Print (c. 1680s) 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. In the Jules Hardouin-Mansart-designed chapel of 1699 (it was 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. The ninety-one minute music video in this post is directed by Olivier Simonnet and broadcast by MEZZO.
Only fourteen miles west of Paris, there are many ways to visit Versailles’ château and grounds because it is very big and expansive. The château has over two thousand windows (count: 2,153). 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.
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 to host Charpentier’s Messe et Motets Pour La Vierge in the Royal Chapel. Composed in 1702, this brilliant new liturgical music of the time is performed in architectural space that was also new—to be completed in 1710 by the First Architect to the King’s brother-in-law because Mansart died in 1708 at nearby Marley-le-Roi.
What is Charpentier’s composition of Messe et Motets Pour La Vierge about? During the counter Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church renewed its devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. 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 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.
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
Lluis 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
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