Le Concert Spirituel
Hervé Niquet Conductor
France wrote its history along with the conquests of its kings, emperors and presidents, but it was also fast to turn their fall into myths, whether they were repudiated, imprisoned, beheaded or exiled. Louis XVI and Napoleon in particular are considered in national history as cruel examples of changes of fortune. It is less well known that many later governments would pay tribute to them, raising them to the rank of martyrs and reviving their memory for posterity. This ambiguous image of tyrants and national heroes endures.
The monarchy restored in 1815 by Louis XVIII multiplied ceremonies in honour of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Their bodies were repatriated in 1815 in the French kings’ necropolis, in the basilica of Saint-Denis, restored for the occasion. In 1816, the court attended the performance of Cherubini’s Requiem in C minor, in memory of the late king, and Charles-Henri Plantade’s Requiem in D minor was performed for the thirtieth anniversary of Marie-Antoinette’s death (1823).
Berlioz had just arrived in Paris and all the romantic generation looked down with disdain or nostalgia on the dying fires of the old monarchy. Napoleon died in exile on Saint Helena Island at the same time. His body remained British "property" for a long period; it was finally repatriated in 1840 under the pressure of the July Monarchy and its "King of the French", Louis-Philippe. The late Emperor was buried in the Invalides cathedral to the sound of funeral and heroic marches, composed by Auber, Adam and Halévy and now rests in a monumental tomb in keeping with his dreams of posterity.
From Plantade to Cherubini, the common element in the works in this programme is the search for the monumental, sober and hieratic style. To express grandeur and eternity, any virtuosity is banned. Neither Plantade’s Requiem nor Cherubini’s use a soloist. The acoustics of the court’s worship places (the Tuileries Chapel, the Saint-Denis Basilica or the cathedral of Notre-Dame) probably guided the choices of some orchestra colours and a moderate rhythm which avoids confusion and dissonance.
These funeral musical creations have mostly remained unpublished. They are today kept in the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Even if they were composed for very special circumstances and often in a very short time, their ambition was to strike crowds, to magnify the accompanying commemorations and to take part in an essential page of the Nation’s history: the historical rehabilitation of men and their regimes. It is their turn today to experience the honour of resurrection.
Production: Palazzetto Bru Zane, Centre de musique romantique française à Venise.
Requiem mass in D minor for choir and orchestra
Performed at the Chapelle des Tuileries for the 30th anniversary of Marie-Antoinette’s death
Religious meditation for choir and orchestra
Requiem in A minor for choir and orchestra
In memory of Louis XVI
Video: Cherubini / Plantade, Requiems for Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette - Le Concert Spirituel
Royal ChapelMore info
Royal Chapel - Access map
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