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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


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April 24, 1691: Marc-Antoine Charpentier, "me de musique du Colege de Louis le Grand," signs a notarial act involving the organ at the Jesuit school

 (Once a "factlet" dated February 1, 2008, this information is being presented separately on this revised site, 2014)

Our knowledge of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's career is broadened by Érik Kocevar's discovery of a notarial act signed by the composer. (See Érik Kocevar's article, "L'orgue du collège Louis-le-Grand au XVIIe siècle à la lumière d'un marché d'orgues inédit," in Recherches sur la musique française classique, 31 (2004-2007), pp. 165-80. )

I will say nothing here about the most momentous facet of this precious document: it provides musicologists with a detailed description of the organ and all its stops!

During the 1680's and 1690's there were, so to speak, actually two organs at Louis-le-Grand: there was the organ that was available early in Marc-Antoine Charpentier's tenure there, and that was reworked starting in February 1689; and there was the perfected organ that was "received" by Charpentier, by the college organist Louis Marchand, and by the Jesuit fathers on April 21, 1691. Between the two organs, there was a hiatus of almost two years, while the instrument was being reworked. Organ music during those two years is therefore unlikely at Louis-le-Grand, unless we are willing to argue that the reverend fathers rented a "cabinet" instrument to replace the dismantled organ. (This two-year hiatus suggests that unless Marchand was already serving as organist for the College prior to February 1689 and was kept on the payroll even though he had no work to do, his nomination probably dates from early 1691.)

Érik Kocevar quotes excerpts from two nineteenth-century accounts of how Louis Marchand came to be appointed: these accounts clearly are based on the very same source as Émond's 1845 narrative of the same event, one of my Fugitive Pieces! But what might that source be?

A few details in the notarial act caught my attention, for what they tell us about Charpentier. My musings about these details follow:

 --- The act bears the sixth signature of Charpentier discovered thus far. This time he did not use the archaic signature with its "round" script and flourish (paraphe) that he had affixed to a family document in 1685. Rather, he employed the unpretentious "bâtard" hand that appears on a receipt for the payment of a theatrical commission, signed in 1684. It seems that Charpentier reserved his grandiose signature for very special documents, such as a document marking an important family event.

--- To confirm his approval of additions or corrections (apostilles) to the act, Charpentier wrote "Charp." in the left margin. This is the very same abbreviation he used in the left margins of his compositions, to identify the haute-contre, the very high tenor who sang that line. This seemingly insignificant detail permits us to bury, once and for all, Lionel de La Laurencie's assertion that "l'abbréviation Charp. s'applique au musicien Charpy d'après Charpentier lui-même, et non pas à ce dernier," That assertion can be found in "Un opéra inédit de M.-A. Charpentier: La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers," Revue de Musicologie, 10 (1929) p. 192 ― and also p. 189, where La Laurencie asserts that the role of Ixion was performed by the "ténor Charpy." I have always been skeptical of La Laurencie's reasoning: first of all, because he provides no evidence about who Charpy was; and secondly, because I never came across anyone named Charpy in the hundreds of Guise documents I consulted.

--- The act does not state whether Charpentier was living at the Collège de Louis-le-Grand in late April 1691, or whether he resided on the rue Dauphine, (not the place Dauphine, as some on-line pages assert!) which is the address provided by the Livre commode des adresses published in 1692. How should one interpret the notary's silence about so crucial a matter as the address that was one of the principal ways of identifying the signatory? Addresses were provided for all the organists who had assembled that day to test the instrument; and the notary stated that the two Jesuits who signed the act on behalf of the College were living at the school, "y demeurants." But for Charpentier, the notary simply wrote, as an apostille in the left margin: "le Sieur Marc Antoine Charpentier me de musique du Colege de Louis le Grand." Since no address was provided, I guess we have to presume that, like the reverend fathers, Charpentier lived at the College?

--- Thanks to the autograph copy of Charpentier's Salve Regina preserved in Quebec, we know that Charpentier was "mre de musique en notre college [Louis le Grand] à Paris 1689." (His employment by the College actually went back to at least the final months of 1687, when Mlle de Guise was dying and Charpentier was preparing David et Jonathas for performance at the College in early 1687.) Thanks to Érik Kocevar's discovery, we can now say with certainty that Charpentier was still music master at the College in the spring of 1691. In other words, he had not yet moved to the church of Saint-Louis. If my hypothesis about the two series of concurrent notebooks that make up Charpentier's Mélanges is correct ― that is, if Charpentier copied his "ordinary" compositions into the arabic-numbered notebooks ― then the pieces he wrote for the College between late 1687 and early 1691 would have been in the lost cahiers 51-53 and in the extant cahiers 54-59. The latter cahiers contain music for Tenebrae (H.126-34) written, as best we can judge, for Holy Week services sung on April 11, 12, and 13 and praised in the Mercure galant of April 1691 (quoted by Kocevar). Will subtle changes, after cahier 59, in the subject matter, the voices, and the instrumentation of the pieces permit musicologists to determine the point at which Charpentier moved from the College to the church of Saint-Louis?

--- Érik Kocevar imagines Louis Marchand, the organist at the College, playing the "new" organ for these Tenebrae services, a full ten days before the official transfer of the reworked instrument from the maker to the Jesuits. That hypothesis is troubling. In the litigious world of seventeenth-century France, people went to notaries in order to protect their financial interests and to avoid lawsuits. If Marchand had dared to play that organ for a Tenebrae service, prior to the moment when the maker officially turned the instrument over to the Society of Jesus, the maker could have blamed Marchand for any technical problem that the assembled experts might discover the next week. And the Jesuits could have been forced pay an additional sum to have the problem corrected, even if it were not of Marchand's making. As the notarial act states, on April 24, 1691, the Jesuits "received the organ" from the maker, and the maker received the fee stipulated in the initial contract. Not until the act was signed by all parties, was the organ officially "returned" to the Jesuits and their organist and music master. Indeed, doesn't the instrumentation of H.126-34 suggest that Marchand did not play the organ prior to the signing of the act on April 21? The singers in H.126-34 are accompanied by "flutes," string instruments, and basse continue. Compare this instrumentation with another cluster of works for Tenebrae, H.135-137, which seem to date from 1692 and where flutes and string instruments perform with an "organ."

 ---  Until now, we have all refrained from asserting that Marc-Antoine Charpentier did anything but sing and compose. This act provides the first scrap of evidence that he felt more or less at home before a keyboard instrument. Although this document does not permit us to evaluate Charpentier's skills as a performer, it states that not only Jean and Louis Marchand but also Marc-Antoine Charpentier, played (ont touché) the instrument and determined that "tous les jeux sont de bonne et egalle armonnie et bien d'accord." The three men did this in the presence of two outside organists who had been brought in as witnesses: Antoine Fouquet, organist of Saint-Eustache, and Marin de La Guerre, organist of Saint-Séverin.

 --- Marin de La Guerre's presence that day as an expert is probably explained by the fact that the Jesuits knew him well: prior to his nomination at Saint-Séverin, La Guerre had been organist at their church of Saint-Louis, on the other side of Paris. Still, it is possible that Charpentier spoke in favor of La Guerre, who in 1684 had married Élisabeth Jacquet, the sister of Anne, one of the Guise musicians. From 1698 to 1704, the La Guerres and Charpentier would be neighbors and colleagues, living within the enclos du Palais and providing music for the Sainte-Chapelle.