Wednesday, 2 June 2010

la glu de l'aléa fait sens

Nobody knows what Couperin's Mysterious Barricades (Les Barricades Mistérieuses) refers to. Some think it has to do with the melody itself. Others have proposed, I think rather crudely, that it may have to do with the unobtainability of a maiden's virginity...Why the plural, then, is anyone's guess, but I think on at least some level, the mystery might (like all good mysteries) have to do with time. Perhaps we may think of past and future as being barricaded from the present, opening and closing in unexpected, often bittersweet ways...

Incidentally, Paul Auster mentions this work of Couperin's a number of times in his work. Off-handedly in Moon Palace when Marco and his father are comparing their favorite things; it is listed as one of the fictional Paul Benjamin's books in the screenplay for the film Smoke; and finally, in the Music of Chance when Nashe, who is being forced to build a wall, starts playing it (it was Auster's working title for the book too);

It was impossible for him to play this last piece without thinking about the wall, and he found himself returning to it more often than any of the others. It took just over two minutes to perform, and at no point in its slow, stately progress, with all its pauses, suspensions, and repetitions, did it require him to touch more than one note at a time. The music started and stopped, then started again, then stopped again, and yet through it all the piece continued to advance, pushing on toward a resolution that never came. Were those the mysterious barricades? Nashe remembered reading somewhere that no one was certain what Couperin had meant by that title. Some scholars interpreted it as a comical reference to women's underclothing - the impenetrability of corsets - while others saw it as an allusion to the unresolved harmonies in the piece. Nashe had no way of knowing. As far as he was concerned, the barricades stood for the wall he was building on the meadow, but that was quite another thing from knowing what they meant. (181.)

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