French Elegance and Spanish Fire

David Clark Little, harpsichord

Sonata K 3 in A Minor							Domenico Scarlatti (1685 - 1757)
Sonata K 7 in A Minor							D. Scarlatti
Les Soupirs									Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Les Nais de Sologne							J.P. Rameau 
Sonata K 9 in D Minor							D. Scarlatti
Sonata K 10 in D Minor							D. Scarlatti
Tombeau de Mr. De Blancrocher (Suite in F Major)	Louis Couperin (1626-1661)	

Médée (3rd Livre)								Jacques Duphly (1715–1789)

***********     intermission     ***********
Sonata K 259 in G Major						D. Scarlatti
Sonata K 260 in G Major						D. Scarlatti
Les Grâces Naturèles (11th Ordre)					François Couperin le grand (1668-1733)
Les Baricades Mistérieuses (6th Ordre)				F.  Couperin

La Lugeac (Pieces de Clavecin 1759)				Claude-Bénigne Balbastre (1724–1799)

Fandango										Antonio Soler (1729-1783)
Sonata No. 84 in D maj							A. Soler

Program duration: 90 min., including brief talks introducing the pieces and intermission.
Harpsichord music by master composers of the Baroque to early Classical periods from France and Spain is compared and contrasted in this program. Domenico Scarlatti was born in Italy, but absorbed flamenco and Iberian music as a long-time resident of Portugal and Spain, music master to Princess (later Queen of Spain) Maria Barbara. As court composer, he wrote an astonishing 555 keyboard sonatas, landmarks of virtuousity and harmonic daring. The sonatas are single movements, mostly in binary form, and often come in pairs of the same key: three pairs are interspersed in this program. The legend would have it that Handel and Scarlatti met in Rome for a friendly contest of keyboard virtuosity and improvisation. Scarlatti conceded to Handel's supremacy on the organ, but Scarlatti seems to have bettered Handel at the harpsichord.

Jean Philippe Rameau was one of the most important French composers and music theorists of the Baroque era. He was almost fifty before he embarked on the operatic career on which his reputation chiefly rests. The two pieces, Les Soupirs (Sighs) and Les Nais de Sologne (the Simpleton of Sologne) were published in the second collection of pieces for harpsichord in 1724 and revised in 1731. The Nais piece consists of a folk-like simple melody in rondeau form, with two Doubles, or variations of increasing complexity. Notable in the 1st Double, is a rare baroque example of 3 notes against 2 rhythm.

Louis Couperin, was uncle to the better-known Franćois Couperin. Louis is the earliest composer of the program, yet perhaps sounds the most modern, with daring harmonies and rapid major-minor reversals. The Tombeau (Memorial) piece was written on the occasion of the death of a friend, who was a famed French lutenist. There are occasional musical symbolisms in the music, including the chiming of a clock, representing the transitory nature of life.

Jacques Duphly was considered by Pascal Taskin, the harpsichord maker, to be one of the best teachers in Paris. He died on July 15, 1789, the day after the storming of the Bastille, lonely, forgotten, with his library - and without a harpsichord. Only fifty-two works by Duphly are known, most of which were published during his lifetime. His character piece, Médée, takes a story from Greek Mythology about betrayal and terrible revenge, to dipict raging madness.

François Couperin, nicknamed Le Grand was the main musician to Louis XIV, the Sun King. He wrote over 230 pieces for the harpsichord, arranged into sets he calls Ordres. Some of the pieces are typical of dance suites, but most are character pieces, or portraits, suggestive of incidents or personages. The style is polished, refined, delicate, never harsh, and highly ornamented.

About the Les Baricades Mistérieuses, Tom Service wrote in the Guardian, The four parts create an ever-changing tapestry of melody and harmony, interacting and overlapping with different rhythmic schemes and melodies. The effect is shimmering, kaleidoscopic and seductive, a sonic trompe l'oeil that seem to have presaged images of fractal mathematics, centuries before they existed.

Claude-Bénigne Balbastre was one of the most famous musicians of his time, organist for Louis XVIII, King of France, and harpsichordist to the royal court where he taught Marie-Antoinette. Dr Charles Burney recounts that in 1770, he heard Balbastre play the organ at Saint Roch. Balbastre "performed in all styles in accompanying the choir. When the Magnificat was sung, he played likewise between each verse several minuets, fugues, imitations, and every species of music, even to hunting pieces and jigs, without surprising or offending the congregation, as far as I was able to discover." La Lugeac is a giga in lively 6/8 time for harpsichord.

Antonio Soler usually known as padre ('Father', in the religious sense), since he took holy orders at the age of 23. He produced more than 500 compositions, including 150 keyboard sonatas comparable in style to D. Scarlatti, with whom he may have studied. The Fandango is a lively couples dance, usually in triple metre, traditionally accompanied by guitars and castanets or hand-clapping; originally from Spain. Padre Soler's Fandango is bravura showpiece for harpsichord, with a hypnotic bass-line, dazzling leaps, hand-crossings, spicy ornamentations, and clashing harmonies.

Return to Harpsichord Homepage