Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704)
Messe de Minuit pour No?½l Te Deum Dixit Dominus
While Lully held a dominant position in the musical life ofthe French court during much of his career, Marc-Antoine Charpentier,nevertheless, enjoyed a very considerable reputation. The exact year of hisbirth remains unknown, although 1643 offers a reasonable conjectural date.Probably born in Paris, he studied in Rome with Carissimi, acquiring from him aknowledge of contemporary Italian styles. Soon after his return he seems tohave entered the service of the King's cousin, the Duchess de Guise, Marie deLorraine, later assuming the position of her ma?«tre de musique, which he helduntil her death in 1688, winning favour as a proponent of the Italian stylethat had been championed by Cardinal Mazarin and had been supported by theKing. He collaborated with Moli?¿re, after the end of the latter's partnershipwith Lully in 1672, providing music in 1673 for his last play, Le maladeimaginaire, and continued to work with other playwrights of the ComedieFran?ºaise under the restrictive conditions imposed by Lully. Relatively briefdirect association with the court came in work for the Dauphin and a royalpension after his failure to achieve appointment in 1683 as a sous-ma?«tre ofthe Royal Chapel, when he withdrew from the final stage of the necessary competition.He gave lessons to the most musical member of the royal family, Philippe II deBourbon, the somewhat dissolute nephew of Louis XIV. Although valued by theKing and feared by Lully as a very possible rival, Charpentier won particularfame through his employment, probably from 1687, as ma?«tre de musique at theJesuit Church of St Louis, known to contemporaries as l'eglise de l'Operathrough its employment of singers from that establishment. It may be presumedthat the position was secured for him through the influence of Mlle de Guise.From 1698 until his death in 1704 he was ma?«tre de musique of theSainte-Chapelle, a position of considerable importance in the musicalestablishment of the country.
Charpentier left a very large quantity of church music, Masssettings, sequences, antiphons, settings of the Tenebrae lessons andresponsories, canticle and psalm settings, motets for the Elevation anddramatic motets, with a smaller but not insignificant number of instrumentaland secular compositions, including songs, dramatic cantatas and music for thetheatre. Much of this reflects the influence of Italy, although his work forthe theatre inevitably demanded a more French style of writing.
There are four surviving settings of the Te Deum byCharpentier, out of a probable six, at the least. The canticle was of practicaluse on various occasions in the celebration of major triumphs for the King,whether military or personal. The Te Deum, H146, was written for the Jesuitchurch and has been conjecturally dated to 1692. It has won a certain modernpopularity through the use of the opening prelude as a signature-tune, butdeserves its relative fame as an assured example of the composer's work.
The Te Deum is scored for a four-part chorus and eight solosingers, with trumpets, flutes, oboes, bassoons, strings, and, as isimmediately evident, drums. The autograph score records the name of one of thesoloists, the bass Pierre Beaupuis, who had been in the service of Mlle deGuise, and after her death continued his career at the Jesuit church. The workopens with a Prelude in rondeau form, the principal theme framing two coupletswithout trumpets and drums. Strings and continuo accompany the bass soloist inthe first verse of the canticle, followed by the four-part chorus, continuingwithout the bass, and passages for the solo voices. The trumpets and drums, atfirst silent, return to introduce the words Pleni sunt coeli. A tenor soloistintroduces the verse Te per orbem terrarum, followed by the haute-contre (alto)and then the bass, accompanied by the organ continuo. The full instrumentalensemble returns for the following section, marked Guay, as the choruscelebrates the victory over death, Tu devicto mortis aculeo. A rapid fanfareprefigures the Day of Judgement, as the bass sings of the coming of the Judge,Judex crederis esse venturus, continuing with the dessus (Soprano) accompaniedby flutes and continuo at Te ergo quaesumus. The full chorus and theinstrumental ensemble without trumpets and drums return for the words Aeternafac cum Sanctis tuis. Flutes, strings and continuo accompany the soloists inDignare Domine die isto, the plea for divine mercy leading to a short dramaticpause. The brief silence is broken by the joyful and confident return of thefull instrumental ensemble to introduce the optimism of In te Domine speravi ina final section that again contrasts the solo singers with the full four-partchorus, with its largely homophonic textures.
Charpentier left six settings of the Vespers psalm Dixit Dominus.The setting listed by the Charpentier scholar Wiley Hitchcock as H204, has beendated conjecturally to 1690, relatively simple, compared with the compositionsfor Mlle de Guise. Scored for strings and continuo, with four-part chorus andsoloists, the psalm opens with a short contrapuntal Prelude, before two solovoices, tenor and bass, introduce the first verse, followed by the chorus. Thethree soloists continue with Tecum principium, before the return of thehomophonic chorus. Two solo violins add energy to the bass Dominus a dextristuis, going on, after an intervention from the chorus, to glory in theprospective crushing of enemies in conquassabit capita in terra multorum. Thereis contrast between the chorus and the solo voices in the final Gloria, withits energetic conclusion.
The French no?½l represents a tradition of popular Christmascelebration that developed from its earlier origins into a very considerablerepertoire of songs in the sixteenth century, some of them derived melodicallyfrom plainchant and others making use of secular melodies. Charpentier made useof this material in his Messe de Minuit (Midnight Mass), written perhaps forChristmas 1694, and in instrumental arrangements from the late 1680s or early1690s. The Mass is scored for four-part chorus, soloists, flutes, strings andcontinuo, and makes use of ten popular carol melodies, in the tradition of theearlier parody Mass.
The carol Joseph est bien marie is heard before thefour-part Kyrie based on it, played here with the notes inegales (unequal notesor dotted rhythms) usual at the time. Or nous dites Marie precedes threesoloists in the Christe eleison, and Une jeune pucelle provides the basis for afurther Kyrie eleison for the four-part chorus. The Gloria opens conventionally,before a no?½l melody is introduced, Les bourgeois de chastre, for Laudamus te.The three soloists return for Domine Deus rex coelestis, followed by the chorusat Qui tollis peccata mundi. The soprano soloists' Quoniam tu solus Sanctus isbased on Ou s'en vont ces guays bergers. The Credo opens solemnly intraditional style, before the words Deum de Deo, a section based on Vous quidesirez sans fin, heard in a lively instrumental introduction. The homophonicEt incarnatus est, and the following silence leads to a setting of Crucifixusetiam pro nobis using Voicy le jour solomnel de no?½l, for three soloists. Thefirst soprano soloist introduces Et in Spiritum Sanctum, derived from A lavenue de no?½l. At the Offertory instruments play Laissez pa?«tre vos bestes andthe Sanctus takes its theme from O Dieu que n'estois je en vie, with a formalBenedictus for the three male soloists. At the Agnus Dei Charpentier hasrecourse to A minuit fut fait un resveil, making a lively ending to the wholework. In this model for some later composers Charpentier succeeds in providing,as Cath