Marc-Antoine Charpentier at Versailles: Messe et Motets Pour La Vierge (1702).

Le Concert des Nations in 2005.

Above and Below: Le Concert des Nations in 2005.

Print (c. 1680’s) of M. Charpentier in the lower left corner with two ladies displaying a sheet of musical notations.

Text by John P. Walsh

Intriguing facts coincide in this live early music performance of the Messe et Motets Pour La Vierge (Mass and Motets for the Virgin) by Marc Antoine Charpentier (French, 1643-1704) and the Palace of Versailles in whose Royal Chapel it was recorded in 2007. The ninety-one minute music video in this post is directed by Olivier Simonnet and broadcast by MEZZO.

In the Jules Hardouin-Mansart-designed chapel of 1699 (completed in 1710) is performed some of the greatest music ever composed by early music ensemble Hespèrion XXI and period instrument orchestra Le Concert des Nations led by Jordi Savall.

Fourteen miles west of Paris, there are many ways to visit Versailles’ château and grounds as it is very big and expansive. The château has over two thousand windows (exact count: 2,153).

The square footage of Versailles compared to Michael Jordan’s mansion

In 2012 when former Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan sold his house he listed it at $29 million. For that price the residence boasted 32,683 square feet on seven acres near Chicago.

What about Louis XIV’s Versailles? The royal château is over 720,000 square feet on two thousand acres. The visitor who wanders the 30 rooms of Jordan’s house could wander Versailles’ twenty-three hundred rooms.

Versailles has over 6000 paintings and 5000 pieces of furniture

To be expected, there is much to see inside the château: by one count, 6,123 paintings, 1,500 drawings, 15,000 engravings, 2,000 sculptures and 5,000 pieces of furniture. 

Most of the palace was built in the 1670s. It is interesting that Charpentier’s Messe et Motets Pour La Vierge is performed in its Royal Chapel. Composed in 1702, this brilliant new liturgical music of the time is hosted in a architectural space that at the time was also brand new. It was completed in 1710 by the First Architect to the King’s brother-in-law because Mansart died in 1708 at nearby Marley-le-Roi.

Hardouin-Mansart (1645-1708),

Portrait of Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1646-1708), Premier architecte du Roi by François de Troy (9 January 1645 – 21 November 1730), 1699. Palace of Versailles.

What is Charpentier’s Messe et Motets Pour La Vierge about?

In the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant reformers in mid-to-late sixteenth century Europe (the so-called “Counter Reformation”), there was the renewal of its devotion to the Virgin Mary.

Charpentier was a prolific composer who had a diverse list of clients in Paris and the artist continually adapted his work. His religious music is complex for its musical relationships and its theological structures.

Charpentier’s complete composition of Messe et Motets Pour La Vierge is not trivial. It supports varied expressions of Marian devotion—specifically, a didactic dialogue in her honor (Canticum in honorem Virginis Mariae Beatae homines…), a sorrowful Virgin at the foot of the Cross (Stabat mater dolorosa), a litany of the Virgin, and a great Mass in her honor for God’s glory (Assumpta est Maria…). Added to this theological variety are the different musical styles for soloists, chorus and orchestra. Charpentier’s final product is sublime and leads directly to the Mass worship on the Feast of Mary’s assumption into heaven which is August 15.

Louis XIV with his mother and brother, 1643, Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674), Kunsthalle Hamburg.

The crown of France being offered to the young Louis (future King Louis XIV) by the Virgin Mary while his mother (Anne of Austria) and brother (Philippe, Duke of Anjou) attend.

Messe et Motets pour la Vierge (1698):

Canticum in honorem Beate Virginis Mariae inter hominess et angelos (H.400)

In Nativitatem Domini Canticum: nuit (H.416)

Stabat Mater pour des religieuses (H.15)

Litanies de la Vierge a 6 voix et 2 dessus de violes (H.83)

Missa Assumpta Est Maria (H.11a)


Emmanuel Bardon, countertenor
Yves Bergé, bass
Pascal Bertin, countertenor
Daniele Carnovich, bass
Raphaële Kennedy, soprano
Jean François Novelli, tenor
Jordi Ricart, baritone
Arianna Savall, soprano
Judit Scherrer-Kleber, mezzo-soprano
Elisabetta Tiso, soprano
Luis Vilamajo, tenor


Jordi Savall, pardessus de viole
Guido Balestracci, bass viol
Bruno Cocset, bass violin
Imke David, haute-contre de viole
Xavier Diaz-Latorre, theorbo
Luca Guglielmi, organ and harpsichord
Marc Hantai and Charles Zebley, transverse flutes
Xavier Puertas, violone
Joanna Valencia, tenor viol

Royal Chapel Versailles

The vaulted ceiling in the Royal Chapel at Versailles (1699-1710). Hardouin-Mansart (1646-1708) designed it without transverse ribs so to create a unified surface, It is dedicated to the Holy Trinity: iGod the Father in his Glory by Antoine Coypel (1661-1722) is in the center. In the apse is The Resurrection by Charles de La Fosse (1636 – 1716). Above the Royal tribune is The Descent of the Holy Ghost by Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet (1644– 1717).

3 thoughts on “Marc-Antoine Charpentier at Versailles: Messe et Motets Pour La Vierge (1702).

  1. Pingback: Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) : Messe et Motets Pour la Vierge (1702). Avec Jordi Savall / Mass and Motets for the Virgin (1702) by Marc Antoine Charpentier (French, 1643-1704) | Apologie du Grand Siecle

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