Ornamental There’s an intricately ornamental quality to Couperin’s music, fitting for the highly embellished chambers and salons in which it was performed. If his trills and mordents, appoggiaturas and tremblements are followed to the letter (as he insisted they should be), his music quivers and trembles, sighs and yearns.
Poetic Many have reflected on the poetic qualities of Couperin, whose music has all the imagery and condensed expressivity of poetry. Period instrument specialist Jordi Savall described him as a ‘poet musician par excellence’ while others have likened his pièces to tone poems – Richard Strauss even orchestrated some as such.
Playful With a spirited burlesque style, Couperin sketches affectionate caricatures of street performers (below), tumblers, buffoons and comedians using a mix of piping melodies, plodding rhythms, acrobatic dances, lolloping, misplaced accents and jarring dissonances to suggest the grotesque. Wistful Couperin’s frequent use of yearning suspensions and dissonances, combined with his languorous melodies and self-avowed preference for things ‘which touch me, rather than surprise me’ all lend a subtly wistful quality to his music.