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A Rameaukin of Rameau’s kin

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Credit: Christophe Rousset by Eric Larrayadieu

On Saturday afternoon the Coolidge Collective (my new name for our dedicated audience) will descend on the Library for a fête du clavecin, served by the great harpsichordist and founder/director of Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset. The program will include a delectable assortment of harpsichord works both familiar and less so, featuring music by François Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau and Joseph Nicolas Pancrace Royer.

This music was all published within an approximately twenty-year period between c. 1728 and 1746, and represents three distinct styles from three generations of influential writers of harpsichord music. Rousset will start with François Couperin’s final harpsichord collection (the twenty-seventh “ordre” from his fourth book of harpsichord pieces), a concise set that nevertheless offers a compelling glimpse of the breadth of Couperin’s contributions.

A lusty helping of Rameau follows, with a major portion of the Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de clavecin, and excerpts from the infrequently heard transcriptions that Rameau made of his opéra-ballet Les Indes galantes. A common theme throughout these pieces (and indeed throughout the entire program) is the portrayal of the “exotic” and “foreign” through descriptive titles and allusive musical tropes. From a 21st-century perspective it may be difficult to identify these references audibly, but they may well have been more accessible to the French Baroque audience. Les Sauvages in particular was extremely popular in Rameau’s time, and was adapted for inclusion in his later work Les Indes galantes.

The final group of pieces is by the lesser-known Royer, the youngest composer of the batch. The selections chosen for this performance demonstrate Royer’s individual approach to ornamentation while remaining part of a stylistic continuum.

Space, combined with the complexity of the topic, has prevented me from adequately addressing the “exotic” theme of this concert—more specifically, the historical portrayal in “art music” of the exotic “other.” Whole books have been written about this thorny topic (for instance, read Ralph Locke’s 2009 book Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections, which includes a section on Rameau’s Les Indes galantes); dealing with the consequences of positive and negative portrayals of other cultures is a worthy and ongoing effort. The music of these accomplished composers inspired by “exotic” sources is fascinating with and without their “other” baggage.

Event program

This concert is presented in cooperation with the Cultural Service of the Embassy of France and its partner Safran USA, and is further supported by Gregory and Regina Annenberg Weingarten/The Annenberg Foundation, and by Institut Français.

Event Listing

Christophe Rousset, harpsichord
Saturday, April 13, 2013, 2:00 p.m. – Jefferson Building, Coolidge Auditorium

L’exotisme au clavecin


Quatrième Livre de Pièces de clavecin: Vingt-septième ordre (1730)

Les Pavots
Les Chinois


Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de clavecin: Suite in G (c. 1728)

Les Tricotets: Rondeau
La Poule

Menuets I & II
Les Triolets
Les Sauvages

Les Indes galantes, Suite de ballet transcrite pour clavecin (1735)

Air pour les esclaves affricains
Air grave pour les Incas du Pérou
Rondeaux gratieux

Gavottes I & II


Premier Livre de Pièces pour clavecin: Suite in D (1746)

La Majestueuse: Courante
La Zaïde: Rondeau: Tendrement
Les Matelots
: Modérément
I & II

Free, tickets required. Visit for more information.

This concert is SOLD OUT. Space-available passes will be distributed beginning at 12:00 p.m. in the Coolidge Lobby. Unclaimed reserved seats will be allocated to space-available pass holders sequentially beginning at 1:30 p.m.

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