CHARPENTIER: Messe des Morts / Litanies a la Vierge
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Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704)
Messe des morts à 4 voix, H. 7
Litanies à la Vierge, H. 89
Psalmus David 110us (Confitebor tibi), H. 220
Psalmus 126us (Nisi Dominus), H. 160
Elévation à 6 sans dessus de violon (Transfige dulcissime Jesu), H. 251
Psalmus 112us (Laudate pueri Dominum), H. 203
The present programme offers various aspects of the art of Marc-Antoine Charpentier, in the solemn music associated with ceremonies for the dead and in the more festive Vesper psalms, as well as in more intimate devotions of the Litanies de la Vierge and the motet for the Elevation of the Host.
Charpentier passed his career as a musician largely without involvernent with the court of Louis XIV. A musician rather of the town, he spent his time in various parts of the capital. Except for the Transfige, dulcissime Jesu, composed in 1683, the other works here included belong to the period he spent as master of music at the Jesuit church of St Louis, from about 1688 to 1698. His inspiration, however, remains always the same, that of a musician with a deep faith that inspired his work.
The pieces brought together in the present recording are characteristic of the repertoire of church musicians of the period, for a choir of moderate importance, without concertante instruments, accompanied only by basso continuo. In that they occupy a special place between the genre of the petit motet for soloists and the grand motet of Versailles, with orchestra.
In the reign of Louis XIV there was frequent recourse to the texts of the Psalms. Nisi Dominus, Confitebor tibi and Laudate pueri Dominum, ending each with the doxology Gloria Patri, are Vesper psalms and each of thern has a precise intention, expressed in the psalter of the period (Le Pseautier de David, traduit en françois, Lyon, 5/1702) .The Nisi Dominus shows that all the care of men is vain and useless, if God hirnself does not keep us safe. In the Confitebor tibi the prophet gives thanks to God and praises him for all the grace that he has bestowed on his church, while in the Laudate pueri Dominum the prophet exhorts us to praise God, who, infinitely high, has care for the least of things.
Like his contemporaries, Charpentier composed a large number of motets for the Elevation of the Host, to be sung between the Sanctus and the Benedictus. In spite of its exceptional length, the Transfige, dulcissime Jesu keeps, nevertheless, the intimate and devotional mood necessary for such a piece, something that can be heard again in the Pie Jesu of the Messe des morts. This Mass ends with the very fine psalm De profundis, described in the French psalter as an example of how pardon should be sought from God for one's sins, followed by the Requiem aetemam, the first words of which are announced by voices in the lower register, in notes of long value and in a sombre mood, almost motionless. After the surprising dissonances underlining certain passages (iniquitatibus ejus and Requiem æternam), the Lux æterna affirms in solid counterpoint the promise of eternity.
(English translation by Keith Anderson)
Marc-Antoine Charpentier was a leading contemporary of Lully. His exact date of birth can only be conjectured, but he studied in Rome with Carissimi, from whom he acquired a knowledge of contemporary Italian styles. Soon after his return, he seems to have entered the service of the Duchesse de Guise, Marie de Lorraine, later assuming the position of her maître de musique, which he held until her death in 1688. He collaborated with Molière, who had formerly worked with Lully, providing music for, among other plays, Le malade imaginaire, and with other playwrights of the Comédie Française. Relative brief association with the court came in work for the Dauphin and a consequent royal pension, but more important was his employment at the Jesuit Church of St Louis, known to contemporaries as \l'eglise de l'opera". From 1698 until his death in 1704 he was maître de musique of the Sainte-Chapelle. He left a very large quantity of church music, Mass settings, sequences, antiphons, settings of the Tenebrae lessons and responsories, canticle and psalm settings, motets for the elevation and dramatic motets, with a smaller but not insignificant quantity of instrumental and secular music.
Le Concert Spirituel
The Concert Spirituel was established in 1725 by Ann Danican Philidor (1681 - 1731) and was the first concert organization in France, specialising in the performance of French Grands Motets, by composers such as Gilles, Campra, Mondonville, and Rameau. The concerts were given in the Salle des Cent Suisses in the Palace of the Tuileries in Paris. They came to an end in 1791 with the French Revolution.
In 1988 Herveé Niquet, one of the leading specialists in France in Baroque music, decided to revive the Concert Spirituel in order to explore again the repertoire of music originally composed for this purpose in the eighteenth century. Since then the Concert Spirituel has given performances in the principal cities and festivals of Europe and has issued a number of recordings that have been acclaimed by the international press. This first volume of Motets by Charpentier marks the beginning of a regular collaboration with Naxos.