L’art de toucher le clavecin 1,2,3 for piccolo with violin and percussion 2009
L’art de toucher le clavecin is the title of a famous instructional pamphlet by François Couperin, the master claveciniste of the French Baroque, which gives a concise but invaluable guide to interpretation, performance, and ornamentation of the singular keyboard music of that time and place.
The present series of works (one for piccolo solo, this duet, and a third for piccolo with violin and percussion) forms, I suppose, some sort of homage to Couperin’s aesthetic of ornamented surface, of a simple ground-gesture that is forced to proliferate if it wants to inhabit a space. Most obviously, there is “melodic” ornamentation everywhere, not only where one expects to see it—in the form of trills, mordents, and other related figures adorning fundamentally simple gestures of pitch and breath—but also in the structure of the piece, which takes the form of a fitful and gap-filled flowering of a small stable of “stock figures.”
The purest expression of the aesthetic of ornament in this work, though, is in the role played by the violin. Given its own, somewhat non-specific set of ad hoc notational conventions, the violin is always absolutely subordinate and reactive to the piccolo, in its shadow dynamically, gesturally and structurally, playing out a servile dedication to filling the spaces that the piccolo suggests and then abandons. The violin exists as ornamentor in a pure sense: it is an intermediary between the bare facts of recurrence, restatement and progression that the piccolo proposes as the structure of the work and a continuous temporal surface that it seeks to fill with gesture, to say nothing of lyricism.