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davidh

Couperin Organ Masses

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I have known the two Couperin Organ Masses for well over half a century, but for much of that time they were a puzzle to me. 21 beautiful movements in each, but how did this ragbag count as AN organ mass? At that time it was the custom for every performer and every recording artist to play only the organ movements.

 

I later learned that the liturgical setting had originally consisted of plain-chant, but the custom changed so that the first line of the plain-chant was sung and the organist then continued with music based on that chant, often so that a knowledgeable member of the congregation could mentally sing-along with the music.

 

So, I would expect that each track of a good recording would begin with the plain-chant and then continue with the organ. What I find is that recent recordings begin with organ music, and with a short section of plain-chant at the end of the track. So what is going on?

 

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I found this, written by Darren Warren Steele of the University of Mississippi US – to which I have added considerably! I think it might answer your query, particularly in how to the two Masses of Couperin might be performed.

 

The background of Couperin's organ compositions begins when Couperin’s father, Charles, organist at St. Gervais in Paris, died in 1679. Couperin Jnr. was only ten years old. St. Gervais was an important post in Paris and the church , recognizing the boy’s talent, agreed to appoint a temporary organist (Delalande) until he reached the age of eighteen when he could fully take up the post. Later, in 1693, when he was 25, he was named principal organist and court musician to King Louis XIV at the Palace of Versailles, a position he would retain until his retirement in 1730. Couperin performed his duties between Versailles and St. Gervais until 1723, when his son Nicolas assumed many of the services at St. Gervais but he continued to play the organ at there on a semi-retired basis until his death in 1733.

 

At twenty-one, Couperin obtained from Louis XIV permission to publish and sell his music. His first publication was Pièces d’Orgue (1690), containing his only surviving organ works, the two organ masses. The music is not even printed—only the title page and the royal privilege are engraved, along with blank staves where a professional copyist wrote out the music by hand.

 

An edict handed down by the Archbishop of Paris in 1662, the Cérémonial des églises de Paris, strictly regulated the use of the organ in Parisian churches. As a result, all of the organ masses dating from around Couperin's time up to about 1715, written by the likes of Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers at St. Sulpice and Nicolas Lebegue, titulair of St. Merri, both organistes du Roi, are similar in form. The Mass à l’Usage ordinaire des Paroisses, pour les Festes solemnelles (usually translated as Mass for the Parishes) is the larger of the two Masses and was intended for the principal feasts of the church year and written for a great organ such as was at St. Gervais. In a liturgical performance, in this Mass, the brief organ pieces (versets) alternate with the Gregorian chant Cunctipotens genitor Deus (Liber Usualis – Mass IV pg. 25) sung by a schola cantorum, to build up the Common of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) that are part of every Mass. The choice of form and style in some versets is based on French tradition. For example, the first and last versets of the Kyrie and the first verset of the Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are plein chant movements composed in an old-fashioned contrapuntal style with the chant melody played in long notes by the pedal. The second verset of the Kyrie is a fugue on the reed stops based on the chant melody. In the remaining versets, the chant is absent altogether. Many of the récits (accompanied solos), duets, trios, and dialogues, are more strongly expressive or flamboyant, and speak a secular musical language. In his first major work, the young Couperin was already learning to incorporate the graceful, ornamented melodic style and dance-like rhythms of the French stage into his instrumental music.

 

An interesting feature of the Gloria is the inconclusive sound at the end of each verset. This is because the original chant is in the fourth mode, ending on E; baroque composers treated this mode as A minor, with cadences on E. One aspect of the mass that was not so closely proscribed by the Archbishop was the offertory, and here Couperin gives free rein to his imagination; it is in three parts and is distinguished by its highly chromatic counterpoint and loose handling of voice exchanges. It is much more than a verset. Inspired by the theatrical overture, and uninterrupted by sung chant, it consists of three distinct sections: a grave and majestic opening, an academic fugue with highly dissonant entries, and a lively gigue. In both the Sanctus and Agnus Dei the opening verset contains a canon (exact melodic imitation) requiring two independent voices to be played simultaneously in the pedals. The loud and lively Dialogue that concludes the Agnus Dei might seem to be a fitting conclusion to the entire work, but French composers often preferred to end with a relatively light and brief movement. The traditional response to the priest’s dismissal of the congregation (“Ite missa est”) is a musical reprise of the Kyrie, but in Couperin’s organ mass it is represented by an expressive and dissonant fugue on the lighter of the two manual divisions.

 

The Mass pour couvents de religieux et religieuses (for convents or Abbey churches) is a good deal simpler. Written for use, as the title suggests, it is not based on plainchant. In those days each convent and monastery maintained its own, non-standard body of chant and so these pieces could be interspersed, as in the Messe des Paroisses,, with any suitable chant in use at a particular church at a particular time.

 

French composers made excellent use of the sounds available on the French classical organ. The French organ had at least three divisions: a majestic grand orgue, a more intimate positif, and a rudimentary pedal, comprising only two or three stops. Some of the pieces in the Messe solennelle are composed for three manual divisions and pedal. The powerful pedal basses in the music of German composers were unknown in France—the pedals were used only to play the chant melodies in the plein chant movements, and to provide a light flute tone in the trios. Many organ pieces included in their titles specific registrations or stop combinations (jeux). Following are brief descriptions of some of these combinations:

  1. plein jeu—foundation stops (basic organ tone) plus mixtures—heard in preludes and chant movements. The petit plein jeu uses only the positif division.
  2. grand jeu—reeds, prestant and cornet stops—heard in fugues and dialogues.
  3. jeu de tierce—a bright combination of stops that reinforce the octave and other high overtones of the fundamental pitch. The same combination of pitches played on narrower-scaled stops is called a cornet; this was a popular solo effect in the treble range. When played in the tenor voice (en taille) against a soft accompaniment, the tierce imitated the viola da gamba.
  4. les jeux d’anches—a reed combination, much employed in fugues, including the brilliant trompette on the grand orgue and the sardonic cromorne on the positif. Each of these reeds could also be used as a solo stop.

 

I hope that helps a little! I am sure that there are others, on here, who can, and will, expand further. In truth it's not exactly my field of expertise!

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Thank you for that detailed explanation; I will read it carefully when I get home again this evening. I have come up with a theory for why the recordings don't seem to match the liturgy; more later!

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This isn't a subject I have ever investigated, although I did know that these are masses for alternatim performance. Somewhere I have an audio tape that I recorded from the radio about twenty years ago of a performance of the "parish" mass by Michel Bouvard with a choir singing the correct plainsong in what was purported to be a carefully researched, historically correct style. It was sung semi-metrically with ornaments and sounded quite unusual. I must dig it out again and see if it still works.

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If we name the chants as “C” and the organ movements following as “O”, then to match the CD tracks to the liturgical pattern I would expect

 

… | C2O2 | C3O3 | C4O4 | .. that is the chant precedes the relevant movement on the same track.

 

Instead I find … O2C3 | O3C4 | O4C5 | …

 

The only logical explanation that I can think of is that some people might like to hear the organ movements only, and can do so by skipping over the chant to the next track. The disadvantage is that if you want to pick a particular chant with its organ continuation you have to find the start point within a track.

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As I said, this is out of my area of expertise and I am sure that our more knowledgeable members will be able to enlighten you further – and correct me if I am wrong!

 

Couperin composes five Kyrie movements - Plain-chant du premier Kyrie, en taille, followed by three couplets and finally Dernier (final) Kyrie

 

Presumably the ‘liturgical performance’ would look something like this:

 

The first organ movement, Plain-chant du premier Kyrie, en taille, played possibly when the Priest was saying the ‘Confiteor’.

The schola would then sing the Kyrie eleison to Gregorian chant Cunctipotens genitor Deus (Liber Usualis – Mass IV pg. 25) melody.

It would be followed alternately by the Deuxième (2e) Couplet - Fugue sur les jeux d’anches,

The sung Christe Eleison,

The Troisième (3e) Couplet du Kyrie - Récit de Chromhorne,

The first part of the final Kyrie eleison (this being in two parts)

The quatrième (4e) Couplet – Dialogue sur la Trompette et le Cromhorne

The second part of the final Kyrie eleison

The 'Dernier' Kyrie

 

The Gloria has nine movements which presumably follow a similar pattern of plainsong and organ beginning with:

 

The Priest intoning the Gloria to the Cunctipotens genitor Deus (Liber Usualis – Mass IV pg. 26) melody. - Glória in excélsis Deo

The schola sing et in terra pax homínibus bonæ voluntátis.

Laudámus te,

Premier Couplet Et in terra pax - Plein Jeu

benedícimus te,

2e Couplet« Benedicimus Te - Petitte fugue sur le Chromhorne

adorámus te,

glorificámus te,

3e Couplet - Glorificamus Te - Duo sur les Tierces

grátias ágimus tibi propter magnam glóriam tuam,

Dómine Deus, Rex cæléstis,

4e Couplet - Domine Deus, Rex cœlestis - Dialogue sur les jeux de Trompettes, Clairon et Tierces du G. C.et le Bourdon avec le Larigot du Positif

Deus Pater omnípotens.

Dómine Fili unigénite, Iesu Christe,

Dómine Deus, Agnus Dei, Fílius Patris,

5e Couplet - Domine Deus, Agnus Dei - Trio à 2 dessus de Chromhorne et la basse de Tierce

qui tollis peccáta mundi, miserére nobis;

qui tollis peccáta mundi, súscipe deprecatiónem nostram.

6e Couplet - Qui tollis peccata mundi - Tierce en taille

Qui sedes ad déxteram Patris, miserére nobis.

Quóniam tu solus Sanctus,

7e Couplet - Quoniam Tu solus - Dialogue sur la Voix humaine

tu solus Dóminus, tu solus Altíssimus, Iesu Christe,

8e Couplet - Tu solus altissimus - Dialogue en Trio, du Cornet et de la Tierce

cum Sancto Spíritu: in glória Dei Patris. Amen.

Dernier Couplet du Gloria - Amen - Dialogue sur les Grands Jeux

 

The remaining movements – Sanctus-Benedictus and the Agnus Dei follow the same kind kind of pattern of Plainsong - organ with the long Benedictus movement, Benedictus Chromhorne en taille, following the singing of the Plainsong and played whilst the Priest is consecrating Bread and Wine.

 

At the end of the Mass the Priest sings Ite Missa est, receives the response Deo Gratias and the blessing Benedicamus Domino is sung after which the organ plays the final movement - Deo gratias - Petit Plein jeu

 

Well – that’s what I think works – but I might be wrong!!!

 

Hope that helps – or does it just confuse the issue even more!

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The first organ movement, Plain-chant du premier Kyrie, en taille, played possibly when the Priest was saying the ‘Confiteor’.

The schola would then sing the Kyrie eleison to Gregorian chant Cunctipotens genitor Deus (Liber Usualis – Mass IV pg. 25) melody.

It would be followed alternately by the Deuxième (2e) Couplet - Fugue sur les jeux d’anches,

The sung Christe Eleison,

The Troisième (3e) Couplet du Kyrie - Récit de Chromhorne,

The first part of the final Kyrie eleison (this being in two parts)

The quatrième (4e) Couplet – Dialogue sur la Trompette et le Cromhorne

The second part of the final Kyrie eleison

The 'Dernier' Kyrie

 

You seem to have too many Kyries here, SL. Would not the order be this?

 

Kyrie

Plein chant du 1er Kyrie

[Kyrie sung]

Fugue sur les jeux d'anches

 

Christe

[Christe sung]

Recit de Chromhorne

[Christe sung]

 

Kyrie

Dialogue sur la Trompette et le Chromhorne

[Kyrie sung]

Dernier Couplet

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You seem to have too many Kyries here, SL. Would not the order be this?

 

Kyrie

Plein chant du 1er Kyrie

[Kyrie sung]

Fugue sur les jeux d'anches

 

Christe

[Christe sung]

Recit de Chromhorne

[Christe sung]

 

Kyrie

Dialogue sur la Trompette et le Chromhorne

[Kyrie sung]

Dernier Couplet

 

 

And you have two sung Christe's!

 

If you Look at the 'Liber Usualis' you will see that the final Kyrie is in two distinct parts. It was also customary, at this time, to 'cover' the Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, that preceeds the singing of Kyrie eleison, with music - which then accounts for five organ pieces.

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I've just listened to this:

 

 

The pattern for the Kyrie - Christe - Kyrie follows as Vox Humana as suggested but the plainsong is, firstly, incorrect and I can see no logical explanation for only repeating the Christe eleison!

 

Unless I'm missing something!

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And you have two sung Christe's!

 

If you Look at the 'Liber Usualis' you will see that the final Kyrie is in two distinct parts. It was also customary, at this time, to 'cover' the Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, that preceeds the singing of Kyrie eleison, with music - which then accounts for five organ pieces.

 

It is surely anachronistic to quote Liber Usualis (a late nineteenth-century codification of chant) as evidence for Couperin's practice. Couperin's cantus firmi clearly differ in some details from those in the LU and that is no more than one would expect since plainsong melodies and ceremonial differed in details from place to place and era to era. One really needs to refer to the ceremonial and plainsong books current during his lifetime. However, I am not aware of any readily available on the internet. In the very much earlier plainsong manuscripts I have had reason to consult I have yet to see a Kyrie laid out with an antiphonal repeat within the ninth invocation in the manner of the Kyries in LU. The monks of Solemnes will have had reasons for concluding as they did and I would be curious to know them, but without further evidence I would not take it as proof of Couperin's liturgical practice. The scheme of continual alternation throughout the Kyrie that I outlined above was well known in the sixteenth century and was clearly thought logical enough then. I believe it was normal for the officiant and his ministers to perform their preparations, including their confessions and absolutions while the choir sang first the introit and then the Kyrie. It was only at the Gloria that the two parties, as it were, joined together. Again, I don't really know, but I would have expected this to be the same in seventeenth-century France and this is not on the face of it at all incompatible with the scheme I proposed, any more than it was when Philip ap Rhys wrote his organ mass, in which the Kyrie follows exactly this pattern.

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Although it is of only indirect relevance to the original question, what I have found is this 1687 copy of Nivers's edition of the Graduale Romanum. According to Wikipedia it was Nivers's edition of the Missa Cuncipotens that most French composers used for their organ masses. Infuriatingly, it's not in this gradual, so far as I can see, but if you type the page number lxv in the search box at the bottom right of the page it will take you to the ordinary of the masses. The Kyries contain no hint of the Solemnes method of performance.

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It very well might be anachronistic to quote the plainsong in Liber Usualis although I wasn't quoting it as evidence of Couperin's practice and, as I have already said, this isn't my area of expertise at all. I am pleased that VH has been able to throw more light on the matter and I, certainly, see the logic of his argument. However, equally I'm not sure that quoting wikipedia is always entirely safe. Certainly, and I hope he doesn't mind if I quote another member of this board, it is 'one of the worst culprits for encouraging unattributable intellectual sloth' - but, on this question, of course, it may very well be correct.

 

................ but I am still wondering why the custom would have been to only repeat the singing of Christe eleison.

 

As for my argument that the final Kyrie is in two parts I notice on page lxv, quoted by VH, the Kyrie printed - then the Christe followed by the words 'Kyrie ij ...................' (my eyesight won't let me see even the 'zoom' version'! and then a further Kyrie. Could this imply and I notice it occurs in other Mass settings too, later on in the volume, that the pattern might be Kyrie, Christe, repeat of first Kyrie, 2nd Kyrie - or is that just too simple an assumption?

 

I repeat - not my area of expertise!

 

 

edited. I have learned how to use the zoom version now! The words I couldn't read are Kyrie ij vt supra - supra means 'above' Does this lend further weight to my argument that the final Kyrie might, indeed, be in two parts, the first part a repeat of the Kyrie above followed by the final Kyrie and that, therefore the pattern for performance I gave earlier is possible, indeed more probably that a pattern that includes a repeat of the Christe for which we appear to have no evidence.

 

..................................... and what about the Gloria? Do we agree there?

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I agree about Wikipedia. My acknowledgement of it as a source was meant specifically as a health warning. :)

 

Concerning the "Kyrie ij", the Roman numerals simply denote the number of times the melody is sung, so what you typically get is a Kyrie section followed by "iij", indicating that it it sung thrice, a "Christe iij" (ditto), a "Kyrie ij" indicating that this melody is sung only twice and a final Kyrie indicating that the ninth invocation of the whole Kyrie ends with a different melody. The Kyrie always has nine invocations.

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I agree about Wikipedia. My acknowledgement of it as a source was meant specifically as a health warning. :)

 

Concerning the "Kyrie ij", the Roman numerals simply denote the number of times the melody is sung, so what you typically get is a Kyrie section followed by "iij", indicating that it it sung thrice, a "Christe iij" (ditto), a "Kyrie ij" indicating that this melody is sung only twice and a final Kyrie indicating that the ninth invocation of the whole Kyrie ends with a different melody. The Kyrie always has nine invocations.

 

 

Thank you for that! I was forgetting because, in the NR, the Kyrie was redacted from nine invocations to six to avoid "useless repetition". and, being completely used to the NR, I had omitted to think that, in the OR, invocations of mercy always occur in groups of three because each of the three Divine Persons is invoked. So the Kyrie had nine, the Agnus Dei three invocations, and the Domine, non sum dignus, was also repeated three times. Of course, in the NR the Agnus Dei is the only prayer for mercy to have survived intact. The Domine, non sum dignus was reduced to one and the Kyrie to six.

 

(As an aside, from a typological, liturgical and symbolic point of view, the number 6 in Scripture and the Fathers of Church has an unfortunate connotation, so it may have been better to reduce the Kyrie to three, which actually might make more theological sense. )

 

But it is all a lot clearer now! Many thanks for that VH - as I said, not my area at all!

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You seem to have too many Kyries here, SL. Would not the order be this?

 

Kyrie

Plein chant du 1er Kyrie

[Kyrie sung]

Fugue sur les jeux d'anches

 

Christe

[Christe sung]

Recit de Chromhorne

[Christe sung]

 

Kyrie

Dialogue sur la Trompette et le Chromhorne

[Kyrie sung]

Dernier Couplet

 

Might this just be a reflection of the 'three-fold' manner in which the plainsong Kyrie was sung?

 

Kyrie thrice: Choir, Choir+Congregation, Choir

Christe thrice: Choir+Congregation, Choir, Choir+Congregation

Kyrie thrice: Choir, Choir+Congregation, Choir

 

It now tends to be two-fold in these 'modern' times. Choir followed by Choir+Congregation for each of the Kyries and the central Christe.

 

Tony

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Might this just be a reflection of the 'three-fold' manner in which the plainsong Kyrie was sung?

 

Kyrie thrice: Choir, Choir+Congregation, Choir

Christe thrice: Choir+Congregation, Choir, Choir+Congregation

Kyrie thrice: Choir, Choir+Congregation, Choir

 

It now tends to be two-fold in these 'modern' times. Choir followed by Choir+Congregation for each of the Kyries and the central Christe.

 

Tony

 

 

Did the congregation participate at all? I suspect in Couperin's day, not at all - not even participating in the communion!

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Thanks, SL. This is a fascinating thread.

There is a quote from St. Augustine in the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1157: “How I wept, deeply moved by your hymns, songs, and the voices that echoed through your Church! What emotion I experienced in them! Those sounds flowed into my ears, distilling the truth in my heart. A feeling of devotion surged within me, and tears streamed down my face – tears that did me good.”.

The plainchant Missa de Angelis was considered very avante-garde when Pius XI encouraged its use by the laity in 1928. In reality, Pius XI, and, as a consequence the Church in general, was commencing a re-discovery its music for the laity to participate in. The Missa de Angelis is a real historical mish-mash of geographical and chronological sources. The Kyrie goes back to the 15th century.

There are some interesting words on Cunctipotens Genitor Deus here:

https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-339530395/kyrie-cunctipotens-genitor-deus-alternatim

I hasten to point out that the words above are written purely from a position of interest rather than from historical knowledge! I have no qualification whatsoever to speak of what may or may not have been familiar in the French Catholic Church at the time of Couperin, but I venture to suggest he may well have been familiar with traditional alternating plainchant.

Tony

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I have opened a bigger can of worms than I expected. A lot of fascinating information has come forward, but no one has actually addressed the question that I asked, which was why the tracks on CDs sometimes have the chant first and sometimes second. I'n quoting Bernard Courdurier's recording from Albi, where each line below is one CD track,with the chants marked off by square brackets. (I know that less is known about the Messe des Couvents than the Messe des Paroisses).

 

Plein Jeu, Premier Couplet du Kyrie [Kyrie]

Fugue sur la trompette, 2nd Couplet du Kyrie [Christe]

Recit de chromone [Christe]

Trio 4th Couplet du Kyrie [Kyrie]

Dialogue, 5th et denier Couplet du Kyrie

 

[Gloria] Plein Jeu, Premier Couplet du Gloria

[Adoramus Te] Duo sur les Tierce

[Gratias agimus] Basse de Trompette

[Domine Filii] Chromorne en Taille

[Qui Tollis] Dialogue sur la Voix Humaine

[Qui sedes] Trio, les Dessus sur La Tierce et la Basse sur la Trompette

[Tu solus Dominus] Récit de Tierce

[Cum Sancto Spiritu] Dialogue sur les Grands Jeux

 

Offertoire, sur les Grand Jeux

 

Plein Jeu [sanctus]

Recit de Cornet [Pleni Sunt]

Tierce en taille, Élevation

 

Plein Jeu [Agnus Dei]

Agnus Dei, Dialogue sur lest Grand Jeux

 

Deo gratias, Petit Plein Jeu

 

So, in the Gloria the chants come first, and in the Sanctus they come second. Why?

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So, in the Gloria the chants come first, and in the Sanctus they come second. Why?

We all know that Wikipedia isn’t necessarily a very trustworthy source of information, however, the article about the French Organ Mass does seem to offer some explanation. It’s all about how the alternatim practice was regulated in the ceremonial that was being used in a particular diocese.

M

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This is slightly off topic, but I was wondering if someone could recommend the an edition of the masses. Until now I've only played extracts in anthologies, but would like to acquire a complete edition, and there seem to be several available.

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This is slightly off topic, but I was wondering if someone could recommend the an edition of the masses. Until now I've only played extracts in anthologies, but would like to acquire a complete edition, and there seem to be several available.

Whether it is still the best I don't know and I've not seen it, but I remember that the 1982 version by Kenneth Gilbert and Davitt Moroney from Éditions de l'Oiseau Lyre (a revision of Paul Brunold's 1932 edition) received very favourable reviews at the time. Brunold's edition was based on Couperin's print (which, incidentally, is on IMSLP); I believe the revised edition additionally took (autograph?) manuscripts into account.

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Whether it is still the best I don't know and I've not seen it, but I remember that the 1982 version by Kenneth Gilbert and Davitt Moroney from Éditions de l'Oiseau Lyre (a revision of Paul Brunold's 1932 edition) received very favourable reviews at the time. Brunold's edition was based on Couperin's print (which, incidentally, is on IMSLP); I believe the revised edition additionally took (autograph?) manuscripts into account.

 

 

I am aware of this edition, but have never come across a copy for sale, and have checked the usual french suppliers. The Kalmus is a reprint of Brunold; I don't know about the Dover, but it probably is as well. Schott seem to reprint Guilmant's edition for Durand. The only other edition I can find was published by Schola Cantorum in the 60s edited by Norbert Dufourcq (I assume he edited the Messe pour les Couvents - I know he was the editor of the Messe pour les Paroisses)

 

I'm usually wary of online editions, but Pierre Gouin is an exception, as he seems to me to not just be a reliable editor, but produce spectacularly well laid out copy, that is a pleasure to play from. I think his edition on IMSLP will be the way to go, at least for the time being.

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I think his edition on IMSLP will be the way to go, at least for the time being.

 

I can't find it on IMSLP either under Couperin or Gouin - (but, goodness me, Gouin has much to offer, doesn't he?!) Where are the Messes?

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I can't find it on IMSLP either under Couperin or Gouin - (but, goodness me, Gouin has much to offer, doesn't he?!) Where are the Messes?

They are hidden on the compilations tab under the original publication title of Pièces d'orgue. Not the easiest place to find them, but there is a certain logic to it. http://imslp.org/wiki/Pièces_d%27orgue_(Couperin,_François)

There are several significant editions available there, including the original 17th century publication, and the early 20th century editions by Guilmant and Brunold

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