Thomas Adès (1971)

Three Studies from Couperin (2006)

for chamber orchestra


  • General information
    • Composition date: 2006
    • Duration: 12 mn
    • Publisher: Faber Music, Londres
    • Commission: Orchestre de chambre de Bâle, avec le soutien de la Fondation Ernst von Siemens et de la Fondation Paul Sacher
Detailed formation
  • 2 flutes (also 1 alto flute, 1 bass flute), clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns, trumpet, percussionist, 8 violins, 8 second violins, 6 violas, 6 cellos, 4 double basses [les cordes sont divisées en 2 orchestres 44332]

Premiere information

  • Date: 21 April 2006

    Suisse, Bâle, Église Saint-Martin


    l'Orchestre de chambre de Bâle, direction : Thomas Adès.

Table of contents

  • I. Les Amusemens
  • II. Les Tours de passe-passe
  • III. L'Âme-en-peine

Program note

François Couperin (1668-1733) filled four big volumes with music to scurry, leap, swoon or tease under the fingers. Adès had a first brush with this great encyclopedia of wit, passion and intelligence in 1994, when he arranged ‘Les Barricades mistérieuses’, a strange instance of Baroque minimalism, for instrumental septet. Last year he returned for more, in response to a commission from the Basle Chamber Orchestra, and produced this triptych, in which the keyboard originals are reconfigured for dual ensembles of strings with seven woodwind and brass soloists plus a percussion player. The adaptation is extremely subtle. Couperin’s style involves a lot of repetition, which Adès varies by delicately altering the orchestration or by adding shadows or haloes to the parts, so imitating and extending the techniques of touch and registration a performer at the harpsichord would use. Similarly, he scrupulously notates the kind of languourously drawn rhythm Couperin might have expected for the last piece here.

‘Les Amusemens’, done with the strings and brass muted throughout, becomes a study in felted sonorities. ‘Les Tours de passe-passe’ (Conjuring Tricks) deceives the ear with ideas staggered between instruments; here Adès overlaps in his choice with Richard Strauss, who also made a suite of Couperin arrangements for chamber orchestra (his Divertimento of 1940-41). ‘L’Âme-en-peine’ (The Soul in Torment) provides the finale.

Paul Griffiths.