Louis Couperin's Unmeasured Prelude #9 (17th C.)

Written for the Harpsichord

Caution:  played on an electronic instrument with 'vibraphone' setting

Sheet Music for the unmeasured prelude (whole-notes, no bar lines)

    Page 1 - the sound file is here too.
    Page 2
    Page 3

My more traditional slow-piano-music page.

The Unmeasured Prelude (L.Couperin and others used these to open Suites) is played here, back in 1992, on a Yamaha YPR9 touch-sensitive 63-key electric keyboard, via its Memory function, which records whatever brief piece you play.

Unfortunately for the erudite, I used a Vibraphone setting!  Still, harpsichord notes last longer than piano notes, though they certainly don't carry on a vibrato. But I have a fondness for Vibes.  Louis might have been amused.
This is essentially a cocktail lounge rendition of that beautiful piece.  Since there's no editing, there are a couple of notes missing where my fingers didn't make it.
    Also, when playing slower music on the harpsichord, the bass tends not to be struck at the same instant as the top top notes, unless for special emphasis, as it produces a hard thuddy sound on that instrument. While this is not a harpsichord, the same approach was used.

All notes are whole notes, there are no bar lines, and the timing of individual notes is determined by (my understanding of) the practice of the time, plus clues given in the phrase-grouping of notes. There's no one right way to play it.

I've included scans of the 3 pages, and the mp3 is linked on the first sheet music page..

It seems to me that musicians like Frescobaldi (especially), Froberger, Louis Couperin, if born this century, probably would have had an interest in jazz. To those who find the vibraphone setting trivializing, I apologize. I think I'll put a Purcell Fantasia with blue-notes up next (once I find it), just a short segment by Harnoncourt and crew in the early 60s.

Here is more on the origin of these types of preludes:

The Prelude

From Todd Billeci's pages

Until the early 17th century, preludes were not written down. Rather, the prelude was purely improvisational, employed by performing artists to ready the hands, test hall acoustics and tuning, and announce the key of subsequently performed works. Thomas Mace wrote in 1675:

The Prelude is commonly a Piece of Confused-wild-Shapeless-kind of Intricate- Play (as most use It) in which no perfect Form, Shape or Uniformity can be perceived; but a Random Business and Grooping, up and down from one stop or Key to another; And generally, so performed, to make Tryal, whether the Instrument be Well in Tune or not...

William Byrd published one of the first preludes in Parenthia  (1612), consisting of a miniscule ten measures of scale figurations over major and minor triads. Two decades later, the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book  (1630) contained only 18 preludes among the 1,297 compositions inscribed therein. The preludes of Frescobaldi (1583-1643) helped to expand the form via the inclusion of extended written- out instructions permitting his preludes to be performed within a specified framework while preserving an improvisational feel.  Louis Couperin, Gaspard le Roux and D'Anglebert expounded upon this idea by writing unmeasured preludes with phrasing (legato) markings to suggest gestures while preserving the desired improvisationality.

After 1650, when the cohesive tonal system of major and minor keys supplanted the earlier system of modified modes, the prelude's role in anouncing the key became less important and the form emerged on its own as an outgrowth of the figurated  preludes based on arpeggios inspired by lute music (e.g., Prelude 1, Book I). The WTC reflects the remarkable evolution of the prelude in that the preludes of the WTC encompass an extraordinary variety of Baroque forms.



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