Variations for Wind Quintet

Francois Couperin’s “Les Baricades Misterieuses” (The Mysterious Barricades) is a piece which has fascinated and inspired poets, artists and composers since it was first published in 1717 as part of the VIth Ordre de Clavecin.

The title itself has inspired repeated attempts at explanation, ranging from the technical (a supposed reference to a style of lute-playing) to sexual (on the polite end, referring to a lady’s eyelashes – on the opposite, certain obstructive undergarments) to metaphysical (involving time, life, and death).

The music itself is not untypical of the Baroque, with a rondeau form and chords that function like a theory student would expect. But using that typical framework, Couperin’s piece never quite sits still. – endless suspensions never quite resolve, while the rhythm gently whirls and spins out to the end of the piece. For something so simple, it is haunting.

I absolutely fell in love with the piece on first hearing, and found that those suspensions never quite seemed to resolve even after the recording was over. I decided to write an homage to the work, trying (probably vainly) to capture some of that magic, with added splashes of whimsy and fantasy.

The first movement rearranges kernels of material from the rondeau of Couperin’s piece – literally the first eight measures. The second movement is something of a minimalist ode taking material from Couperin’s “1st Couplet”. The third movement is the slow movement, using materials from the “3rd Couplet” in the accompaniment, and lifting melodic material from the whole piece. Finally, the fourth movement takes a whirlwind trip from beginning to end of the original.

Movement titles and approximate timings:
I. Rondeau – 3 minutes
II. Luwian Barricades – 5 minutes
III. Aria – 3 minutes
IV. Fin, &c. – 5 minutes
Total duration – approximately 16 minutes

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