The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music riddle: Why does “The Tree of Life” use Francois Couperin’s “Mysterious Barricades? What are the barricades? And what’s the mystery? Tell The Ear about the movie and the music.

July 26, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

I have longed loved and been fascinated by Francois Couperin’s composition “Les Barricades Mysterieuses” (below) or “The Mysterious Barricades.”

An excerpted movement from a longer suite, it’s a short piece (2-1/2 minutes or so) for keyboard – harpsichord originally, but often played effectively on the piano (at bottom).

To my ears, the work’s repetition seems almost Minimalist centuries before Minimalism became popular and commonplace.

And the work by Couperin (below) possesses an undeniable sense of mystery, of French sexy mystery – much like you also find in Debussy, Faure and even Ravel and Messiaen.

So I was pleased to see that it was used – not once, but several times — in Terrence Malick’s award-winning film “The Tree of Life” (below) that is still playing in cinemas.

Not that I liked the film.

Sure, I know it won the Golden Palm at Cannes.

And I know a lot of big name critics like it.

And I really loved the visuals (below) that often seemed like breath-taking shots from the Hubble Space Telescope. And I loved the music, so much of its classical and great, much of it mentioned in an earlier post:

Here’s a link to the list:

And I pretty much liked some elements of the plot, certain scenes and some of the characters played by Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.

But overall, as a whole, the movie struck me as pretentious, ponderous and insipid. Maybe it’s just too deep for me, even though I enjoy reading Proust and Wallace Stevens.

I know this much: When it comes to “The Tree of Life,” whatever the IT is, I didn’t get IT.

Still, I do like the music by Couperin.

But I would be interested in what readers and others have to say about what the enigmatic title of Couperin’s piece means.

What barricades?

And what mystery?

Or maybe it isn’t meant o make sense or have a specific reference. Maybe it is like Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, where we can’t be sure of what the enigma really is.

Anyway, what did you think of “The Tree of Life”?

Do you like Couperin’s “Les Barricades Mysterieuses”?

What do you think the “mystery” and the “barricades” are?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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