2(I=afl.II=bfl).0.1.1 – 18.104.22.168 – perc(1): bass mar/2 small metal bars or anvils (enclûmes)/BD/3 timp/5 rototoms – 2 string orchestras (ideally 22.214.171.124.2 each)
Score and parts for hire
Thomas Adès’s Three Studies from Couperin are not his first re-imaginings of Couperin’s keyboard music. He wrote a version of Les barricades mystèrieuses in 1994, but the Three Studies are the latest expression of his love for the French 18th-century master, and were written last year for the Basel Chamber Orchestra. Each piece – Les Amusemens, Les Tours de Passe-Passe and L'âme en peine – is taken from a different collection of Couperin pieces, has the same number of bars as the original, and contains the same harmonies and rhythms. So why, then, are these pieces ‘studies’ and not simply ‘arrangements’? Adès may take nothing away from Couperin’s original pieces, but he adds to them. Using an orchestra – really two, since the heart of the ensemble is a double string orchestra – Adès makes each piece an investigation of a different musical idea: the textural amusement of the first, the way the melody melts from the bass flute solo to bassoon, to the strings and the brass, or the amplification of Couperin’s pain-wracked soul in the third piece into a multi-faceted musical space. The second, Couperin’s ‘magic tricks’ is the most spectacular of all, as Adès’s own compositional sleight of hand creates a rhythmic tempest in the music’s final moments.
The results never sound like anyone else but Adès, even if his Studies release ideas dormant in Couperin’s originals.
© Tom Service