Le Petit Rien

François Couperin (arr. Snell)


François Couperin (1668-1733)

1. François Couperin was a French Baroque composer, organist and harpsichordist. He was born in Paris, France into one of the best known musical families of Europe. He was known as Couperin le Grand (Couperin the Great) to distinguish him from other family members.

He became organist at the church of Saint Gervais and in 1692 Couperin started a series of increasingly prestigious appointments in the court of King Louis XIV – the Sun King. Couperin’s house still stands in the centre of Paris.


King Louis XIV was a great patron of the arts and sciences. During his reign music, ballet and architecture flourished. He built a magnificent palace just outside Paris at Versailles:

Couperin composed and published much music at the court and for the church including nearly 300 piece for the harpsichord. In 1716 he published L’art de toucher le clavecin (The Art of Harpsichord Playing) – a fascinating manual about harpsichord playing and technique:

Couperin was a BAROQUE composer and many of his keyboard pieces have evocative and picturesque titles such as Windmills. This French title of Le Petit Rien translates as The little nothing.


  • Le Petit Rien was originally wrote for the harpsichord. Trills and other ornaments were usually added to the music. French Baroque harpsichords were often very elaborate such as this one. Click to listen to the opening of Le Petit Rien on a harpsichord. We have added some ornamentation to make it more authentic:
  • On the piano you may also also add some appropriate ornamentation into your performance if you wish. For example:
  • The articulation and dynamics will have been added by an editor but they make musical sense on the piano. There staccato is really important to keep it light and to make a contract with the slurred phrases:
  • This music is written in TERNERY FORM. So there are three sections: A (bars 1-16), B (bars 17-24) A (bars 1-16 repeated). Take a little breath of about one beat between each section so the structure of the music is clear:
  • It makes musical sense to add a little rallentando at the end and just holding back before placing the final chord:

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