Louis-Claude Daquin

"The Cuckoo"  Louis-Claude Daquin (1694-1772) [HARPSICHORD]

"If Thou But Suffer God To Guide Thee"

Improvisation

Louis-Claude Daquin was born in Paris to a reasonably well-connected family. On his mother’s side he was related to Rabelais, on his father’s to the Rabbi of Avignon (who had converted to Christianity before he died in 1650). His great uncle was one of Louis XIV’s doctors and a King’s Counsellor. His father was a painter who travelled widely but with little commercial success. Louis-Claude was one of five children, but the only one to reach adulthood. Little in his background would seem to have pointed to a musical career but Daquin showed a precocious talent at the keyboard as a very young boy; he was given some early lessons by a chaplain at the Sainte-Chapelle and informal instruction in composition by Nicolas Bernier. At the age of six he is said to have been heard by the King himself: the Dauphin predicted that he would become ‘the leading man of his age.’ At the age of eight he reportedly directed (under Bernier’s guidance) a performance of his own Beatus vir for a large chorus and orchestra at the Sainte-Chapelle.

His keyboard skill rapidly won him a variety of posts: in 1706 he became organist with the Hospitaliers de St Antoine and assistant at the Sainte-Chapelle. His first adult success came at age 33 when he defeated Rameau (famous French composer of the day) in a flamboyant competition to become organist at St Paul. Louis Marchand, a leading French organist of the day (who was set up to challenge J.S.Bach in an improvising contest, and left town when he heard Bach warming up) heard him play there and they became friends. As Marchand was dying in 1732 he is supposed to have said to his organ at les Cordeliers: ‘Farewell, dear widow: only Daquin is worthy of you.’ Daquin duly succeeded him.

His crowning professional achievement came at age 45 when he was appointed as one of the King’s personal organists. In the first performance of this role he ‘surpassed himself and astonished the whole Court,’ leading the King to extend his personal compliments and to spend no less than a quarter of an hour discussing the prodigy with the Comte d’Eu (who was to become a major patron to Daquin). He became organist at Notre-Dame Cathedral at age 61.