Artist Led, Creatively Driven

François Couperin’s Pièces de Clavecin
Book 2, 7th Ordre

Andrew Appel

Release Date: 10th Nov


Pièces de clavecin, Book 2, 7th Ordre

1. La Ménetou
2. La Muse Naissante
3. L’Enfantine
4. L’Adolescente
5. Les Delices
6. La Basque
7. La Chazé
8. Les Amusemens

Andrew Appel, harpsichord

Septieme Ordre, Book II (1717)
At reaching 40, Couperin publish his first book of harpsichord pieces. He organized the music in collections he called Ordres. These groupings, unified by key appear to be jewelry boxes of beautifully etched works to be selected and played in suites compiled at the player’s will. The Ordres of Book I open with a suite of expected dances: allemande, two courantes, sarabande, gavotte, and gigue. He then continues with character or genre pieces, dedicatory works (to friends and respected colleagues) and humorous or painterly descriptive pieces. As his allemandes are grand, he does not include a prélude as was usual practice. Couperin allows the large tableau created by these Allemandes Graves to serve as doorways into the music. There are smaller suites of pieces within the ordres and the only ordre that does not have a grand allemande feels fragmentary in this book of harpsichord works. Book I serves as a retrospective of decades of composition. In it, Couperin proves himself a master of two styles: The Grand Baroque manner as well as the delicate, melancholy, exquisite new rococo music comparable to the drawings and paintings of Watteau and closely inspired by the new tastes of the Regency, not of the old Louis XIV.

The ordres from the second book are all shorter and several seem to have an overall architecture that warrants performing the pieces as a unified work. This is true particularly of the first three Ordres in Book II.

The Septieme Ordre presents itself as an exhibit of rococo drawings, a suite of Watteau-like images set before us. The grand Baroque gestures of Book I and the tragic and Racinian 8th Ordre from Book II are set aside for music that is touching, delicious, sensual, and witty.

Couperin finds the tenor range of his “modern” French harpsichord, a sound so rich and voluptuous as to fill our ears with velvet. Here we see Couperin as only comparable to Chopin, two composers who understood a world of beauty available only their chosen instruments and spinning out expressive sounds that satisfy the listener and challenge the interpreter to live up to the possibilities of refined playing.

One can listen to this music with insufficient attention and believe that the works are very pretty and rely on a simple talent to please. Listen carefully. Couperin finds his soul of expression by including delicate and unexpected turns of phrase. In the Ménetou, there is the moment when a low A cradles the upper voices in a dream like sequence of dissonances resolving within a pastel cloud. L’Enfantine has hidden 7th and 9th chords that tug at our hearts with such gentility, and Les Délices with its sighs and perfumed bass in the final couplet transports us to Cythere, Watteau’s world of perfect harmony. How disturbing then to end this suite of gorgeous pieces with an ominous suggestion of storm as Les Amusemens moves from major to minor and instills an instability and anxiety that makes us think of Verlaine and his evocation of the 18th century. “they don’t seem to believe in their own happiness.”

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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