LULLY: Grand Motets, Vol. 1 (Herve Niquet/ Le Concert Spirituel) (Naxos: 8.554397)
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Grands Motets, Vol. 1
In 1661, Lully became Superintendent of the King's Music and Composer ofHis Majesty's Chamber. His task was to organize the King's musical diversions,notably the great Court entertainments which culminated in Les Plaisirs del'Isle enchantee in May 1664. He composed music for ballets (at a rate ofover one a year during this period) and began his collaboration with Moli?¿re.
He received his naturalization papers and married the daughter of Michel Lambert,master of music of the King's Chamber.
What then, during the winter of 1664, inspired this theatricallyinclined man of action to write a Miserere for the Chapel Royal, a fullmotet for soloists, choir and orchestra, when such a task was not part of hisduties? The mystery remains unsolved. The work was probably the first exampleof a style which enjoyed popular esteem until the Revolution. It is as thoughLully, versatile creator of so many new musical forms, sought here also to makehis mark and point the way towards new architectural possibilities. Germancantatas, Italian psalms and English anthems were all inspired by Lully's greatdesign.
The religious context in which Lully wrote this first motet was quiteparticular. The issue of the "liberties of the Gallican church" (i.e.
the place of the spiritual and temporal authorities) was once again prominentin the 1660s. The debate on the question led to a parliamentary declaration in1663 whose six articles are the precursors of the famous "four articles"of 1682 which marked the French bishops' allegiance to the King. At the sametime Louis XIV reorganized his Chapel, appointing two composers, Henry Du Montand Pierre Robert, in 1663. More than any other work Lully's Miserere, performedbefore the entire Court, seems to stand as a manifesto for what was expected ofa composer at the Chapel Royal: an utterly new form, an innovative design, fitfor the King.
The work, whose text is drawn from Psalm 51, one of the penitentialpsalms, was first performed in late 1664. Mme de Sevigne is known to have wepton hearing it and she was doubtless not alone. Although the motet already showsa clear distinction between airs (called recits), solo ensembles,choruses and symphonies, the Miserere belongs to the first period offull motets (before 1683). Its double chorus effects owe much to the composersof the first half of the seventeenth century: the soloists are part of a"small chorus" which is set against the "full chorus".
During choral passages, the soloists systematically double the equivalentvoices. Treated this way, the full motet resembles a continuous chorusinterspersed with more muted passages, or an organ piece in which subtle stopson the positive provide a contrast with the full organ. Textual expression isgiven light and shade in a harmonious architectural construct. Listen toLully's counterpoint, the lines of the strings in the symphony, thelow-register thirds. The music sings and the violins, shattering the fullharmony on the occasion of a cadence, break into a toccata motif that echoesthe composer's Italian past.
Observe Lully's mastery of colour. Listen to how choral and orchestraltextures, now in five, now in ten parts, change with the rhythm of the text;note how subtle touches of orchestral colour highlight the meaning of a verb orthe sweetness of a modulation. The sublime text of the psalm inspires Lully topaint a whole sweep of emotions, at once melancholy, plaintive, sweet, tragic,suffering, noble and victorious.
Plaude lcetare Gallia, first performed on 7th April, 1668, is on a text byPierre Perrin, future creator of the Royal Academy of Music, "Councillorof the King's council and introducer of Ambassadors to the late Duke ofOrleans". Perrin was the author of several pre-Lully opera libretti suchas La pastorale d'Issy, Pomone and La mort d'Adonis set to musicby Cambert and J.-B. Boesset. He was also a renowned neo-Latin poet, penning alarge number of Gallican para-liturgical texts, well before the hymns ofSanteul, Commire, Claire and Pierre Portes. The full motet Plaude lcetareGallia is a perfect illustration of the move in France to abandon Romanliturgical practice in both text and music. These full motets, whether psalmsor Gallican hymns, were sung at Low Mass in the Chapel Royal. It was the timewhen there were hopes for uniting the Churches, the period (1666) when Bossuetmade contact again with Pasteur Fleury, hoping to "advance as far aspossible a reconciliation with the Protestants". In 1670 Perefixe, the bishopof Paris, having decided to publish a new breviary "ad usumparisiensi", commissioned learned poets to write hymns.
The Te Deum is Lully's best-known sacred work, first performed atFontainebleau on 9th September, 1677. It was while directing 150 musicians inanother performance of the piece on 8th January, 1687 that Lully inflicted onhimself the wound which, turning gangrenous, was to prove fatal. The origins ofthe Te Deum were quite different to those of the other works on thisrecording. Lully was at the pinnacle of his career, the immensely successfulcomposer of lyric tragedies like Atys and Isis. The Te Deum callsfor high pomp and considerable resources. Contemporary reports speak of thelarge forces (as many as 300 musicians, including chorus, orchestra, trumpetsand drums) assembled to perform the work, even at the beginning of theeighteenth century. The success of the Te Deum is almost unique in thehistory of seventeenth century sacred music.
Translation: Adrian Shaw