Background of Pieces de ClavecinEdit
Francois Couperin published twenty-seven orders, suites for harpsichord between 1713, and 1730. They are divided into three volumes. These pieces were written for amateurs to play for personal entertainment as was possible with the growth and availability clavecins in households in that era. The orders consist of dances in the French style in binary form. Each movement in his orders was given fanciful and suggestive titles by Couperin himself, some after acquainted members of royalty, such as La monflambert
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Les Barricades Mystérieuses was published in 1717, as the fifth piece in his sixth Ordre de Clavecin in B-flat major. It is found in his second volume of collected harpsichord pieces Pièces de Clavecin. Scholars have presented different interpretation to what the title may represent as described by the following quote
“Some refer to the continuous suspensions in the lute style being a barricade to the basic harmony, some have suggested that the constant syncopation of the piece makes of the bar lines themselves "mysterious barricades".” (Tunley 2004)
Written in the arpeggiated style brisé (broken style) or style luthé of a lute piece, the work is in rondeau form. It can be seen as a variant of a romanesca- a form which is composed of a sequence of four chords with a simple, repeating bass, which provide the groundwork for variations and improvisation.
Each couplet presents a movement to a different key area, and each are in varying amount of measure and time-length. At the end of each couplet is an imperfect of perfect cadence. Following the rondo, the opening couple sets up a Tonic-Dominant establishment of the key. There is an unexpected harmony of D diminished in the first couplet (m.19-20). The sequences come to a unison E flat in the third couplet, (the fifth measure from the start of third couplet), giving a climactic effect. The last couple includes a down-ward root movement of the circle of fifths, appropriately followed by the last repetition of the rondo.
Another piece from his Piece de clavecin of a much different style is from the twenty-fifth order , La Visionnaire.
Instead of a Rondo form, the form of this movement resembles that of a French Overture, with a slow opening. this movement is highly embellished. The dotted rhythms,s of the overture style is replaced with fast triplets. To the ear, Les Barricades sounds almost minimalist in comparison.
The main division of this movement is into two halves, marked by the Viste second half, which stays true to the French tradition of imitative fast section of the French overture.
Although Francois Couperin is known for his heavy use of ornaments and embellisments, they are done in a tasteful manner which exudes refined elegance, emotional restrain, and logical clarity in harmony and melody. His keyboard pieces are important etudes for stressing important notes without accents while maintaining a forward momentum in the elegant melodic lines, alllowing for enjoyable performances both on a period instrument and on the piano.
Tunley, David (2004). François Couperin and the perfection of music. Aldershot, England: Ashgate. pp. 113, 115. ISBN 0754602986