François Couperin’s rondeau in Style Brisé for Harpsichord, performed by Hanneke van Proosdij. Double manual French harpsichord by Johannes Klinkhamer, after the Ruckers-Goujon in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Pitch: A=392 Hz.
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The mystery of Couperin’s barricades
Over the years, a myriad theories have been proposed to explicate the enigmatic title of Couperin’s justly famous rondeau, Les baricades mistérieuses (Ordre 6ème). Although we may never know Couperin’s intent, it is intriguing to consider the primary meaning of the terms as they were understood in the baroque. The word baricades (or barricades), comes from the late renaissance “barriques” and also “barricado.” The barriques were casks, such as were used for wine and beer, and these ubiquitous road ornaments were filled with rubble as the standard way to block a road, mysteriously in the night, as part of a popular revolt in Paris.
The custom of road-blocking with wine barrels began in 1588 (la journée des barricades) and continued well past the French Revolution. In 1670, an Englishman famously and tellingly remarked on this custom, “All the world has heard of the Barricades of Paris.” Anyone mentioning this term in France in the renaissance or baroque would immediately evoke this image; it was part of daily life, and the “baricades” were visible everywhere, just like a traffic jam.
However, the standard definition does not somehow fit with the graceful sway of the music, so perhaps the true meaning of the title will always be a mystery.
Couperin’s beautifully engraved print uses the spelling “baricades,” so that is the spelling we use here.