This Sunday, I will be playing selections from François Couperin’s (1668-1733) Mass for the Parishes (Messe des paroisses pour les fêtes solennelles), written when the composer was 21 years old. He had inherited the position of organist at St. Gervais at age 11 when his father died, but did not formally take the position until he reached age 18. When he was 28, he was appointed principal organist and court organist for Louis XIV, and he held positions at both St. Gervais and the court until his retirement. Today we find it incredible to have such longevity in a job!
During this time of the French Baroque, the use of the organ was strictly regulated in the church, and the organist played couplets in alternation with the chants sung by the choir (schola) for the main parts of the service: Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. We can tell from the titles of the pieces that the color of the organ was foremost, because the titles tell what registration (stops) were to be used. For example, for the prelude I’ll be playing the 8th Couplet for the Tu solus altissimus with the subtitle “Dialogue en trio du cornet et de la tierce,” which refers to the organ stops to be used.
During communion, I’ll be playing “Tierce en taille” (Third in the tenor) which again refers to a certain organ stop. This piece was in fact requested by organbuilder Rudolf von Beckerath at the dedication of our organ in 1975, which was played by Carl Crosier. Then when we received news of Herr von Beckerath’s death in 1976, I played this piece in his memory at the Sunday service following the news. It therefore become a very special piece for us as a couple, so I played it for our wedding in 1977 at the communion.
For the postlude, I’ll play the 2nd Couplet, Fugue sur les grands jeux, which refers to full organ.
When we were in Paris two years ago, we went to St. Gervais to hear an organ recital. What was most surprising to us was that the performer played the Star Spangled Banner! We happened to be there on the weekend of the Fourth of July, but I found it strange to hear American music in Couperin’s church!
I took a picture of the choir rehearsal last night at St. Andrew’s Cathedral to remind you about the Joint Evensong this Sunday night, May 6th at 5:30 pm.