I call this series “Stunningly Powerful Pieces You May Not Know But That Bryan Lowe Would Love For You to Hear at Least Once in Your Lifetime”. That’s a big promise, done a little tongue in cheek, but if you are ready for a bit of an adventure, I’ll do my best to deliver. Part one featured Ravel’s masterpiece, Concerto for the Left Hand, while part two explored Cunning Little Vixen by Janacek. (link) –
I knew the first two pieces wouldn’t be enjoyed by absolutely everyone, as they both overflow with intensity and cutting edge genius for their day. Today my “must hear” work will suit just about everyone when played by at least once of the instruments below. It’s Mysterious Barricades by Couperin. Compared to the previous works I’ve shared it sounds simple, yet there is something about it that I find so beautiful as well as universal and timeless.
Les Barricades Mystérieuses, what we call The Mysterious Barricades, was composed in 1717 for the harpsichord by François Couperin as the fifth piece in the second book of works by the composer. There’s a lot of music there, but only harpsichordists can name any of the others in the collection. THIS is the piece that has been adapted for virtually every instrument you can think of short of Theremin, and that instrument may next!
Let’s get right to it with a performance for harpsichord, as Couperin intended. Then we will go pretty far afield with other performances.
It’s really worth remembering that music notation, how the composer leaves his/her intentions on a sheet of paper, can be very imprecise. It’s shocking sometimes to hear just how different performances of a given piece can be. The woman above gives me a great sense of the mystery we see in the title, while the rapid pace and lack of rhythmic lilt below, I guess you could say, reminds me more of something along the lines of a butterfly or even a bee flying from flower to flower across a field. The energy is totally different.
I was talking with one of our own music experts, Christophe Chagnard, about this, and he reminded me that much of the music from this time was written as dance music, which means that Couperin would not have taken so many liberties with the tempo of the piece. I’d also guess that he wouldn’t try to race through it!
What of the name of the piece itself? Mysterious Barricades. What does that even mean? There is no consensus on this, but the ideas for Couperin’s intentions are fascinating in their own right. Some say it eludes to a common way of referring to women’s eyelashes among the Salonnière of the 17th century. I can imagine that in this next performance. Elegant dances, fluttering eyelashes and looks of near forbidden longing. Or is it just me? 😉 Some even say it is inspired by women’s chastity belts, so…
Or does the name refer to:
- Impeded communication between people?
- The barricade between past and present and future?
- The unknown jump from life to death?
I’ll let you decide for yourself, though I’d love for any of these to be “true”. We will most likely never know.
Let’s hear a few more performances. I’ll turn next to the guitar, and there are a LOT of performances to be found along those lines. Banjo, even. I’m trying to control myself on how many verisons I share, but I simply have to share this link, as I love the enthusiasm this performer has for the piece. Then there is this guitarists lovely performance at Versailles.
I’ve always been a sucker for marimbas and vibraphones, so let’s hear one of those performing this beautiful piece.
So how to end this look at one of my favorite pieces? I found performances for accordion, cello ensembles and on and on. Check them out on YouTube. But I’ve decided to close with an animated visualization of the music itself, one that is suggestive if not literally accurate. Does this approach help you figure out what the title means to you?
So which is YOUR favorite? Let me know below. More favorites to come.
Classical KING FM Host