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THE MIRROR OF HUMAN LIFE
Reflections on François Couperin's Pièces de Clavecin
by Jane Clark and Derek Connon
A handbook to François Couperin’s Harpsichord pieces, with explorations of the social, literary and theatrical worlds from which he drew so much of his inspiration.
This is a second, revised edition of the book first published by Kings Music in 2002, incorporating the latest research and including a new essay by Jane Clark on the architecture of the Ordres. A far wider vision of Couperin’s interests and influences is presented, particularly his close involvement with the theatre and his specific references to it in his harpsichord music. Jane Clark’s CD, School of Politesse, (Janiculum JAN D206), sets out to illustrate this aspect of the music.
Derek Connon is Professor of French at the University of Wales, Swansea. He has published two monographs on the eighteenth-century novelist, playwright and philosopher Diderot and a number of articles on French theatre from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. He has also edited two collections of essays on French theatre and plays by Musset and Saurin, as well as an anthology of works from the early opéra-comique of the Parisian Fairs. He is a keen violinist and violist and his interest in music has fed into his research in an article on Sartre and Puccini and a comparison of the operatic theories of Beaumarchais and Mozart.
’A greater understanding of the topicality of these titles and of the burlesque or satirical tone that lies behind some of them sharpens the music’s effect on our senses. These pieces are not all benign and charming portraits, agreeably presenting the sitters. From them Couperin emerges as a keener critic of his age than at first sight would appear. The tone of irony and satire creates an altogether more complex picture of his musical language and in these portraits we may glimpse much that is missing from the conventional sources about Couperin’s milieu.’ THE NEW GROVE Second Edition, 2001.
Derek Adlam, writing in Classical Music, 4 June 2011:
Jane Clark and Derek Connon give us keys to the elusive, allusive titles of Couperin’s solo harpsichord music, titles that indicate the content, atmosphere and character of these works of subtle genius … for me, the pages of the Ordres now teem with actors and actresses, characters from the Commedia dell’arte, courtiers and courtesans, all portrayed in Couperin’s witty, punning, sly, amused, sympathetic, loving commentary on his life and times … This neatly produced work is essential for players and listeners alike.
Mark Kroll, writing in Early Music America, Summer 2011:
In just a few hundred pages the authors create a compelling portrait of Couperin and his world, providing an invaluable service, not only to harpsichordists (and all les amis de Couperin) but to everyone interested in the music, art and theater of the period.
David Tunley, writing in Music and Letters, May 2012:
The picturesque titles that Couperin gave to his harpsichord pieces probably aroused curiosity from the time they were first published in the early eighteenth century. Couperin seemed to delight in coded references, ambiguities, and teasing possibilities that perplexed many (or most) of his contemporaries as they still do us today. This fascinating book may well be as close as we will ever get to understanding their significance … This book has much to say about this gifted and amiable composer, his society, and his music, and should be within arm’s reach in every studio where Couperin’s music is loved and practised.
Douglas Hollick, writing in The Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, June 2012:
We glimpse here something of the hidden world of Couperin’s time, particularly that of the court and the aristocracy. His delight in portraying people in music is brought vividly to life, and sex, satire and hidden meanings are often part of this. Couperin found the mistresses of his patrons, often his own colleagues, an endless source of inspiration, as were aspects of the opera, theatres and Paris fairs.
Penelope Cave, writing in The Consort, Summer 2012:
If musicians are to perform Couperin’s music … they need to be informed, and this book, offering the insights of two experts in their field, not only provides detailed interpretations of many of the ambiguous titles of his pieces, but also provides insight into the society in which the composer lived, particularly the Parisian theatre which was such a strong influence upon Couperin … This is an invaluable resource to assist one’s interpretation of François Couperin, justly known as le Grand, and to activate further research into this beguiling repertoire and this fascinating period of artistic creativity. No harpsichordist should be without it, but nor should anyone who is interested in France in the early 1700s.
David Chung, writing in Early Music, August 2012:
The Mirror of Human Life, co-authored by Jane Clark and Derek Connon, is the result of some 20 years of research into the background of François Couperin’s harpsichord music … I find this dual authorship to be a particular strength, and the cross-references throughout the book sharpen our awareness of a number of issues singled out for close inspection. For example, Connon’s fascinating account of the Fair theatrical companies in France (pp.82–90) adds significance to Clark’s deduction of Couperin’s possible involvement in the Fair Theatre, as suggested by ‘Le Tic-Toc-choc ou les Maillotins’ of the 18th Ordre … Likewise, the wit and humour that Clark identifies in Couperin and his music echoes Connon’s remarks on the importance of satire in the literary and theatrical works of this period … This book will appeal strongly to a wide readership, including harpsichordists, students and all who would like to comprehend how music, literature and the arts connected in the French Baroque period … Tthe insight that it offers into Couperin’s personality and the events and circumstances shaping his life and works will be invaluable to all.
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