Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mysterious arabesques

I was just passing the time playing through Couperin's beguiling "Les barricades mystérieuses," and remembered how much it has always reminded me of Robert Schumann's Arabeske. Not in a "Tune Theft" sort of way - rather, each piece is based on a similar type of flowing texture in which multiple melodic strands are slightly offset from each other, creating chains of suspensions. No time to go into more detail here, but I think the kinship is quite evident to the ear:

Couperin Schumann

...and, perhaps a bit less so, to the eye:

Couperin: Les barricades mystérieuses (1717)
Schumann: Arabeske, Op.18 (1839)
You can view the complete scores here:
Couperin (p.123) | Schumann

Whatever you might think about the relative compositional similarity of these two works, written about 125 years apart, what they most share in common is that each composer seems to have unlocked some magical soundworld - two of the more perfect pieces I know.

UPDATE: I said I don't think of these pieces as sharing the same tune, but they do open with similar melodic outlines: a small interval up, a step down, and then a rising 4th - albeit with Couperin's 4th going re-sol and Schumann's sol-do. And each tune is housed in the same kind of dotted rhythmic figure. (Couperin uses ties instead of dots, but same difference.)

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