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Music in Paris and at
the Court of Versailles:
Instrumental Music
In seventeenth-century
France, music for lute
reached a zenith in the
history of Baroque music. The
Gaultier cousins in particular
dominated lute playing in
Parisian salons at midcentury. Two important
developments took place at
this time:
• by 1630, the vogue of the
ballet de cour had spread to
the repertory for lute; sets of
dances were loosely
organized in suites according
to key and/or tuning
• new tunings emerged
besides the standard one in
fourths, and lower strings
were added.
• Tombeau: an instrumental composition commemorating
someone's death
• Style brisé: literally "broken style," it denotes a discontinuous
texture in which chords are broken apart and the notes enter one
by one.
• In the second half of the seventeenth century, the harpsichord
replaced the lute as the chamber instrument of choice in France.
The Couperin family, working at St. Gervais in Paris for nearly 175
years, was especially significant for the development of a
• Unmeasured prelude: an opening piece popularized by Louis
Couperin that is without bar lines and rhythmically free. By mid
seventeenth century, composers had adopted the genre as an
effective way to open their keyboard suites.
François Couperin ("Le Grand")
• Surely the greatest of the Couperins, he served as
organist at St. Gervais in Paris and as personal
harpsichordist of the king. He wrote most of his
chamber music for the royal court and taught the
king's children and grandchildren.
• The Art of Playing the Harpsichord: François
Couperin's pedagogical manual for clavecin (French
for "harpsichord") which provides a thorough
discussion of fingering, ornamentation, and
performance practice in general.
Agréments: French for ornaments. Indicated by a variety of symbols
rather than written out in full, agréments were to be realized by the
performer. Couperin's The Art of Playing the Harpsichord is an
especially invaluable resource for the performer of Baroque
harpsichord music.
• Notes inégales: an unwritten performance technique in which a
succession of equal notes moving rapidly up or down the scale is
played unequally (for example, long-short).
• Overdotting: an unwritten technique in which a dotted note is
made longer than written, while the short note(s) that follows is
• Ordre: similarly to a suite, a group of pieces loosely
associated by feeling and key. In his four collections
of harpsichord music, Pièces de clavecin, Couperin
organized his two hundred twenty pieces in ordres.
• Rondeau: in the Baroque era a composition based
on the alternation of a main theme (refrain) with
subsidiary sections called couplets (ABACADA...A).