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François Couperin was the most important member of the illustrious Couperin family and was one of the leading composers of the French Baroque era. He is best known for his harpsichord works, all of which are found in the collection of more than 220 pieces entitled Pièces de clavecin, consisting of four books. His music showed the influence of Lully and incorporated elements from the Italian school. Indeed, both these sources would be acknowledged by Couperin himself in two chamber works, Apothéose de Corelli (1724) and Apothéose de Lully (1725). Moreover, he successfully integrated the French and Italian styles in his Les goût réunis ou nouveaux concerts (1724), a collection of chamber compositions for unspecified instruments. Many of his works were lost to posterity, as none of his original manuscripts has survived.
Couperin was born in Paris on November 10, 1668. His father, Charles, was an organist, and young François' early musical training probably came from him. Only child François and his mother were reasonably well cared for following Charles' death (probably in 1679), in part because of the kindness of Jacques Thomelin, organist at Saint-Jacques de la Boucherie, who looked after the young boy and instructed him in music.
Couperin became the organist at Saint-Gervais at age 17. In 1689, four years later, he married Marie-Anne Ansault, daughter of a wine merchant who had many relatives in other business endeavors. The following year, he published his so-called "organ masses," known as Pièces d'orgue, comprising two masses (Messe des Paroisses and Messe des Couvents) and several smaller pieces.
It was around this time that the composer came under the sway of the Italian school. He would display this influence in several chamber works he wrote in 1692 that he called sonades, a name that is a Gallic version of "sonata."
On December 26, 1693, Couperin was appointed organist at the Royal Chapel by King Louis XIV, sharing the post with Buterne, Nivers, and Lebègue, and performing his duties only in the first quarter of each year. He maintained his position at Saint-Gervais for the other three-quarters of the year. He also taught the Duke of Burgundy on harpsichord and six other princes and princesses. The composer would later write an important treatise on playing the harpsichord entitled, L'Art de toucher le clavecin.
Couperin wrote a fair amount of sacred non-liturgical vocal music for the Royal Chapel. Beginning around 1697, he wrote a series of motets, completed in 1702. They include Motet Saint-Barthélemy, Motet de Sainte-Anne, and Motet de Saint-Augustin.
In the early part of the eighteenth century, Couperin began composing a large number of works for the harpsichord, which would appear in the Premier Livre from the Pièces de clavecin in 1713. The Second Book was published in 1717, and the final two came in 1722 and 1730.
There is evidence that Couperin also found time for concerts in the early part of the eighteenth century in Versailles and other nearby locales. Actually, relatively is known about Couperin's life from about 1700 onward. There is record of his renting a country home in 1710 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, confirming the view he was financially secure. In 1719, Couperin became harpsichordist to King Louis XV, a position he most probably had held in all but title for a number of years. By this time, he was recognized as the leading composer in France and the greatest exponent of organ and harpsichord teaching as well. Couperin died on September 11, 1733.
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