Les Barricades Mystérieuses (The Mysterious Barricades) was composed in 1717 for the harpsichord by François Couperin. It is the fifth piece in his “Ordre 6ème de clavecin” in B-flat major from his second book of collected harpsichord pieces (Pièces de Clavecin).[ It is emblematic of the style brisé characteristic of French Baroque keyboard music.
Les Barricades Mystérieuses was originally published with the spelling Les Baricades Mistérieuses [“single r” in the first word, and “i” rather than “y” in the second word]. All four possible spelling combinations have since been used with “double r” and a “y” being the most common. There has been much speculation on the meaning of the phrase “mysterious barricades” with no direct evidence available to back up any theory. Nevertheless, of those that link the title to features of the music itself, Evnine believes harpsichordist Luke Arnason’s is the most plausible:
“The title Les Barricades Mystérieuses is probably meant to be evocative rather than a reference to a specific object, musical or otherwise. Scott Ross, in a master class filmed and distributed by Harmonia Mundi, likens the piece to a train. This clearly cannot have been the precise image Couperin was trying to convey, but it is easy to hear in Les Barricades the image of a heavy but fast-moving object that picks up momentum. In that sense, the mysterious barricades are perhaps those which cause the “train” to slow down and sometimes stop… This hypothesis seems to fit in with the pedagogical aims of Couperin’s music, since the composer presents himself as something of a specialist in building sound through legato, style luthé playing…Moreover, it seems to form a set with the following piece, Les Bergeries. This latter piece, though more melodic than Les Barricades, set in a higher register and more bucolic in feeling, is also an exercise in using a repetitive motif (in this case a left hand ostinato evocative of the musette) to build sound without seeming mechanical or repetitive. Both Les Barricades Mystérieuses and Les Bergeries, then, are exercises in building (and relaxing) sound and momentum elegantly.