Instrument of the week: Harpsichord!

In the comments of my Wall Song Query, astute commenter David mentioned some music I love that I hadn’t listened to in years: Les Baricades Mysterieuses by Couperin. How fortuitous! I was looking for an instrument of the week, and it may as well be the trusty harpsichord:

This piece is, in fact, the entire reason Seraphina plays keyboards at all. When I was very young I had a disastrous course of piano lessons, ending with my teacher telling my mother to stop wasting money on me. You know it’s bad when you can’t pay the teacher to teach. I still don’t like piano music to this day — with a few exceptions — but I like harpsichord, and this Couperin piece is the reason. When Seraphina says, “The timbre of [the harpsichord] is, to me, the musical equivalent of a warm bath” — that’s me, talking about this piece.

There are lots of renditions of this piece on YouTube, including some performed on guitar and (bleargh!) piano. I chose this one because I enjoyed watching this fellow play, he takes it at a humane but lively pace, and I wanted to point out the painting inside the instrument lid. Seraphina’s spinet (a related but differently oriented keyboard instrument) has kittens inside the lid. I love this stuff.

I have one more eccentric anecdote to relate about Les Barricades Mysterieuses. My sister and I used to love making mix tapes for a particular friend of ours. This was in ancient times, so we were often recording off vinyl. It was a point of pride with my sister to leave no blank space at the end of a tape, to have all the music fit perfectly (I would just let it cut off in the middle of a song, which drove her nuts). Anyway, we had just a minute or two of space at the end of our friend’s tape, and we were racking our brains trying to find a piece short enough to fit, when we lit upon this Couperin. Still, it was going to be close. We held our breaths as it recorded, and — miracle of miracles — it fit perfectly. My sister and I cheered and laughed, celebrating, and apparently we were so loud that the needle of the record player picked up the vibrations. Our friend could hear the ghostly echo of our laughter on the tape.


3 Comments on “Instrument of the week: Harpsichord!”

  1. Mike Omelanuk says:

    Many years ago, I became a fan of E. Power Biggs who was a premier organist. Less known for his Harpsichord music, I love his album “Holiday For Harpsichord” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDB6-oXT8es and his album of Scott Joplin rags http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnRmp5pOZb4 – You can also find him playing Bach on the harpsichord http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAmgeYjgfyk

  2. Elizabeth says:

    The Couperin was on my Graduate Listening Exam list that I had been madly studying for my exit exams for my Master’s in Music degree. Les Baricades Mysterieuses is so distinctive, and so fun! I was sorry it wasn’t chosen as one the random examples on the actual test (which was yesterday, and I rocked out!). I was also lucky enough to have a harpsichord for one of my sets for my Master’s Degree, two Handel arias. More harpsichords in my life, please!

  3. I just can’t even… wow.


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