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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

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Musical Rhetoric

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"Baroque Taste? "Popular" Taste?

The will and inventory of François Chaperon (Chapperon), music master of the Sainte-Chapelle (d/ 1698)

Dedicated to Antoine Schnapper, historian of  "curieux" and collections.

Consult the inventory and will

Two notarial documents permit us to delve into the private world of a seventeenth-century composer whose entire musical production appears to have been lost. (I am annexing here a sample of his handwriting should musicologists want to match it with the words of an anonymous composition.)   Chapperon's handwriting





You may want to consult Chapperon's papers right now?

When I came across François Chapperon's name in the notarial registers of the Minutier central des notaires of Paris some years ago, it rang a bell: he was Charpentier's predecessor at the Sainte-Chapelle. Hoping that the inventory would provide new information about the institution and Charpentier's life there after June 1698. I had the documents photocopied and at once went to fetch another bundle of documents.

Only later did I realize the uniqueness of the inventory of Chapperon's apartment. Here is a decor that exceeded the bounds of "good" taste — and probably the bounds of "baroque" taste as well. Does this exuberance, this excess reflect the man's personality? Or rather, is it explained by his origins? That is to say, Chapperon turn out to have been born into a modest rural family. Is the lavish decor of his apartment in the choir school — on which the composer surely spent the better part of his annual income — representative of a "popular" notion of what constituted courtly taste, 1680-1700? For example, to what extent was he emulating the "curieux" who ornamented their "cabinets" with shells, busts, pots and a pyramid?

Until the discovery of these documents, this is the extent of our knowledge about Chapperon — whose name has until now been spelled with one p:

Circa 1665, he began his career as maître de musique at Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, near the Louvre. One of his choirboys was Michel Delalande. Chapperon was named to maîtrise of the Sainte-Chapelle on October 7, 1679. The next year, he composed a tenebræ service with Lalouette, his friend, and Delalande. On February 15, 1687, his Te Deum commissioned by the procureurs of the Parlement was performed in one of the principal rooms of the judicial Palais. In 1738, the Mercure de France described him as "the most savant musician of his day," and pointed out that he had begun the custom of preparing "musiques extraordinaires" with instruments. I haven't tracked down the origins of the statements that Chapperon owned a portrait of his friend Lalouette and "an organ with one keyboard and three stops." (These statements are not in Brenet's note on Chapperon, p. 260, but they appear in Marcelle Benoit's Dictionnaire, 1992, which cites Brenet as its source.) What counts is that Chapperon's inventory proves that both assertions are accurate.

What does this inventory tell us about Chapperon's taste?  Let's take a walk through the choir school rooms, and Chapperon's private apartment, advancing room by room.just as the notaries did when they inventoried his possessions in May 1698. As you progress, you will be able to access the appropriate section of his inventory. (You will also have an opportunity to consult his last will and testament.)

First of all, we can't begin to understand the man's taste until we know something of the man himself. The introductory page of the inventory, known as the intitulé, provides that information:

The intitulé

The Introductory sentences, known as the intitulé, tell us several things about François Chapperon. First of all, he spelled his name with two p's. (His autograph will confirms this.) He came from a relatively modest family from Garges-lès-Gonesse, near Pontoise. After his death on May 20, 1698, the usual notarial ritual was modified: that is to say, the notaries who were going to take the inventory did not place the seals on the doors. In their stead, a royal official, the lieutenant général du baillage du Palais, appeared on the scene and closed every door with ribbons held in place by wax seals. In like manner, it was the lieutenant général, not the notaries, who administered the oaths to the grammar master and housekeeper, who were going to help take the inventory. This atypical procedure is explained by the fact that the Palais and the Sainte-Chapelle (and therefore the maîtrise) belonged to the King of France. It therefore was essential to protect all royal property and prevent Chapperon's heirs from carrying off anything that might belong to the king.

The inventory begins: the cellar, the kitchen and the classroom

The first session gives an idea of the public space in the "maison de la maîtrise." There was a wine cellar where Chapperon kept his personal wine supply. The apartment — number 45 on the map of the Cour du Palais — is not visible on the contemporary engraving that accompanies it, becauxe the maîtrise was situated in the area concealed by the rather massive roofed staircase in the right foreground, which led up to the Sainte-Chapelle. Judging from the inventory, the layout of the ground floor of the maîtrise was similar to the ground-floor façade in the illustration: a cellar door and an entrance door to the kitchen that served as a sort of "service entrance." (Above these doors there doubtlessly was, as in the illustration, a window for the housekeeper's little room.) On the ground floor was a room where firewood was stored. Here Marguerite Chouart cooked for the choir boys; and here they ate at a long table lined with benches. Adjacent to the kitchen was a classroom that also served as wardrobe room. Virtually all the contents of these two rooms belonged to the King.

The notaries break the seal on the door to Chapperon's apartment

Most of the windows of Chapperon's personal rooms did not open onto the cour du Palais but onto an inner courtyard. Indeed, the three first-floor windows in the contemporary engraving are the windows of the Chambre des comptes, which administered the maîtrise: "Cette maison depend de la chambre des comptes, elle en fait les reparations locatives et la donne à la maitrise de ladite Sainte Chapelle" notes the Terrier du Roi, AN, Q1* 10991, fol. 149). One entered the vestibule of Chapperon's apartment by the staircase known as the "escallier de la Cour des aides," apparently the one just in front of house 45 on the plan of the Cour du Palais. In other words, the door to the apartment was situated on a prolongation, to the right, of the arcaded landing seen in the illustration, and the window (or windows) of the vestibule opened onto this landing. The room was therefore relatively dim. With this vestibule, we enter the personal world that Chapperon created around the old woven Bergamo-style wall-hangings and the moth-eaten grey wool table-cover provided by the King. Chapperon had brightened this otherwise rather dark room with objects that glittered: gilded and bronzed plaster busts and plaster or faience pots. The shabby wall-hangings had been disguised by large plaques, bas-reliefs and other decorative tableaux. Here he could play the spinet, or a choir boy could improve his keyboard skills; here visitors could sit on the lit de reposand admire the painting of a cherub that ornamented the ceiling.

some objects collected by a "curieux"

They move on to Chapperon's bedroom, whose window opens onto an inner courtyard. Once again the basic and apparently somewhat shabby furnishings supplied by the maîtrise are embellished according to his rather baroque personal taste: plaster busts, pyramids, ornate mirrors, printed fabrics, a picture of musicians ("friends" of sieur de Soucy, says Chapperon's will), his portrait and that of a close friend (Lalouette, Lully's pupil and former copyist-assistant) in frames that glitter with mirrors, painted wall hangings, and a chamber organ. A glass door leads to a windowless cabinet where Chapperon kept the music used by the maîtrise. (Chapperon's heirs can lay no claim to this music — not even the works composed by their relative during his tenure as music master — for it belongs to the king in whose name it has been written.)

May 21, 1689: "Ce jour Monsr le Trésorier a dit à la Compagnie qu'il avoit empesché que l'on n'ait mis sous le scelé aposé dans la Maison des enfants de chœur à l'occasion de la mort de François Chaperon leur maistre de musique, les cartons de musique escritte à la main qui s'y sont trouvés, lesquels il avoit fait porter chez luy pour en charger par inventaire celuy qu'il jugera à propos de nommer pour remplir lad. place de Maistre de Musique." (Brenet, p. 260). In other words, upon the death of the music master, all music was confiscated and kept safely, to be transmitted to the new master.

Another glass door leads to a second cabinet holding some of Chapperon's prized objects, but the items amassed in these two little rooms scarcely constitute what one might call a "collection" or a "cabinet de curieux." That is to say, no coherent central theme is apparent, and the only exotic item is a tortoise shell. Chapperon's "collection," consists of small paintings and drawings, gilded or bronze plaster figures, a manger scene set in a rocky landscape composed of shells and mirrors, lighting fixtures not yet mounted. Several boxes of small seashells and a group of small tools suggest that some sort of meticulous work was being carried on. We shall see that other rooms of the apartment contain more shells, more small decorative objects that do not appear to be "curiosities" in themselves.

The second day they enter a "salle" situated just beyond Chapperon's bedroom There he kept his most treasured items: highly, almost grotesquely ornamented mirrors and frames, several devotional "grottoes" replete with mirrors, shells and showy "agrémens," several dozen gilded or bronzed plaster busts and statues, urns and vases (some of them made of faience but others of papier maché), his own portrait and a painting of his patron saint. Above it all hovers a painting of Apollo surrounded by "children." (Was Chapperon drawing a parallel between himself and Apollo, musicians who guide or inspire children?)

They then enter an unembellished cabinet that served primarily as a storeroom. The armoire contains Chapperon's small library and his candles, pewter plates and miscellaneous containers and tools. A cabinet holds several baskets full of shells and small-scale architectural elements — perhaps the raw materials for grottoes and devotional scenes like the ones described elsewhere in the inventory.

The notaries enumerate the smaller items in the apartment

The afternoon of the second day the inventory of the apartment continues as the notaries return to the vestibule, having been informed that a cupboard is concealed behind the hangings. As might be expected, it contains objects that are rarely used. But several of its "drawers" are stuffed with what appear to be raw materials for the "coquillages" and the "grottes" described elsewhere in the inventory. For example, the two little ivory angels that had once been fork- and knife-handles probably were of a size suitable for a miniature Nativity scene. Would they have been dressed in clothes cut from the "petits morceaux de taffetas et etoffes de soye" stored in the same cabinet? Would they have hovered above the "petite Nativité d'émaille," inserted into a landscape made of shells, mirrors and bits of metal? If so, did Chaperon himself made these religious scenes? Did the choirboys make them during recreation from materials contributed by friends of the establishment? Were they made as gifts, or for profit. (The finished product clearly was quite valuable: one of the larger grottos was appraised at 200 livres, the annual wages of a country schoolmaster!)

We see how the master of the Sainte-Chapelle dressed. He wore black in public, sometimes wearing civil-type garb, sometimes a clerical cassock and un bonnet carré. At he neck was the white linen rabat seen in countless portraits of clerics. For official functions he wore a black woolen chappe with velvet trim and/or a black camaille, plus a lace surplice and/or rochet. None of these garments appear to have been supplied by the Sainte-Chapelle. Most of these garments are described as being "old," or even "very old." It is possible that he occasionally wore stockings other than black or dark grey, for the inventory mentions several pairs of woolen stockings "de différentes couleurs." It doubtlessly was in private that he donned a veste or a robe de chambre of printed fabric, perhaps similar to the indienne worn by Monsieur Jourdain in Molière's Bourgeois gentilhomme.

The grammar master's room, the choirboys' bedroom and the housekeeper's room

The notaries move on to the lodgings of the rest of the staff. The grammar master's room contained a bed and other furniture provided by the Sainte-Chapelle. We have seen that his name was André Convers. He apparently had added few if any personal touches to this room, for the notaries felt no need to separate Convers's personal property from that of the king. In other words, the walls were hung with red fabric, the table was covered with the same or similar fabric, the bed curtains were of a rather unusual color — blue. A half dozen green chairs permitted Convers to receive a small group of friends, colleagues or pupils before the hearth. The table apparently served primarily as a desk, which suggests that Convers supervised the choir boys during meals.

Convers was a "prestre du diocese de Senez [Seez], Me des Enfans de chœur depuis plusieurs années pour les instruire dans le latin." (Brenet, p. 260)
According to the Usages of the Sainte-Chapelle, the grammar master had to be a maître ès arts. His duties were to "instruire [the choirboys] du Catéchisme, dans les principes de la langue latine, et dans les cérémonies de l'Eglise." He was obliged to make "sa résidence actuelle dans la Maison desdits Enfans de Chœur, les conduira à l'église, veillera sur leurs déportemens, les ramenera de l'église conjointement avec le maître de musique." (BN, Morel de Thoisy, 78, fols. 29ff, rule 28)

Marguerite Chouart, the housekeeper, slept in a small room above the kitchen. To reach it, she surely did pass through Chaperon's or Convers's quarters, so a small spiral staircase probably connected the kitchen to her room, which was very modestly furnished with a curtain-less bed, a few pieces of shabby tapestry and several old chairs.

Before concluding the inventory, with the usual list of family papers, the notaries call upon sieur Fleur to evaluate some of Chapperon's more valuable possessions. Thus several musical instruments are appraised next. (Although they are enumerated after the contents of the housekeeper's room, it is unlikely that they were stored there. Articles requiring special expertise are usually evaluated at this point.) We learn that Chapperon owned only keyboard instruments but stringed ones. These instruments doubtlessly were used by the more talented choir boys, but were also available to visitors for impromptu chamber-music sessions. From his will we learn that Chapperon not owned two additional basses de viole, plus a violle, all of them on loan to friends and associates. Among these associates was Armand, his "domestique," who clearly was a musician, for he was willed several of the inventoried instruments. Also inventoried is a purse with a hundred silver jetons. As with the different royal academies whose members were rewarded with a jeton for each meeting attended, Chapperon appears to have been rewarded by the royal authorities in a similar way.

Chapperon's personal papers

At this point they begin to summarize the contents of Chapperon's personal papers. These documents reveal that he owned a small house near Saint-Denis, paid his bills quite promptly, kept a careful record of his expenditures, had few outstanding debts; and helped his close relatives better themselves by financing their apprenticeships or dowries. The fact that Chapperon's will was written eight days prior to his death indicates his awareness of impending death. Reference is also made, in this final section of the inventory, to two documents involving the Sainte-Chapelle: the first is the inventory of items in the apartment when he became master, and the second are papers concerning his lawsuit over expenditures for a Te Deum sung in 1682.

For this lawsuit, see Brenet, pp. 242-246, who believes that the dispute was triggered by a Te Deum celebrating Louis XIV's recovery, sung on February 6, 1687. Instead, Chapperon irritated the chapelains and clercs of the Sainte-Chapelle by not sharing with them his income from a Te Deum celebrating the birth of Louis XIV's grandson, the Duke of Burgundy — probably the service sung on August 31, which was indeed sponsored by the procureurs of the parlement. (Brenet, p. 237)

The inventory completed, Chapperon's belongings are entrusted to sieur Convers and Mme Chouart.