Artist Led, Creatively Driven

François Couperin
8 Préludes from “L’art de toucher le clavecin”

Andrew Appel, harpsichord

Release Date: October 20th


François Couperin (1668-1733)
8 Préludes from “L’art de toucher le clavecin”

1. No. 1, Prelude in C Major

2. No. 2, Prelude in D Minor

3. No. 3, Prelude in G Minor

4. No. 4, Prelude in F Major

5. No. 5, Prelude in A Major

6. No. 6, Prelude in B Minor

7. No. 7, Prelude in B-Flat Major

8. No. 8, Prelude in E Minor

Andrew Appel, harpsichord

Francois Couperin’s L’art de toucher le clavecin is an indispensable volume for harpsichordists and anyone who wants to enter the emotional and aesthetic world of 18th century French music. The composer’s words alone cannot serve as a private lesson and aware of this Couperin instructs that while learning to play a harpsichord a student should not be left unattended without the live guidance of a teacher. Yet, his printed words have implications and present possibilities. Three centuries after writing, his suggestions lead us towards approaches to the harpsichord, an instrument that though seemingly inflexible, is capable of expressing a full gamut of feeling and thought. He offers a series of exercises to form the hand and display finger patterns that are used in music for keyboard. He offers fingerings to his own pieces de clavecin that direct us towards an approach to phrasing. He is clear. A sensitive hand is fundamental to a beautiful performance.

The treasure, the precious jewels in this volume are the eight preludes. Like Scarlatti’s 30 sonatas called Essercizi, there is nothing dry or pedantic here. Each prelude is a poetic statement, in some ways making us think of Chopin’s mazurkas that, though short, are concentrated and powerful displays of musical art. Texture, rhetoric, dance, counterpoint, and affect enrich each prelude. They teach and require that we live up to the potential of the music. There are moments when the traditional French free-formed unmeasured prelude is evoked. Questions arise. When Couperin instructs us to play measuré (in strict time) does he mean similarly to a dance (a bourée or courante) or strict only in contrast to the freedom of a fantasy work as was the tradition in a prelude? In fact, these preludes ask for a mature and far-reaching musicality and the answer to any question is never final.
I am not convinced that these serve successfully as preludes to the ordres in Book one and two. The opening allemandes graves in six are magnificent doorways into their suites. It is as a collection of poems or bouquet of flowers that these preludes give us the most beautiful moments of Baroque harpsichord music upon which we performers must call upon our art de toucher le clavecin.

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.

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