Sébastien Daucé Conductor
The few years spent in Italy when he was young left a strong impression on Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Around 1665, the music heard in Rome was demonstrative, colourful and deep. For more than a century, Italian musicians had developed the art of multiple choirs, with singers and/or instruments responding to each other, usually from different positions in space. In France, examples of multiple choirs are very rare. Charpentier composed a mass in 16 parts where he used all the possible combinations offered by this ensemble. If it was ever performed in his lifetime, it is unknown today in what exceptional setting it might have been given.
Among Charpentier’s many manuscripts, another mass was found also composed for sixteen voices, an Italian one, by a certain Francesco Beretta. It was long wrongly thought that Charpentier had copied this work during his stay in Rome to use it as a model when back in France. It appears today that this work reached him much later, after he had composed his own mass. Charpentier added some fascinating insights in his notebooks and his analysis of Beretta’s mass showing the extent of his knowledge and sensitivity.
He added a small diagram, scribbled at the beginning of his mass about the positioning of the choirs with two possible solutions. This type of directions is extremely rare and makes this music all the more invaluable.
Back in Paris in 1669, after several years of immersion in the diversity of Italian music, one can imagine Charpentier remembered the splendour and grandeur of music in Bologna, Venice or Rome, when he composed his own four choir mass.
Back in France, Charpentier entered the service of the very religious Mademoiselle de Guise, away from the King’s music, and remained there for twenty years. Louis XIV was very appreciative of his music though and the composer competed for the position of undermaster of the Chapelle, however, suspicious of the methods and power games in place for this very coveted position, he finally reported sick. He composed the very famous Te Deum H146 far from the spheres of power, but still glorifying it, probably to celebrate the victory of Steinkerque in 1692. This powerful fresco with a martial prelude of cymbals and trumpets, is an icon of both of the great century of arts and of Louis XIV’s conquests.
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704)
Te Deum and Four Choir Mass
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