A Couperin Christmas

I’ve been completely alone this Christmas: I haven’t spoken to another soul for four days. Although there have been occasional pangs of sadness (after drinking too much of the Japanese gin I found in the back of a kitchen cupboard), no work and no socials have allowed me unfettered piano practice.

I’ve temporarily paused work on Chopin’s Waltz No.3 to let it marinate, and I’m not particularly enjoying my Grade 5 pieces (is it because I don’t like them or because they are not really a free choice?) so I referred to a list I keep — ‘Future Pieces’. These are pieces I’d like to play but appeared too difficult when I last looked.

Now blessed with this abundance of anti-festive free time, I bravely picked out one piece from the list — Couperin’s Les Barricades Mistérieuses. I bought the sheet music over a year ago and it has sat untouched ever since I emphatically failed to grasp any of it.

This time around, the first run-through was a plodding sight-read (as all my sight readings tend to be). But I could read it. After just a few minutes, an unfamiliar feeling crept over me — that I was succeeding. The unmagical fairy of hundreds of hours’ work at the piano has appeared and Gepetto’s wish has come true, I’m a real boy! Yes, I’m aware I’ve made myself Gepetto, Pinocchio and the Blue Fairy here, but please leave me be whilst I enjoy this small triumph.

Unfortunately, this early progress stuttered and I got too entranced by the rondeau to start the first couplet. I must have played it a hundred times or more. Sometimes I tried to increase the speed (Vivement) or bring out the voices differently, but most of the time I just rattled through it. I did at least memorise it, for now.

If I were more disciplined, I could have learned the whole thing by now. But I don’t mind, it’s a magical piece and all-the-more magical because it doesn’t have a melody or a hook, yet it attaches itself to your brain like a debilitating musical parasite that traps you in rondeau limbo for eternity. You can’t even whistle, hum, or sing it to weaken the parasite’s hold, you just have to play it again. And again. And again.

So here’s the Christmas lesson, with a hint of Dickens: if Present You does the right things, Future You can look forward to sliding music out of your dreams, across the keyboard and into your repertoire. Although you might still be drunk and alone, which is maybe where the seasonal theme falls down. Oh, wait…I think I’ve actually turned into a Scrooge-like caricature of myself. Bah! Fuck your peace and goodwill, it’s a Couperin Christmas here.