Louis couperin harpsichord pieces - modern editions

PLEASE, let us keep this initial draft confidential: I may change my opinions once I have been working more deeply on this matter. Thank you!

I have often been told that Heugel (Alan Curtis ed.) 1970 (let me abbr. HAC) had been vastly surpassed by L’Oiseau-Lyre (Davitt Moroney ed.) 1985 (let me abbr. ODM).
Obviously the musical texts appear to be slightly different, as they are based on a comparison of the MSs Bauyn, Parville and a other minor sources.

Back in 1986, in the EARLY MUSIC magazine, May 1986 pp. 284ff., Richard Langham Smith wrote a review of ODM and compared it with HAC. He observed that ODM is a reprint, with corrections by Moroney, from the plates of an original edition from the 1930s. He also devoted a page to the question of the performance and notation of the Préludes. Finally, he observed that HAC tends to favour Parville and groups pieces in suites, while ODM tends to favour Bauyn and groups the pieces by tonality (as per the sources). However, Smith makes is no attempt to compare the musical qualities of both scores.

Which is what I have started today, mainly trying to find in ODM fixes to some readings in HAC which I find suspicious.

So I first spent the afternoon writing in HAC’s index (TABLE DES MATIERES) the page number equivalent in ODM. When this chore was over, I realised that entire pieces in either edition are missing in the other one.
Most notably, about two dozen pieces in ODM are missing in HAC (many pieces in Bauyn are of dubious attribution). So far so good, and this fact has been often commented upon.
Unfortunately, these missing pieces include at least one great masterpiece: a Chaconne in C major (w/4 Couplets), featured in a private recording by Scott Ross (Paris 1971) of which I have a copy.

Vice versa, a few pieces in HAC are missing in ODM. Among these, a handful on pages 179ff. The last page of the PDF carries the number 177. But my PDF may be a downloaded copy, not necessarily identical to the one that was on sale until a few years ago.

So far I have just carried out a very a cursory comparison, expecting to find ODM superior to HAC, according to prevalent opinion in harpsichord discussion forums (where Moroney was a member but Curtis was not) for decades.

Surprisingly, at first sight I find quite a few errors in the sources which are fixed (mostly as a suggestion between brackets) in HAC, but not in ODM, who obviously prefers to leave the originals untouched. Most of these are obvious trills and mordents. I just compared a piece which is arguably the best Sarabande by L. Couperin, in b minor, p. 35 in HAC, p. 169 in ODM: in the first section of the piece, ODM carries no trills, while HAC carries four (!), one supposedly original from a source, the other 3 suggested. When a source carries a cadential trill with a written-out termination but not a trill sign, all modern editors suggest a trill within parentheses for the benefit of the non-specialist player/student. Unfortunately, ODM begs to disagree and does not add suggested trills.
Even worse is when what is missing is an accidental: upon sight-reading one easily fails to realise until the wrong note has been played.

I intend to write more once I have made a thorough comparison of a few pieces in both editions.

Best
Claudio

I just noted an error in Richard Langham Smith’s comparison of both editions. He praises ODM for having more space between notes, being thus easier to read. I have compared HAC with the ODM’s pdf, enlarging it to the customary printing size of L’Oiseau-Lyre editions. I am surprised to find the very opposite: HAC is more generous with space than ODM! As a proof, the already-mentioned Sarabande is printed in 4 systems in ODM, while HAC devotes to it a full page with 6 systems.
For a confirmation, let us look at a Prélude, e.g. the Prélude à l`'imitation de M. de Froberger: 7.3 pages in HAC, only 5 pages in ODM.

Whoa! This is an enormous subject. There is another OL edition, between Paul Brunold and Davitt Moroney, that with Bob Thurston Dart’s name attached to it. You do not mention this. It is described on the title page as

“Pièces de Clavecin de Louis Couperin publiées par Paul Brunold et revues d’après le manuscrit Bauyn par Thurston Dart”. This one has a chaconne in C major with four couplets. It is No.26, on p.35 and is indeed a fine piece, that I have often played.

Thus, unlike your assumption, the Moroney edition is surely a “correction” (or improvement) of the Dart edition, without reference to the Curtis edition.

Somewhere, I have a copy of the Curtis edition, but not Davitt’s. I have a feeling that somebody prepared a concordance, but I am not sure about this. I also have Davitt’s facsimile edition of the Bauyn ms.

The basic problem is that early editions, as so often, were based on an incomplete knowledge of the sources and, indeed, the complete oeuvre – c.f. Froberger and Sweelinck.

David

I used HAC between 1978 and 1985, and then switched over to ODM, which
I’ve been using since then with no intention to switch back. I’m afraid
I disagree with you on quite a few points and continue to find Davitt
Moroney’s edition vastly superior, for many reasons.

  1. The quality of the edition - the paper, the binding, the engraving,
    etc. After only seven years of use, my Curtis volume is falling apart in
    much worse shape than the Moroney. The paper (color and texture) can’t
    compare either. And ODM’s engraving, especially of the preludes
    (contrary to what you write, they have been newly engraved for this
    edition), is more elegant. Of course, if you’re using a “downloaded” (?)
    copy for your comparison, it will be flawed from the start. And the
    horrible Le Pupitre cover!!
  2. Page turns: this would be in itself a sufficient reason, without all
    the others, to prefer ODM. A few examples. The great Prélude à
    l’imitation de Mr. Froberger has no less than 4 impossible page turns in
    HAC, and none in ODM. The D minor 2 in HAC and none in ODM, etc.
  3. Completeness: HAC doesn’t claim to be a complete edition, and has 100
    pieces, some of which are not by Couperin. ODM does claim to be
    complete, and only omits spurious works.
  4. ODM’s Introduction is much more thorough than HAC’s, Preface.
  5. The Critical Apparatus in ODM is also very detailed, while HAC has
    only a handful of footnotes.
  6. The grouping of the pieces in HAC is completely arbitrary.
  7. You mention “errors” that are “corrected” in HAC and not in ODM, and
    give as only example ornaments that have been added by Curtis and not by
    Moroney. This is also in my view one of the drawbacks of HAC: the
    numerous suggested ornaments. Today, no scholarly edition would add
    ornaments to a musical text. So far from being “unfortunate”, as you
    say, it is yet another argument in favor of ODM.
1 Like

Hi Dennis.
AFAIK, ODM started with an old (1930) edition based on Bauyn, and corrected it (using Parville when needed)
HAC edition was prompted by the discovery of Parville in 1968, and collated it with Bauyn. Parville appears to be contemporary with L. Couperin, thus earlier than Bauyn. Yet, it includes many more ornaments, which is why it was preferred as a source for HAC. And indeed, the ornaments suggested between brackets in HAC follow the style of Parville, often just suggesting an ornament which is present in a passage of a piece but then omitted in a similar one later.
The grouping in HAC is indeed arbitrary as explained in the Preface, although often follows Parville. Note that the grouping in ODM is also arbitrary, and although it follows Bauyn, it was unusual for the time. Most contemporary composers grouped pieces in suites (which both Bauyn and Parville do but only for a few pieces).
You are right that the apparatus in ODM is better. Yet HAC has interesting comparative footnotes in the score, which ODM lacks.
Another problem is that the PDF of ODM available nowadays just has Index and Score, without the critical apparatus. If you have it, please contact me privately.

Guess we will have to agree to disagree!

Thanks David!
I was puzzled by the multiple Moroney’s editions of 1985:

  1. Printed but no longer available for decades now.
  2. PDF sold online but no longer available already years ago.
  3. PDF that I have which lacks the lengthy Introduction.
    Although of course the score is the same.

Now you mention another edition by Davitt Moroney!
However, it cannot possibly be a collaborative one: Brunold died back in 1948, Thurston Dart in 1971.
I am pretty sure we are having different reprints of the very same ODM edition, with some variants perhaps in the titlepage.

If you mean the publication of the Bauyn ms in facsimile (Éditions Minkoff, Genève 1977-1998), this has extensive notes on the ms by Davitt. Although the title page states Édition entièrement revue et corrigée, it is not an edition in the usual sense, since it is entirely a facsimile reproduction of the ms.

As far as I can see, there were three successive editors for the O-L edition(s): Brunold, Dart and Moroney. I dont think that there was any suggestion that they worked together. Rather, the latter two refined the work of Brunold.

David

Le 02/08/2022 11:56, Claudio Di Veroli via The Jackrail écrit :

[CDV] CDV https://jackrail.space/u/cdv
August 2

Hi Dennis.

AFAIK, ODM started with an old (1930) edition based on Bauyn, and
corrected it (using Parville when needed)

But as, I said, the preludes (in my opinion by far the most important
section of the volume) were newly engraved and not taken from the old
edition.

HAC edition was prompted by the discovery of Parville in 1968, and
collated it with Bauyn. Parville appears to be contemporary with L.
Couperin, thus earlier than Bauyn. Yet, it includes many more
ornaments, which is why it was preferred as a source for HAC. And
indeed, the ornaments suggested between brackets in HAC follow the
style of Parville, often just suggesting an ornament which is present
in a passage of a piece but then omitted in a similar one later.

Curtis suggest ornaments that are obvious, but also adds completely
arbitrary ornaments - such as a “ribattuta” (sic!) in the Pavane (3
pages in HAC, vs 2 facing pages in ODM). In any case, I, and many
others, prefer a scholarly edition with no editorial suggestions for
performance.

The grouping in HAC is indeed arbitrary as explained in the Preface,
although often follows Parville. Note that the grouping in ODM is also
arbitrary, and although it follows Bauyn, it was unusual for the time.
Most contemporary composers grouped pieces in suites (which both Bauyn
and Parville do but only for a few pieces).
You are right that the apparatus in ODM is better. Yet HAC has
interesting comparative footnotes in the score, which ODM lacks.
Another problem is that the PDF of ODM available nowadays just has
Index and Score, without the critical apparatus. If you have it,
please contact me privately.

Of course I have the volume since it first came out and couldn’t live
without it. You can hardly count as “problem” the fact that the pirate
PDF you downloaded doesn’t have the Introduction and critical notes. Or
rather, it’s your problem, not anyone else’s.

Guess we will have to agree to disagree!

I see we do agree on the lousy layout of HAC page-turn-wise, and on all
the other advantages of ODM I mentioned (paper, engraving, binding).

On the other hand, you have yet to mention anything in favor of HAC
besides the added ornaments that nobody wants. And how can you even
think of comparing editions you haven’t even seen?

Le 02/08/2022 12:36, David Pickett via The Jackrail écrit :

As far as I can see, there were three successive editors for the O-L
edition(s): Brunold, Dart and Moroney. I dont think that there was any
suggestion that they worked together. Rather, the latter two refined
the work of Brunold.

Davitt explains at length (in no less than 13 points) the reasons why
his edition can be considered as new edition and not a simple “revised”
edition.

However Davitt Moroney is still signed in this forum, so I hope he will read and respond thus clarifying the puzzles.
I only own his edition so I can’t make comparisons but can only say it has a very comprehensive introduction, very worth of reading.

Dear Dennis.
Please – again! – don’t be offensive. the ornaments “nobody wants”, I want them (as suggestions), and I am not an ignoramus as far as harpsichord French music is concerned.

You may believe ODM is more readable, but I printed their version in the same size of L’Oiseau-.Lyre and the note spacing is better, not worse, than HAC. Please note that I already said this in a previous post.

Parville is arguably earlier and more complete ornament-wise than Bauyn. Curtis preferred Parville, and so do I.

At this point, I have quite a few reasons to prefer HAC.
But, please, feel free to prefer ODM!

As for my copy of ODM, it is not pirated, it appears to be one I once downloaded from IMSLP.

I also cannot understand why you imply that the Preludes are more important than the other pieces. Indeed, a handful of them are excellent. But there are dozen of measured pieces in Louis Couperin that are true masterpieces of the harpsichord literature.

But, as far as I know, his edition is no more available. The Curtis edition, does appear to be available.

David

David

Claudio, I am interested in this, but I don’t own HAC so I can’t compare. Would you be so kind as posting a couple pages from both editions? The same compositions should be better.

However, as a general statement, readability is not only depending on the spacing. More and more important things come into the equation: overall “blackness”, lines thickness, shape of the headnotes (more or less oblong and so on). Sometimes larger spacing leads to less readability music.

A very important factor in readability is the paper the music is printed on: white, off-white, cream-coloured, textured, high- or low- reflective, and so on.





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CDV Claudio Di Veroli
August 1

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I just noted an error in Richard Langham Smith’s comparison of both editions. He praises ODM for having more space between notes, being thus easier to read. I have compared HAC with the ODM’s pdf, enlarging it to the customary printing size of L’Oiseau-Lyre editions. I am surprised to find the very opposite: HAC is more generous with space than ODM! As a proof, the already-mentioned Sarabande is printed in 4 systems in ODM, while HAC devotes to it a full page with 6 systems.
For a confirmation, let us look at a Prélude, e.g. the Prélude à l`'imitation de M. de Froberger: 7.3 pages in HAC, only 5 pages in ODM.

Dear Domenico. I intend to compare only the pieces I have marked as masterpieces and which I do often play: about 20 of them. As soon as I find the first piece in which I find the comparison is really interesting, I will revert here posting scans of both editions.
Best
Claudio

I am also surprised that Dennis finds the Heugel binding lacking. Mine has been used ad nauseam and is still in very good shape. However, I have read this complaint elsewhere: obviously different reprints may have different binding quality: mine was a very early one.

And I fully agree with Dennis that the external title pages of Heugel are horrendous.

Le 02/08/2022 13:45, Claudio Di Veroli via The Jackrail écrit :

And I fully agree with Dennis that the external title pages of Heugel
are horrendous.

Well, at least we agree on one point.

Le 02/08/2022 13:14, Domenico Statuto via The Jackrail écrit :

However Davitt Moroney is still signed in this forum, so I hope he
will read and respond thus clarifying the puzzles.

There are no puzzles. Everything is very clearly explained in the front
material and the critical notes.

Hi Dennis again. Pavane and ribattuta.

AFAIK the Pavane has Bauyn as its only source.
Curtis’s “ribattuta” makes stylistic sense: we find written-out ribattute elsewhere in non-Italian works, even in a few pieces from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.
However, in this case I fully agree with Dennis.
Curtis could have suggested in a footnote that the player should feel free to add a ribattuta here, but he was wrong in writing it between brackets in the score: there is no evidence whatsoever that the composer meant a ribattuta here. As it stands, and because of the ensuing trill termination, the simple crotchet in the source should just have a suggested trill.

Le 02/08/2022 13:38, David Pickett via The Jackrail écrit :

But, as far as I know, his edition is no more available. The Curtis
edition, does appear to be available.

Yes, and it’s a pity, of course, but that doesn’t make it any better.
What I find absurd is Claudio’s idea of comparing modern editions - as
in the subject line - that he has only seen parts of.

Dear Dennis,

No, I am not “absurd”: the only thing I don’t have is ODM’s Introduction.

I clearly stated I am not writing a comparative review to be published.
I just intend to compare the scores of a few dozen pieces, that’s all, and post here the comparisons.
You should feel free not to read them.
You will find that I always look for conclusions in which we all agree.
I really prefer to keep discussions in that constructive atmosphere.