CHARPENTIER: Vespres a La Vierge
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Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704)
Vespres à la Vierge (Vespers of the Blessed Virgin)
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'église de l'opéra. 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.
On his return from Italy in the late 1660s, Charpentier entered the service of Mademoiselle de Guise. Until 1687-88 he was one of a group of some fifteen players and singers of such quality that it was said that it excelled even those of great kings. On the death of Mademoiselle de Guise in 1688, Charpentier became maître de musique of the College of Louis-le-Grand, then of the Jesuit Church of St. Louis. Finally, on 28th June 1698, he was appointed choir-master of the Sainte-Chapelle, a position he held until his death. The most important aspect of Charpentier's work lies in his sacred music. His contribution to the form of the motet is considerable. From the monastery to the church, he composed for the many seasonal religious ceremonies, from the most intimate to the most overtly celebratory. The music of Charpentier draws its substance and originality essentially from his synthesis of the Italian and French styles.
The office of Vespers begins with the verse Deus in adjutorium meum intende and the response Domine ad adiuvandum me festina, followed by five psalms, each preceded and followed by an antiphon. After the psalms comes a short reading (capitulum) and then a hymn, varied, like the psalms and the antiphons, according to the day and the feast celebrated. The office continues with a verse and response and an antiphon more elaborate than those for the psalms, introducing and following the Magnificat.
Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed a number of very important motets on psalm texts, most of them for Vespers. These compositions mark the stages of his whole career. He sometimes even took up again a composition some years after its first performance, making some modifications, notably in the addition of instruments.
The Vesper psalms were each accompanied by an antiphon that could be composed in the style of a little motet or be in plainchant. The present recording uses antiphons from the 1696 Antiphonarium Monasticum of Guillaume Gabriel Nivers. Although from different periods, the five psalms and the Magnificat of Charpentier have in common effectiveness and a certain brevity .The Laudate pueri, Nisi Dominus and Magnificat are the oldest among all the first compositions of Charpentier, written in 1670. These are relatively short pieces in which each verse receives special treatment. The three other psalms, Beatus vir, Laetatus sum and Lauda Jerusalem, dating from the beginning of the 1690s, are not fundamentally different from the first, except in the smaller division between the different verses, a more accentuated polyphonic treatment and a more concertante role for the instruments, as in Laetatus sum.
Generally the hymns and particularly the Ave maris stella are conceived as in alternation with plainchant or organ versets. In H 60 Charpentier has set the whole text. The recording ends with the antiphon to the Blessed Virgin Salve Regina, of which Charpentier made five settings. The present version makes exceptional use of three choirs, one of them of men's voices that Charpentier called exules (exiles). Perhaps one may hear in the polychoral Salve Regina a memory of Charpentier's stay in Rome, where he heard works of this kind. It is, in any case, one of his finest compositions. The first notes are taken from Gregorian chant. The ardent appeal to the pity of the Virgin (Ad te clamamus) is effected with chromaticism and very effective altered chords. The valley of tears (in hac lacrimarum vaIle) is translated in an insistent descending motion, equally chromatic, bringing dissonances between the different voices. In the last part the choirs answer each other in great brilliant chords.
(English version by Keith Anderson)
Since 1994 the Music Festival of Haut-Jura de Saint-Claude (Jura) has collaborated with Le Concert Spirituel and Naxos in the production of recordings recalling the principal events of the Festival. It is in this way that this work by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin, has been recorded with the assistance of the France Telecom Foundation, marking the opening concert of the Tenth Festival on 3rd June 1995, in the romanesque Church of Saint-Lupicin (Jura, ninth and eleventh centuries).
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 perforrnance 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 Herve 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.