François Couperin was the most illustrious member of a dynasty of musicians comparable to that of the Bach family. There is every reason to believe that his name "Couperin the Great", first found in writing in 1780, had already been bestowed upon him during his lifetime to distinguish him from the other musicians in his family. In addition to his duties as the King's organist at Versailles, Couperin taught the harpsichord to many students from the royal family and the ranks of the nobility and, at the turn of the century, he was as active a composer as he was a performer. His work for harpsichord represents the most prominent part of his musical production with his pedagogical work L'Art de toucher le clavecin, or “The Art of Playing the Harpsichord” in English. The work was published in 1716 and deals with ornamentation, fingering, the general position of the body, – particularly focusing on the wrists - the touch, the character of the instrument, and so on. Also from this fruitful period we find his twenty-seven "orders" - a term he used to refer to a group of pieces with similar tonalities, halfway between a suite and an anthology. The work is divided into four volumes, published between 1713 and 1730. He develops a world of poetic fantasy that takes on the form of simple dance movements, portraits, "character pieces", pastoral paintings or theatrical miniatures. Here the Swedish harpsichordist Carole Cerasi offers us the complete works, spread over ten albums including L'Art de toucher le clavecin and the four Books, which she distributes over six different harpsichords.
Volumes 4, 5 and the first half of the 6th include the entire Second Book, published in 1717. His seven orders, which vary hugely in size, contain some pieces that have become famous outside their context: Les Moissoneurs and Les Baricades Mistérieuses. Anna Magdalena Bach had included the Bergeries in her Clavierbüchlein dating from 1725 - proof that Bach held Couperin in very high esteem. In the Eleventh Order we find the satirical piece Les Fastes de la Grande et Ancienne Mxnxstrxndxsx, a joke by Couperin which we should read as "Ménéstrandise.” This was a brotherhood of musicians founded in 1321 who tried to impose a tax on musicians who were not members, including harpsichordists. Couperin was one of those who protested before the King and the Ménéstrandise was dissolved. The Second Book is divided between two harpsichords, a copy of a Parisian instrument by Antoine Vater (1738) and the copy of the 1624 Ruckers harpsichord again, which had been used for L'Art de toucher le clavecin. © SM/Qobuz