A map of Paris in the 1730s, Michel-Étienne Turgot

Couperin’s Trio Sonata, “La Superbe”: Florence Malgoire and Les Dominos

The trio sonata, which consists typically of two violins (or flutes, recorders, or oboes) and basso continuo, originated in Italy in the late sixteenth century. At first an instrumental adaptation of three-part vocal music, the form was refined and developed by Arcangelo Corelli. It is François Couperin (1668-1733), harpsichordist and court composer for Louis XIV, who is credited with introducing the trio sonata to the insular music world of France in the final years of the seventeenth century. Over the course of twenty years, beginning in 1690, Couperin composed a collection of six trio sonatas, each bearing a descriptive title. The composer was not sure that French listeners would take to the Italian form, and the collection remained unpublished. It also resulted in an innocent hoax which was revealed in The Author’s Vow To His Audience (1726):

The first Sonade in this volume was the first that I composed and was also the first such work to be composed in France. Even the story of its creation is unique. Charmed by the works of Signor Corelli, which I shall love as long as I live, as well as by the French works of Monsieur de Lulli, I took the risk of composing one that I caused to be performed in the same series of concerts during which I had heard the works of Corelli. Knowing of the ill-will shown by the French to new and strange works in all genres and not trusting in myself, I served myself well by making use of an unofficial white lie. I pretended that I had a relative close to the King of Sardinia and that this relative had sent me a Sonade by a new Italian composer: I then changed the letters of my name around in such a way that they formed a seemingly Italian name and placed it on the title page. The Sonade was listened to most attentively and spoken of most highly. This encouraged me greatly. I then composed others, and my pretended Italian name won me great applause.

The Sonata in A Major, “La superbe,” begins with music which is dreamy, gently flowing, and majestic (Lentement). A sensuous imitative conversation unfolds between the three instrumental voices. The contrapuntal dialogue continues in the second movement (Gayement), an ebullient gigue. This dancelike motion dissipates, suddenly, into an intimate operatic lament (Très lentement- Légèrement). The Air tendre which follows is joyful and songlike. The Sonata concludes with another dancing Gayement.

This 2012 recording features the French violinist, Florence Malgoire, and Les Dominos, an ensemble which specializes in seventeenth and eighteenth century music. Florence Malgoire, a respected teacher and early music specialist who founded Les Dominos as well as Les Nièces de Rameau, passed away on August 11, 2023 in Marseille. She was 63.