FL 2 3079

French Music on Two Harpsichords

Album information

The transcription and arrangement of musical works was common practice in the 18th century. Such illustrious musicians as François Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau left remarkable “manners” and examples of transcriptions for one or two harpsichords. In his preface to L’Apothéose de Lulli, published in 1725, François Couperin explains how his music for two dessus (treble parts) and bass can be played on two harpsichords: “I perform them very successfully with my family and pupils with the first dessus and the bass played on one harpsichord, and the second dessus and the same bass-line on another, in unison.”

Similarly, Jean-Philippe Rameau proposes, with supporting examples, that his Pièces de clavecin en concert (obbligato harpsichord, one dessus and one viola da gamba) may be transcribed for solo harpsichord. Transcriptions allowed for works—thitherto restricted to the confines of the concert—to attain a wider audience.

We, too, have chosen to have a go at transcription, while keeping in mind the examples and precepts of the great French masters. The experience allowed us to discover all the harmonic and rhythmical wealth made possible by the combination of two harpsichords.

In addition to having been an esteemed composer, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755) met with considerable success and acquired a substantial fortune. Around the age of 35, he chose to live in Paris, where he wrote much chamber music for all sorts of instruments, especially the flute. His Third Sonata, from opus 91, is written for obbligato harpsichord and flute. Among all the sonatas in the set, this one is in our opinion best suited to a performance on two harpsichords. We follow here François Couperin’s suggestion in the preface to his Apothéose de Lulli: the left hands play in unison, while the right hands each play a different treble part.

Justly considered the founder of the French violin school, Jean-Marie Leclair, l’aîné, (1697-1764) is perhaps the first French violinist to bear comparison with the Italian virtuosos. In his compositions, he brings about the fusion of the French and Italian styles, an idea advocated in 1724 by François Couperin, in Les Goûts réunis. The work recorded here belongs to the Second Book of Sonatas, published around 1728. The original instrumentation as specified by Leclair has a violin or a German (transverse) flute playing the first dessus, and a viol the second. The bass part is entrusted either to the harpsichord or to the cello. Our realization conforms precisely to François Couperin’s rules: two left hands in unison and two right hands playing respectively the first and the second dessus. A few brief passages only in the second dessus had to be transposed up an octave in order to avoid crossing over the left hand.

Charles (? François) Dieupart (?after 1667-c1740) was a composer, violinist and harpsichordist. He established himself in England around 1700, acquiring an enviable reputation as a teacher and virtuoso. His Six Suittes de Clavessin were published in Amsterdam in 1701, and possibly served as models for the English Suites of J.S. Bach, who knew and appreciated Dieupart’s music. There are two existing versions of these six suites: one for solo harpsichord, and another for a small ensemble comprising a violin and a flute with a bass viol and an archlute. In the second version, the archlute must realize the chords indicated by the figured bass. Although the solo harpsichord version is perfectly satisfying in its own right, we thought it might be enhanced by the addition of a continuo, taken from the instrumental version. We carefully studied the differences between the two versions, and decided to play them simultaneously (except for the gigue, played without the continuo).

Jacques Duphly (1715-1789) wrote four books of harpsichord pieces. Their publication, between 1744 and 1768, assured the composer a solid reputation. After having been an organist at the cathedral of Évreux and at Rouen, Duphly moved to Paris, working, with no official appointment, as a teacher, harpsichordist and composer. The six pieces of the present recording are taken from the third book. Unlike the other pieces in the book, these require the accompaniment of a violin. On one of the harpsichords, we entrust this “accompaniment” to the right hand, while the left hand generally plays the same bass as the obbligato harpsichord part. The other harpsichord plays the obbligato part originally cast by Duphly.

© Luc Beauséjour and Hervé Niquet Translation: Jacques-André Houle


Yves Beaupré, harpsichord maker, about the instruments used in this recording:

Writings from the period are unanimous: 17th-century Flemish harpsichords were very much in vogue throughout Europe. They were admired to the point that 18th-century Parisian makers, such as Nicolas Blanchet, created an instrument heavily inspired by the Antwerp craftsmanship of the likes of Ruckers, Goujon and Couchet. Although the two harpsichords used on this recording both have similar conceptual characteristics, they each sound quite different. The contrast in timbre between both instruments was of great interest to the performers. Luc Beauséjour plays a two-manual harpsichord, typically 18th-century French in design, inspired by the work of Nicolas Blanchet and Jean-Henry Hemsch, signed by myself in Montreal in 1998. For his part, Hervé Niquet uses a copy of a harpsichord crafted in Antwerp by Johannes Couchet. It is a single-manual instrument, which I built in Montreal in 1992, and belongs to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec.

© Yves Beaupré

Read more


Luc Beauséjour
AN 6 1008
AN 6 1008
AN 6 1008

Start typing and press Enter to search