In this 2-CD set for the price of a single CD, Aude Heurtematte, titulaire organist of the historic organ at St-Gervais, Paris, and renowned for her playing of this music composed ca. 1690, plays these suites of 21 pieces, each, on the organ still containing most of the pipes played by the composer while he was organist of this church (as were six other Couperins before and after). The fabulous instrument was restored in 1975 and 2001 to its enlarged 1769 state.
CD 1 Mass for the Parishes
1 Plein chant du premier Kyrie, en taille. 1:36
2 Fugue sur les jeux d’Anches. 2e Couplet. 2:06
3 Recit de Chromhorne. 3e Couplet. 3:01
4 Dialogue sur la Trompette et le Chromhorne. 4e Couplet. 2:07
5 Plein chant. 5e et dernier Couplet. 1:18
6 Plein jeu. Et in Terra pax. 1:08
7 Pettite fugue sur le Chromhorne. 2e Couplet du Gloria. 1:08
8 Duo sur les Tierces. 3e Couplet. 1:53
9 Dialogue sur les Trompettes Clairon et Tierces du GC. et le bourdon avec le larigot du positif. 4e Couplet. 3:05
10 Trio a 2 Dessus de Chromhorne et la basse de Tierce. 5e Couplet. 2:12
11 Tierce en Taille. 6e Couplet. 3:59
12 Dialogue sur la Voix humaine. 7e Couplet. 3:26
13 Dialogue en trio du Cornet et de la Tierce. 8e Couplet. 2:36
14 Dialogue sur les Grands jeux. 9e et dernier Couplet. 1:49
15 Offertoire sur les Grands jeux. 8:52
16 Plein chant du premier Sanctus en Canon. 0:50
17 Recit de Cornet. 2e Couplet. 1:25
18 Benedictus. Chromhorne en Taille. 4:14
19 Plein chant de l’Agnus Dei, en Basse et en taille alternativement. 1:54
20 Dialogue sur les Grands jeux. 3e Couplet de l’Agnus. 2:38
21 Deo gratias. Petit plein jeu. 1:09
CD 2 Mass for the Convents
1 Plein jeu. Premier Couplet du Kyrie. 1:41
2 Fugue sur le Trompette. 2e Couplet du Kyrie. 1:39
3 Recit de Chromhorne. 3:22
4 Trio a 2 Dessus de Chromhorne et la basse de Tierce. 4e Couplet du Kyrie. 1:34
5 Dialogue su la trompette du grand Clavier, et sur la montre, le bourdon et le nazard du positif. 5e et dernier Couplet du Kyrie. 2:02
6 Plein jeu. Premier Couplet du Gloria. 1:59
7 Pettite fugue sur le Chromhorne. 2e Couplet. 0:55
8 Duo sur les tierces. 3e Couplet. 1:40
9 Basse de Trompette. 4e Couplet. 2:01
10 Chromhorne sur la Taille. 5e Couplet. 3:24
11 Dialogue sur la Voix humaine. 6e Couplet. 2:48
12 Trio. Les Dessus sur la tierce et las basse sur la trompette. 7e Couplet. 1:33
13 Recit de Tierce. 8e Couplet. 2:28
14 Dialogue sur les grands jeux. Dernier Couplet. 1:39
15 Offertoire sur les grands jeux. 5:53
16 Premier Couplet du Sanctus. Plein jeu. 1:04
17 Recit de Cornet. 2e Couplet. 0:45
18 Elevation. Tierce en Taille. 3:20
19 Agnus Dei. Plein jeu. 1:03
20 Dialogue sur les grands jeux. Dernier Couplet d’Agnus Dei. 1:32
21 Deo gratias. Petit plein jeu. 1:07
Aude Heurtematte is titular organist of the historic organ built in the 17th and 18th centuries at the Church of Saint-Gervais in Paris where eight members of the Couperin family preceded her as organist during nearly two centuries, 1656-1826. She is also titular organist of the Lutheran Church of les Billettes nearby. Aude Heurtematte was professor of organ at the Conservatoire of Lille, then at the Académie Supérieure de Musique and the Conservatoire Régional in Strasbourg. She has taught many generations of students of many nationalities.
Aude Heurtematte successively studied with Gaston Litaize, Jean Boyer and Odile Bailleux, and further studied with Jean Saint-Arroman and Michel Chapuis for the interpretation of French music of the 17th and 18th centuries. She sought experiences with organs representative of all European styles so as to deepen her study of repertory that these organs evoke.
She pursues an international career as concert performer, serves as faculty to numerous academies devoted to French baroque music, and serves on juries of international organ playing competitions. Her recordings are widely acclaimed.
Pièces d’Orgue Consistantes en deux Messes composed by François Couperin, organiste de St Gervais
If 17th-century France has left us many monuments of religious eloquence, it is not unjustifiable to set alongside the sermons of men like Bossuet or Bourdaloue the organ masses published by the musicians charged with accompanying divine service.
The organ needed to be eloquent because it was required to alternate with plainchant and substitute for the power of the sacred words supported by the ancient Gregorian melodies. Following the practice known as alternatim, singers and organ took turns in performing portions of the Ordinary in plainchant phrase and organ verset (with the exception of the wholly sung Credo). Each organ verset corresponding to a verse of plainchant must evoke with force and concision the meaning of the implied text. Only the Offertory was dispensed from this subordination to the words: here the organ, freed from dialogue with the plainchant, could deploy its sonorities in large-scale concertante pieces.
At a time when music was conceived as an art of imitation like painting and poetry: an art which could not be sufficient unto itself by the mere coherence of its sonic structure, but which sought primarily to evoke and to move, it is understandable that this astonishing substitution had become widespread practice. However, the Church was obliged to regulate it with precise rules. In Couperin’s day, prescriptive texts like the Caeremoniale parisiense of 1662 recommended the quotation of the plainchant melody for certain versets, notably at the start of the pieces. The style, the compositional technique, the registration of each verset were also meticulously specified: plein jeu. fugue sur les jeux d’anche, duo sur les tierces, chromorne en taille, dialogue sur les grands jeux, and so on. On this formal framework, organists wove their daily improvisations just as the painters of the period offered infinite variations on commissioned subjects, crucifixions, nativities, or martyrdoms. Such prescriptions were enacted for the practice of the liturgy in parish churches, since other traditions held sway in monasteries. This is why François Couperin presented two masses, one “for the use of parishes, for solemn feast days,” the other “appropriate for male and female religious houses,” the former rendered more majestic by the utilisation of the plainchant as a cantus firmus stretched out in long note values (Mass IV Cunctipotens genitor), the latter free of these imposing references. But, on the whole, both of them adopt the same forms, the same styles, from which an organist could not deviate for fear of detracting from the decorum befitting the ceremony and its overall coherence.
As a day-to-day art associated with divine service, an art of the moment based on rules which are all that are left to us today, the improvisation of these organists was by its very essence ephemeral. But luckily for us, from 1665, following the example of Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, a certain number of composers published livres d’orgue (books of organ pieces) that reflect their personal practice while at the same time offering models for adoption by less inspired musicians. In the tradition of Nivers, Lebègue, and Raison, the young François Couperin published in 1690, a livre d’orgue consisting of two masses, echoing his activity at St Gervais in Paris.
He was only twenty-two years old at the time, but had inherited the prestigious charge of the church’s organ in 1685 from his uncle Louis and his father Charles, who had both died prematurely, following an interim period (1679-1885) when his mentor Michel-Richard de La Lande had deputised for him. St. Gervais was then an important church which boasted no fewer than one hundred and and twenty priests and clerics. Aristocrat Madame de Sévigné, celebrated author of letters written to her daughter, performed her devotions there, and Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet had pronounced the funeral oration of Chancellor Le Tellier there on 25 January 1686.
François Couperin played for nearly four hundred services a year in the church. Three years after the appearance of his masses he was appointed to the charge of the royal organs at the court. The publication of these Pièces d’Orgue was an important catalyst in his meteoric career.
The surviving sources of the Pièces d’Orgue have finally yielded up many of their secrets.* Since he did not intend to distribute a substantial number of copies, Couperin opted for manuscript reproduction by hand as a less expensive ”short-run” publication option when compared to engraving. The two volumes, each containing one mass, were nonetheless adorned with a printed title-page (on which the young musician assumes the title of “sieur de Crouilly”), a royal privilege, and a laudatory approbation from La Lande, dated 2 September 1690:
Certificate of Monsieur de La Lande, Superintendent of the King’s Music, Master of Music to His Majesty’s Chapel, and Composer of his Chamber. I declare that, by order of My Lord the Chancellor, I have examined the present organ pieces of Monsieur Couperin, which I have found to be extremely fine, and deserving of being placed before the public.
The only extant copy of this edition is preserved at the Bibliothèque Inguimbertine in Carpentras. However, another manuscript at the library in Versailles seems to be a first version presented by Couperin to La Lande, who clearly proposed some corrections and adjustments. In these two sources we find the hand of a copyist whom Edward Corp has identified as David Nairne, thus establishing, through the intermediary of this Scotsman living in Paris, a previously unknown connection between François Couperin and the court of James II, exiled in France and resident from 1689 onwards at the château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. It is not without interest to note that another copy of the Pièces d’Orgue was made in the 19th century by Alexandre P. F. Boëly, himself organist of St Gervais from 1834 to 1838.
As they have come down to us, these two masses appear to sum up the splendour and grace of Parisian religious ceremonies at the end of the Grand Siècle. Playing on the full, lively, contrasting sound-palette characteristic of French organs, Couperin offers a series of brief sonic tableaux, employing the most varied styles to imitative ends. The austere plainchant is enveloped in the folds of a sumptuous counterpoint in the pieces with cantus firmus which, with the short, solid fugues, illustrate divine might; the récits de cornet, de chromorne or de tierce en taille resemble eloquent petite motets in which soprano or tenor voices are discreetly accompanied by a small group of instruments, evoking the Incarnation of Jesus or uttering a poignant prayer; the dialogues and offertoires feature concertante orchestral effects. But over and above the imitation of all kinds of music and timbres, the warlike strains of fanfares to represent the splendor of the King of Heaven, the dance rhythms of gavottes, bourrées and sarabandes to evoke the simple joy of the believers (as if the organ were assigned the task of summing up and presenting to the Deity the full range of music that could be heard in Couperin’s day), one must attempt to perceive the subtle links established at this time between rhythms, timbres, styles and human emotions. Like the dance suite in secular concerts, the suite for organ appears as a sort of sonic equivalent of the Traité des Passions of Descartes or the drawings illustrating Charles Le Brun’s Expression des Passions de l’ame. The organist keeps in mind the verset that is to be conveyed in musical terms, but draws from it a single affect, a unique emotion, different from that which precedes and that which follows, an emotion that will give the short piece all its force and color.
If we look at them from this angle, while it is interesting to hear the masses of Couperin in alternation with the plainchant, the better to anchor the music in its role of substitute for the text and place ourselves in the situation of listeners of the period (but in that case, should we not, for a genuine reconstruction, perform the ceremony in its entirety?), a performance of the musical pieces divorced from their religious context prompts us to approach them on a less functional, more purely musical level, like a passage of sacred eloquence composed according to a skilled rhetoric that moves and persuades the listener, a rhetoric that gives the organ pride of place in the concert of the Christian Muses.
—Raphaëlle Legrand, Professor
of Musicology, University of Paris, Sorbonne
*See the introduction by David Moroney and Kenneth Gilbert to the edition of these masses published by L’Oiseau-Lyre in 1982, and Edward Corp, “The musical Manuscripts of ’Copiste Z’: David Nairne, Françoise Couperin and the Stuart Court at Saint-Germain-en-Laye,“ Revue de musicologie, vol. 84, no. 1, 1998, pp. 37-62
Listening to the masses of François Couperin
by Aude Heurtematte
Just as there is a great distance between grammar and declamation, so there is an infinite one between tablature and good playing. —F. Couperin, “L’Art de Toucher le Clavecin,“ 1717
Listening to the masses of François Couperin, one is initially struck by the scale of the pieces, their diversity, then by the elaboration of the discourse, the sometimes arrestingly modern harmonic language, and finally by a depth of expression rarely attained in the livres d’orgue of his predecessors.
François Couperin’s masses engage extraordinary diversity of registrations, textures, and forms; “old-fashioned” counterpoint for the Pleins-chants1 and the fugue of the Messe des Paroisses; a more Italianate style for the pleins jeux of the Messe des Couvents; French or Italian dance rhythms for the duos, trios, and dialogues; symbolic shadows and light of the offertoires; absolute mastery of construction and eloquence of the musical phrases giving the récits an interest and inspiration maintained from beginning to end. At the age of twenty-two, Couperin immediately places himself among the great masters of his time.
Faced with such a corpus, the performer is called on to “take the soul from one passion to another,”2 to bring out the grandeur, the nobility (Kyrie) or the enthusiasm (Gloria) of a “Plein-chant, [to] mark... so well the movements of the dance... that one feels like inspiring, even despite oneself, the urge to dance“3 while nonetheless taking care to “give out the cadence a little more slowly because of the holiness of the place,”4 to depict the protagonists in a dialogue with vehemence (Dialogue sur les Trompettes) or more tenderness (Dialogue sur la Voix humaine), to give the récits all the gravity and eloquence they require. Gaspard Corrette recommends “languors, cadences, speeds, and movements”5 for the performance of the Tierce en Taille. Would the Chromhorne en Taille for the Benedictus of the Messe des Paroisses have made Madame de Sévigné shed tears, like the Libera by Lully sung at the funeral service of Chancellor Séguier at the Oratoire?6
Church music must be expressive... The science of music, and of church music even more than secular, is nothing other than the science of moving the listener deeply and in the appropriate manner.
—J. L. Le Cerf de La Viéville, “Comparaison de la Musique Italienne et de la Musique Françoise, Discours sur la Musique d’Eglise,“ 1705
1 These pieces alone present a rare degree of diversity, stating the Gregorian cantus firmus with constantly renewed imagination, in the tenor, in the bass, both together and in alternation, in canon, in imitation, and so forth.
2 Charles Masson, Nouveau traité des regles pour la composition de la musique (1705).
3 Georg Muffat, Premières Observations... sur la manière de Joüer les airs de Balets à la Françoise selon la methode de feu M. de Lully (1698).
4 André Raison, Livre d’orgue Contenant Cinq Messes (1688).
5 Gaspard Corrette, Messe du 8e ton pour l’orgue (1703).
6 “There was a Libera during which all eyes were full of tears. I do not believe there is different music than this in heaven”: letter from Madame de Sévigné to her daughter, Madame de Grignan, dated 6 May 1672.
The organ of the church of St Gervais in Paris
The history of the organ of St Gervais is particularly well-known thanks to two historians who took a passionate interest in this instrument in the course of the twentieth century and published their research for the benefit of future generations. Paul Brunold (1875-1948) from 1920 onwards (himself preceded in 1911 by the Abbe Malherbe), then Brunold’s pupil, Pierre Hardouin (1914-2008), a great historian of the French Classical organ, from 1948 to1996,1 constantly searched the archives and examined the instrument to compare documents and reality. It is to them that we owe everything we know about this organ today.
The origins of the present instrument lie in the new two-manual organ which the builder Mathis Langhedul installed in 1601 on the high gallery of the south transept. At the time, the West (main) facade of the church had not been built but was designed and constructed 1616-1621 as the first important example of classical architecture in Paris. The interior gallery behind the facade was completed in 1628, when the organ in its original case, with doors, was moved by Pierre Pescheur and enlarged to include a Positif de dos which appears today almost as it did in 1628. As well, the keydesk was moved from the back of the case to the front, the action was rebuilt and included couplers, the 45-note manual compass (c1-c5) was extended to 48 notes to complete the short octave, the pedal compass was extended to 28 notes with an almost complete first octave (absent c#), wind pressure was raised, the 12’ Montre of the Grand Orgue was extended to 16’ with wooden bass pipes not displayed, a half-keyboard Récit was added and employed a duplex action of valves to play the Cornet of the Grand Orgue, and several other tonal changes and additions were made to strengthen the organ in a building which had nearly doubled in volume since 1600. Pescheur’s updating and enlargment of the organ was championed by Robert Buisson, organist of St. Gervais 1599-1649. His son of the same name, organist 1649-1653, had organbuilder Pierre Thierry, who has been called the “founder of the strictly Parisian school of organ building,” make new new wooden Pedal pipes to replace the metal 8’ Flute and add a 4’ Flute.
When the young Louis Couperin (1626-1661) was appointed organist in 1653, he had Pierre Thierry complete the instrument by 1659 with more tonal changes, including the addition of a 37-note Echo keyboard of seven stops; the organ was now comprised four manuals and Pedal. Louis Couperin scarcely had time to enjoy this fine organ before his death less than two years later.
Louis’ brother, Charles (1638-1679), succeeded him immediately in 1661. By 1676, he had the builder Alexandre Thierry (son of Pierre) install a set of Cornet pipes for the Récit to replace the duplex action that borrowed the Grand Orgue Cornet, and also appears to have installed new 16’ pipes in the Montre, rendering the perfect Classical balance. This was to be the organ of François Couperin (1668-1733), Charles’ son and composer in 1690 of the Masses recorded on this CD, who was organist from 1685 to 1723. François Couperin had the heavy doors of the main organ case removed by François Thierry in 1714, when the organbuilder was making repairs.
François Couperin’s cousin Nicolas (1680-1748) followed him in the post, succeeded in 1748 by Nicolas’ son Armand-Louis (1727-1789), who already enjoyed a great reputation as a virtuoso at the age of twenty-one. The late 17th-century organ soon began to seem old fashioned to him, but it was not until 1758 that Louis Bessart was given the task of thoroughly rebuilding the instrument. Bessart died in 1764, leaving the unfinished organ in a main case that had been entirely rebuilt,2 enlarging it to accommodate the 16’ Montre in the facade. Cabinetmaker Pierre-Claude Thiessé did the work with sculptor Jacques-François Fichon and an architect named Mouchet.
The organ was completed by the most celebrated Parisian builder of the day, François-Henri Clicquot (1732-1790), who furnished a large instrument with five keyboards and Pedal with ravalement corresponding to the latest fashion. With the exception of a few details3 this is the instrument which is still heard today. Clicquot’s work was examined by Louis-Claude Daquin and Balbastre in 1768. Armand-Louis Couperin died on 2 February 1789. Gervais-François Couperin watched over the organ during the Revolution, and it was overhauled in 1812 by Pierre-François Dallery, who modified the sound-palette somewhat by removing the plein jeu to palce a secon Trompette in the Grand Orgue and a Basson-clarinette and a Dessus de Flûte 8 on the Positif, which lost its Larigot in the process. G-F Couperin died in 1826. In 1843, Boëly, who played for some services at St Gervais, asked Louis-Paul Dallery to reinstall the pleins jeux on these two manuals. The organ underwent no further significant modifications in the 19th century.
The 20th century almost dealt it a fatal blow on two occasions fifty years apart. On Good Friday 1918, a German shell hit the church two bays in front of the organ; miraculously, the instrument suffered very little damage. Immediately protected by a group of volunteers guided by Paul Brunold, organist since 1915, the organ escaped a thoroughgoing reconstruction proposed by Charles Mutin. A commission chose ca. 1920 to entrust restoration to the builder Louis Béasse, who respected the existing instrument and completed his work in 1923. The organist Jean Ver Hasselt succeeded Paul Brunold in 1948 and carefully maintained the Couperins’ organ.
In 1967, a contract was signed with the firm of Gonzalez “to reconstruct the organ of 1769“ . . . with a view to celebrating the tercentenary of the birth of François Couperin in 1968. The hasty dismantling of the instrument in June 1967 and the planned renovation program, insufficiently respectful of the historic materials, became the focus of a protest movement against the official policy of restoration of early organs in France. Faced with the scale and pertinence of the discontent, the Minister of Culture André Malraux chose to reform the Commission Supérieure des Orgues as it was then constituted; this decision benefitted the organ of St Gervais as the restoration plan was modified in 1971 to take greater account of the existing material. The work was completed in 1975. In 2001, following the restoration of the church interior, the instrument was cleaned by the Strasbourg firm of Muhleisen. The organ of St Gervais is the only large instrument of the Ancien Regime in Paris that has never undergone fundamental reconstruction: all of its windchests date from before the Revolution and, with the exception of five stops reconstructed in 1975 (Bourdon 8’ and Larigot on the Positif, Grosse Fourniture, Fourniture and Cymbale on the Grand Orgue) all of its pipework is of period origin, with well-preserved harmony. It remains a vital, irreplaceable testimony to the art of the builders of the French Classical organ.
—Jean-Christophe Tosi, Organologist
1 Pierre Hardouin, L’orgue de Saint-Gervais à Paris, Courlay: Editions J-M Fuzeau, 1996.
2 This is the case still to be seen today.
3 In particular the plein jeu of the Grand Orgue, rebuilt at the last restoration according to the period rackboards, and the location of the Echo division which is no longer in the substructure but at the back of the instrument. The action also underwent some transformations in 1921.
Église Saint-Gervais, Paris
1601 Langhedul - 1628 Pescheur - 1659-85 Thierry - 1758-68 Bessard / Clicquot
Positif dorsal Man. 1 C-d3
Montre 8 (1601)
Bourdon 8 (1973)
Prestant 4 (1601)
Nasard 2 (1659)
Tierce 1 (1659)
Larigot 1 (1973)
Plein-jeu V (1843)
Trompette 8 (1766)
Cromorne 8 (1769)
Clairon 4 (1780)
Grand-Orgue Man. 2 C-d3
Montre 16 (1601/1758/1843)
Bourdon 16 (1676)
Montre 8 (1758-1766)
Bourdon 8 (1601, 1658 basses)
Flûte 8 (1766)
Prestant 4 (1601)
Nasard 2 (1628)
Quarte de nasard 2 (1685)
Doublette 2 (1601)
Tierce 1 (1628)
Grosse Fourniture II 2 (1973)
Fourniture III 1 (1973)
Cymbale IV (1973)
Grand Cornet V (1685)
1ère Trompette 8 (1766)
2ème Trompette 8 (1812)
Clairon 4 (1766)
Voix humaine 8 (1628)
Bombarde Man. 3, C-d3
Bombarde 16 (1766)
Récit Man. 4 g-d3
Cornet de Récit (1676)
Hautbois de Récit (1766)
Echo Man. 5 c'-d3
Flûte 8 (1766)
Nasard 2 (1967, old pipes)
Trompette 8 (1714)
Pedale fonds C-d1, reeds/anches A0-d'1
Flûte 16 (1766)
Flûte 8 (1601)
Flûte 4 (1659)
Bombarde 16 (1766, A=20')
Trompette 8 (1766, A=10')
Clairon 4 (1766, A=5')
A = ca 405 Hz
1601 Mathieu Langhedul
1628 Pierre Pescheur
1659 Pierre Thierry
1676-85 Alexandre Thierry
1714 François Thierry
1758-68 Louis Bessart
1766-69-80 François-Henri Clicquot
1812 Pierre-François Dallery
1843 Louis-Paul Dallery
1973 Jacques Bertrand (Danion-Gonzalez)