Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer (ca 1700-1755) composer, harpsichordist, teacher, and musical administrator, lived and worked in Paris from 1725 until his death. As a musician Royer was both productive and illustrious. Milestones in his career were his appointments as music teacher to the royal children (1734), as co-director of the Concert Spirituel (1748), and finally as composer of music for the king´s chamber and inspector general of the Opera (1753). Royer´s reputation as an opera composer was largely based on the success of one opera-ballet, Zaïde, which was frequently revived after its première in 1739, remaining in the repertoire until the 1770s. Several of his other operas were produced, meeting with varying degrees of success, although the music was always said to be “pleasing”.
Since Royer´s earliest claim to fame was as a harpsichordist, one would have hoped to find more than a single volume of published harpsichord pieces, especially as, when he died, it was said there were enough pieces to fill two more books. Royers sole published volume of harpsichord music appeared in 1746. There was no second edition the music may have appeared too difficult for amateur players.
In texture and style Royer´s pieces resemble the closely contemporary music of Duphly, Balbastre, and perhaps most of all the harpsichord arrangements published in 1747 of Forquerays pieces for viola da gamba. If the circulation of the volume was limited, as indicated by the lack of demand for a second edition, that fact is regrettable, because the music works beautifully in performance.
The Forquerays. Of this important musical dynasty, we are here concerned only with the two best-known members, Antoine and his son, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine. Antoine was born in Paris in 1671 or 1672. At a very early age, his gamba playing won him the patronage of Louis XIV, who in December 1689 made him Musician-in-Ordinary for the viols, a post he held for the rest of his life. To augment his salary, Forqueray gave lucrative private lessons to members of the royal family and the aristocracy and, in spite of an evidently tempestuous and unstable character, soon achieved a solo reputation that was equaled only by that of Marin Marais. The latter was appreciated for the sweetness of his playing, while Forqueray´s outstanding qualities were his virtuosity and his complete mastery of the new and fashionable Italian style. Towards the end of the 1720´s he retired to Mantes, outside Paris, where he died in 1745.
Two years after his father´s death, under a nine-year royal privilege, the younger Forqueray published five suites for solo harpsichord. Forqueray had sound commercial reasons for doing so: the gamba had lately “fallen into a kind of Oblivion” in fact, by 1747 the cause was already lost. For harpsichord music, on the other hand, there was a large public. Paris was by this time the leading centre of harpsichord building and restoring in the world, and Forqueray could count on as many amateurs as professionals buying the keyboard version. He may also have had his own wife in mind: in 1741 he had married the well-known Parisian harpsichordist, Marie-Rose Du Bois (who probably played a major role in the harpsichord transcriptions).
Apart from a handful of dances in manuscript by the elder Forqueray, these thirty-two compositions are all we now possess. An obituary notice of Antoine speaks of about three hundred pieces by him surviving, but no Second Livre ever appeared. Even so, this relatively small number of descriptive pieces and portraits provides ample evidence of a forceful personality. “Capricious, whimsical, bizarre”, Le Blanc called Antoine Forqueray, and so are some of these astonishing Italianate tours de force. But there is at the same time a French side to Forqueray, tender and very appealing. Together the two aspects add up to a distinctive voice in French eighteenth-century harpsichord literature.
Jacques Duphly was born in Rouen, Normandy, in 1715, where he later became a pupil of Dagincourt.
Little is known of Duphly´s life. For a time he was an organist at Rouen but, finding he had a greater gift for the harpsichord, he went to Paris where he remained until his death in 1789, earning his living as a performing artist and a harpsichord teacher to the aristocracy. Dagincourt may have been Duphly´s teacher, but Rameau´s music serves as Duphly´s chief model.
One may assume he did well in Paris since he passed for a very good harpsichordist. “He has much lightness of touch and a certain softness which, sustained by ornaments, marvellously render the character of his pieces” (Pierre-Louis Daquin, 1752).
The harpsichord maker, Pascal Taskin, counted “Dufly” among the best teachers in Paris. Yet towards the end of his life Duphly lost some of his former popularity. He was already overshadowed by the names “en vogue”: Balbastre, Eckard, Edelmann and Hullemandel.
The four printed collections of “Pièces de Clavecin” are all undated, but were announced in “Le Mercure” in 1744, 1748, 1758 and 1768.
On July 15, 1789 the day after the outbreak of the revolution Duphly died in his modest apartment at Hôtel de Juigné where he seems to have spent the last years of his life. Evidently Duphly never married: his chief legatee was his manservant of 30 years, Nicolas Depommier. According to the estate inventory the property left by Duphly consisted of some gravures, 104 volumes of Voltaire and 19 volumes of “ancienne musique”. There was not even a harpsichord.
Armand-Louis Couperin (1727-1789) composer, organist and harpsichordist, a member of the Couperin family of musicians, of which the most notable were his great uncle Louis and his cousin François. Born in Paris, his mother died when he was only 17 months and he was raised by his father, Nicolas, also a composer and the successor to François “Le Grand” as organist at St. Gervais in 1748.
Nothing is known of Couperin´s education, though his library at the time of death contained 885 books, unusual for a musician and evidence of scholarly interest.
At age 21, Couperin´s father died without leaving a will, making him the sole heir of both his parents.
His inheritance included Nicolas´s post at St. Gervais. In 1752, Couperin married Elisabeth-Antoinette Blanchet, a professional musician and the daughter of the best harpsichord maker in France, François-Etienne Blanchet. They had four children, three of whom became musicians.
Couperin and his wife taught harpsichord lessons and she was the organist at the abbey of Montmartre. Following his departure from St. Gervais, Couperin´s many posts included St. Barthélemy (to 1772), St. Jean-en-Grève, the convent of the Carmes-Billettes, Notre Dame (from 1755), the Sainte-Chapelle (from 1760), Sainte Marguerite, and the royal chapel (from 1770).
Couperin died at 61 in Paris in a traffic accident while hurrying from Vespers at Ste. Chapelle to St. Gervais.
References to Couperin by his contemporaries, including Charles Burney, laud his improvisational virtuosity (often on the Te Deum hymn) and established his reputation as one of the two best organists of the era. Nevertheless, only one piece for organ exists today.
Couperin did not publish his church music and he refused to write for the theater. His surviving works are almost exclusively for the keyboard.
An example of his experimental urge to explore the possibilities of instruments is his Simphonie de clavecins, the only work in existence that requires two harpsichords with genouillères (knee-levers that allowed diminuendos).
Claude-Bénigne Balbastre was a composer, organist, harpsichordist and fortepianist. He was born in Dijon in 1724. Balbastres father, Bénigne, a church organist in Dijon, had 18 children from two marriages. Claude was the16 th. He received his first music lessons from his father, then became a pupil of Claude Rameau, the younger brother of Jean-Philippe Rameau, the most famous French musician at the time and also a native of Dijon.
Balbastre settled in Paris in 1750 and studied there with Pierre Février, whom he succeeded as organist of the Saint Roch church. Jean-Philippe Rameau helped and protected Balbastre when he settled in the city, so Balbastre was quickly and efficiently introduced to the Parisian musical circles and high society, and made a brilliant career: he played at the Concert Spirituel until 1782, became organist of the Notre-Dame cathedral and of the Chapelle Royale, became harpsichordist to the French royal court where he taught queen Marie-Antoinette, and became organist for Louis-Stanislas-Xavier, Count of Provence, who later became Louis XVIII, King of France. Balbastre´s fame was so great that the archbishop of Paris had to forbid him to play at Saint Roch during some of the services, because the churches were always crowded when Balbastre played.
An account of one of these services at Saint Roch is provided by Dr Charles Burney who recounts that, on Sunday 17 June 1770, he left a dinner early in order to hear the “celebrated” Balbastre play the organ at Saint Roch. Balbastre “performed in all styles in accompanying the choir. When the Magnificat was sung, he played likewise between each verse several minuets, fugues, imitations, and every species of music, even to hunting pieces and jigs, without surprising or offending the congregation, as far as I was able to discover.”
Burney visited Balbastre at home and reported that the latter owned a very beautiful harpsichord by Ruckers: “After church M. Balbastre invited me to his house, to see a fine Rucker harpsichord which he has had painted inside and out with as much delicacy as the finest coach or even snuff-box I ever saw at Paris.” He also reported that he owned a “very large organ, with pedals, which it may be necessary for a French organist to have for practice; it is too large and coarse for a chamber, and the keys are as noisy as those at St. Roque (sic.)” Burney reports that Balbastre was on very good terms with his fellow composer Armand-Louis Couperin, to whom he introduced Burney, remarking “I was glad to see two eminent men of the same profession, so candid and friendly together.”
In 1763, he married Marie-Geneviève Hotteterre, daughter of Jacques Martin Hotteterre and descendant of the famous family of Norman musicians. During the French Revolution, Balbastre´s connection with nobility and the royal court might have endangered his life, but he adapted to the new political situation, playing the Revolutionary hymns and songs on his organ. He did lose his official jobs and, temporarily, his pension. He died in Paris in 1799.
The notion of the harpsichord as a symbol of the loathsome aristocracy is the main reason why so relatively few harpsichords have been preserved from 18th century Paris, the city where harpsichord manufacturing was hot, both for new instruments and which was even more profitable extending and rebuilding Flemish 17th century harpsichords. It is even said that Balbastre once cried out:
“The pianoforte will never replace the majestic harpsichord!”
Well, we all know what happened. After the Revolution, the pianoforte became the preferred instrument in the homes of the “bourgeoisie”. / A.D.