LULLY: Grand Motets, Vol. 2 (Herve Niquet/ Le Concert Spirituel) (Naxos: 8.554398)
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Grands Motets, Vol. 2
"Exit Perrin, vivat Lully" must have been the cry of someonlookers in 1672 when the ambitious composer purchased the privilege of theRoyal Academy of Music from the unfortunate librettist, then imprisoned fordebt. Pierre Perrin (1620-1675) seems only to have existed in order to spareLully the tiresome bother of founding the Academy of Music (1669) and tryingout the first production of French opera, Pomone (1671) with music byCambert. Fate seems to have singled him out to plough the field in which Lullywould sow the seeds of his fame. There has been little interest in hispre-opera career, and yet he was one of the prime movers in the renewal of theFrench motet which was to set the king's glory on an equal footing with that ofGod and, in its choice of texts and method of performance, sometimes give uscause to imagine that the more powerful of the two is not the one we mightthink.
In the foreword to his Cantica pro Capella Regis (1665), Pierre Perrintells us that "three [motets] are generally sung, a full one, a small onefor the Elevation and a Domine salvum fac regem". At a time whenmost churches in France followed the usages of the Chapel Royal, Perrinprovided a made to measure definition of the motet according to Louis XIV'stastes: "The motet is a varied piece of several strains for voices orinstruments, connected but different (...). However, the variety of the piecewill be all the greater, and the composition easier for the Musician, ifvariety is practiced in the Stanzas and Verses and if they are composed forcontinual change (...)." The theory, though following on from a number ofpractical examples, nonetheless became a veritable canon, the extension ofwhich culminated in the pointilliste style of the eighteenth century in whichmost verses were treated as separate movements. Of course different images andaffects abound in Perrin's Cantica: "It is for that reason that,having to compose the words of motets for Mass at the King's Chapel, I havefollowed this method". Perrin's theories and poetry were all the moreinfluential for being immediately viewed as exemplary. And to everyone'sastonishment this was the humble task that Lully, orchestrator of royalentertainments, Superintendent of Music, Composer of the King's Bedchamber,sought for himself His Miserere (1664) was to have a lasting influenceon the sub-masters of the Chapel Royal. He may be regarded as the first greatexponent of the first age of the French "grand motet". Of course themotet had not yet become a series of separate movements, but each image andeach idea in the text is given appropriate musical treatment.
Lully drew his texts from the Cantica pro Capella Regis on threeoccasions: for the "petit motet" Ave coeli munus supernum andfor the full motets O Lachrymae fideles and Plaude laetare.
O Lachrymae fideles was probably composed during the winter of 1664, atthe same time as or shortly after the Miserere. Perrin's poem is a pleain which the sinner is a fountain of tears imploring redemption; Lully'ssetting is the earliest work on this recording and, like the other three, callsfor a small choir of soloists, a five-part chorus and a five-part orchestra.
Quare fremuerunt (Psalm II) was first performed on 19th April, 1685 inVersailles but was probably composed in 1684 during the Regensburg Truce. TheBible calls this a royal psalm and, during the period which concerns us here,it was sung in time of war. The psalm reads like a libretto for an oratorio:Israel's neighbours are rising up and preparing to attack the Lord's people andtheir king, but in vain because God has promised the king, his adopted son,dominion over all the earth. The political connotations in 1685 were clear:anyone attacking Louis XIV, king by divine right, was attacking God. Lully'smusic reflects these images of war and wrath. The violence of the openingorchestral motif sets the tone for the entire work, written in the key of Cmajor which Marc-Antoine Charpentier qualified as "gay and martial".
Closely following the text, Lully's motet seems to be arranged as threetableaux. The first takes us to the end of verse 6 and is chiefly characterizedby a lively tempo and agitated writing, reflecting anger and terror. The onlymoment of respite comes in verse 4, Qui habitat in caelis, with God'slaughter on the word irridebit illustrated by a vocalise in a rhetoricalflourish worthy of the best comedie-ballets. The mood in the second section,covering verses 6 to 8, is more serene; it is the moment when the kingreaffirms his confidence in God. The final section mirrors the text,alternating stormy and quiet passages and highlighting contrasts in a musicaldesign that is the very image of the one described by Pierre Perrin twentyyears previously.
Lully wrote his Dies irae for the funeral of Louis XIV's wife,Queen Marie-Ther?¿se, who died on 30th July, 1683. The Dies irae was sungafter the mass, in the great basilica of Saint Denis, and just before the Deprofundis. The two works are thus historically indissociable. Theorchestras of the Chapel and Bedchamber joined the monks of the abbey for theoccasion.
The Dies irae is written as a single movement in the principalkey of G minor. Although the text is full of apocalyptic images, Lullyapproaches it in a mood of serenity: his emphasis is on death as deliverancerather than death as punishment. One of the best examples of this conceptioncomes in the Confutatis: the image of flames consuming the wicked (confutatismaledictis, flammis acribus addictis), depicted in agitated, homophonicwriting for the two choirs, lasts a mere five bars, while the last line of theverse, voca me cum benedictis, is developed over 44 bars illustratingthe plenitude of the soul going to join the elect. Of course contrasts abound,like the massive power of the Rex tremendae majestatis emphasized by thecalm of the two short recitatives (for haute-contre and bass) which bracket it.
Another notable feature is the distribution of the solo writing; the sopranohas no recitative at all and the lion's share, including the opening versebased on Gregorian chant, is given to the bass, an unusual occurrence becausewhen composers wished to exploit the lower register they generally preferred touse the baritone voice.
De Profundis (Psalm CXXIX), the sixth of the seven penitentialpsalms, has an important place in the liturgy for the dead. The psalmist, awareof his sin, expects forgiveness only through the grace of God. The piece is inthe same key as the Dies irae (G minor) and has the same form. The finalverse of the psalm is followed by a symphonie or orchestral passageleading to the Introit Requiem aeternam, whose mainly contrapuntalwriting marvellously suggests the peace and light of eternal rest. Thisapotheosis confirms the confidence that ought to be placed in divineforgiveness and is the central message of the De profundis.