Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


David Fuller (New York State, USA)

Counterpoint in Louis Couperin and D'Anglebert

This paper is meant to be a prolegomenon to an examination of the style of the harpsichord music of Jean Henry D’Anglebert (1629-1692).  Because of the brevity required by a meeting of this kind it will be very narrowly focused on two related stylistic components: counterpoint and dissonance.  These will be approached through a comparison with the music of Louis Couperin.  The object will be to assess the goals and skills of these two composers in these two techniques, which were, practically speaking, the only aspects of composition besides mode and cadence that were taught or dealt with in the theory of the time.

The chief reason for the choice of Couperin for comparison is the circumstance that both he and D’Anglebert wrote fugues and preludes.  The restricted parameters of fugues provide much the best opportunities for direct comparison of technical accomplishment, even though these are for organ, not harpsichord.  Those by Couperin (more than 40, the majority dated) have only recently become available.  D’Anglebert left only five, but these are dense, complex, and were offered as examples of his skill.  Moreover, they are extravagantly dissonant.

The approximately 14 great unmeasured preludes by Couperin and four by D’Anglebert constitute the only harpsichord music by these composers that was unrestricted by the conventions of the various dances and in which they were free to explore any and all possibilities of harmony, implied dissonance and voice-leading, thus exposing their powers of raw invention for all to see.

The comparisons will take place against the background of music and writings by Froberger, Roberday, Gigault, Denis, Cousu, Parran, and others.

Last updated on 31 May 2004