks that contextualize the music and open areas of discovery for the audience.
A native of New York City, Appel discovered the harpsichord at 14 and began lessons with Tim Read and Igor Kipnis. First-prize winner of the Erwin Bodky Competition in Boston, he holds an international soloist degree from the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp where he worked with Kenneth Gilbert and a Doctorate from the Juilliard School under Albert Fuller. There he has taught harpsichord and music history. Appel has also taught harpsichord, chamber music, music history and humanities courses at Moravian College, Princeton University, and New York Polytech, now a division of New York University.