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Panat Times

Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


Marc-Antoine Charpentier and François Chaperon (Chapperon), music masters of the Sainte-Chapelle


see also:  Palais Court Yard    Chapperon's Taste 

Little is known about François Chapperon, maître de la musique of the Sainte-Chapelle, who died in May 1698. We have had to rely on Michel Brenet's edition of records from the Sainte- Chapelle (Les Musiciens de la Sainte-Chapelle du Palais, Paris, 1910); we have the highly critical remarks about him in the text of Charpentier's Epitaphium (H. 474); and we have Françoise Waquet's analysis of the "epitaph" as a literary genre (Bulletin Charpentier, January 1993). Now we have two "Fugitive Pieces" about him: Chapperon inventory where Chapperon's taste is unfurled in all its glory, and Chapperon's will. Incidentally, these two documents make it clear that Chapperon signed his name with two p's: "Chapperon."

This new evidence permits us to imagine various aspects of Charpentier's life at the Sainte-Chapelle. This Musing will touch upon the following subjects :

Charpentier versus Chapperon
Charpentier's apartment
The fate of Charpentier's manuscripts

Charpentier's clothes
Charpentier's burial place
An unofficial "purchase" of the office?

Charpentier vs Chapperon

— One of the more intriguing of these sources about Chapperon is Marc-Antoine Charpentier's harsh comments about his music: it is "goatish," "discordant," "fastidious." Since no work by Chapperon has been identified, it is difficult to evaluate the thrust of these comments and the circumstances in which Charpentier parodied Chapperon's musical style in the Epitaphium:

Is music in Heaven very different from music on earth?, multumme differt cælestis a terrena musica, ask Marcellus and Ignatius in Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Epitaphium. Charpentier's ghost replies: "He who on earth was named Carissimi is called Caperon, Chaperon in Heaven, Qui Carissimi nomen habebat in terris Capronus, Chapronus vocatur in cœlis. (That is to say, the wonderful earthly music of Giacomo Carissimi, — which we humans imagine as approaching the music of the angels — pales in comparison with the music actually sung in Heaven. Indeed, it is as inferior to heavenly music as François Chapperon's works are to Carissimi's and, by implication, the compositions of his disciple, Charpentier.) The pun is none too subtle: Capronus calls to mind the Latin words caper, "goat," and caprinus, "having to do with a goat."
The ghost soon returns to the subject of Chapperon's music: "Think of doing penitence, run toward the music of Chapperon. Chose it as your punishment and your purgatory, and after death you will taste of eternal life," Pœnitentiam agite, ad caproni musicam currite. Hanc in supplicium vobis et purgatorium eligite, et post mortem æternæ gaudia vitæ gustatibis.
The Epitaphium concludes with a very harsh judgement of Chapperon's talents: "Happy is he who, to erase his sins, tires his ears, chastises them, "chaperons" them with the fastidious and discordant music of Chapperon; for after death, eternal joy and happiness will be his. Happy is he who, to erase his sins, listens patiently to the dissonances of that ass, Chapperon; for after death he will taste of the joys of eternal life and will drink the nectar of the angel concert in the fountain of voluptuousness." Beatus ille, qui pro delendis culpis suis, fastidiosa et discordi caproni musica, aures suas fatigabit, castigabit, capronabit, quoniam post mortem auditui ejus dabitur gaudium et lætitia in æternum! Beatus ille, qui pro delendis culpis suis asininos capronini tritus patienter audiet, quia post mortem æternæ guadia vitæ gustabit, et nectareos angelorum concentus in fonte voluptatis potabit!

Catherine Cessac (Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Paris: Fayard, 1987, pp. 364-65 and 425-27) surmises that the Epitaphium was written shortly after François Chapperon's death; but the stray notebook containing this work — labeled notebook "a" by Wiley Hitchcock — is made of the "similijesuit" paper that Charpentier used exclusively while music master for the Jesuits. In fact, the works in stray notebooks "a" and "d" fill the chronological gap created by the missing notebooks LII and LIII. That is to say, they contain works appropriate for the liturgical period December 1687 to early 1688, but probably not composed under Charpentier's agreement with the Jesuits. Did Charpentier write the rather "libertine" Epitaphium (which not only mocks Chapperon but parodies liturgical forms and texts) for a get-together of musician friends, perhaps for Mardi Gras of 1688 when the "world was turned upside-down" and libertinist images briefly bubbled up to the surface?

If the Epitaphium was in fact written circa December 1687, it can scarcely be viewed as an expression of Charpentier's rancor over Chapperon's nomination as maître de musique at the Sainte- Chapelle eight years earlier. Indeed, in 1679 Charpentier was composing for the Dauphin and had every reason to look ahead to a brilliant future as a court composer. (Why then would he have been eager to be tonsured and submit to the constraints on time and activity that were facts of life for the master of a royal choir school?) The Epitaphium might wisely be viewed as a quarrel over taste — a quarrel pitting Chapperon's "fastidious," "goatish," "dissonant" and "discordant" approach against the "delicious" and "sweet" music of Carissimi. Indeed, the traveller named "Marcello," who strives to identify the earthly music that most closely resembles that of Heaven, clearly evokes the striving of Carissimi, music master at a Jesuit college in Rome, to create divine music on earth while composing for the chapel of San Marcello. And is not the other traveller-seeker, "Ignatius," not a thinly disguised reference to the Paris Jesuits and their new composer, Charpentier? In sum, a pair of Jesuit composers are weighing their abilities to imitate heavenly music against Chapperon's, and Chapperon is found wanting.

In addition, the Epitaphium should doubtlessly by viewed as an expression of rivalry between two Parisian religious institutions that were famed for their "musiques extraordinaires": the Jesuits, who had recently singled out Charpentier to be their full-time composer, and the canons of the Sainte-Chapelle — and the magistrates of the Palais who were the chapel's principal parishioners and who had recently sponsored a lavish Te Deum by Chapperon to celebrate Louis XIV's recovery. (Performed on February 15, 1687, the Te Deum antedates Charpentier's Epitaphium by only a few months.)

We can only guess the esthetic grounds on which Charpentier criticized Chapperon's music so fiercely. Having mused at length over the decor of Chapperon's apartment (see my Musing on Chapperon's Taste.) I ask a question in guise of an answer: Was Chapperon's music as ornate and as "vulgar" — in the sense of "popular" — as the decor of his apartment?  (If you consult his inventory, you will encounter the seventeenth-century equivalent of the plaster dwarfs, pink flamingos, windmills, wishing wells and plaster white swans that ornament so many front yards in working-class neighborhoods.)

The remainder of this musing does not constitute an "article" about either Charpentier or Chapperon as maîtres de musique of the Sainte-Chapelle du Palais. Instead, I will summarize evidence about life at the choir school gleaned from Chapperon's will and inventory.

Charpentier's apartment

— Charpentier was provided with an apartment in the "house" occupied by the maîtrise, situated in the "Courtyard of the Palais." This first-floor apartment is located in house number 45 on the map of the Map of the Cour du Palais

The apartment could technically be described as "furnished"; but as in most furnished lodgings, some of the furniture was pretty shabby. Indeed, so old and so shabby that it appears that the choir school occupied a rather low position in the hierarchy of royal protégés dwelling in the Palais. Working around the rudimentary furnishings in the apartment, Chapperon had spent sizeable sums to embellish the apartment. By late June of 1698 the wall and ceiling paintings and the multitude of plaques, pots, busts and gewgaws accumulated by Chapperon had been carted off or sold. The apartment doubtlessly looked pretty desolate when Charpentier surveyed it for the first time. That day, all items provided to the choir school by the royal administration were carefully inventoried. He signed the document and kept it among his personal papers. (If Charpentier did not plan to bring much furniture of his own to the Palais, the royal administrators probably brought in some more well-worn furniture for the new master's use.)

The first room in the music master's apartment was a vestibule that opened onto a great staircase leading to the Cour des aides. The walls of this vestibule were hung with "pieces of old Bergamo-style hangings" provided by the royal administration; and the only piece of furniture was a square table covered with a moth-eaten tablecloth of grey wool.

The next room was a bedroom. At least two windows opened onto an inner courtyard. In this room stood a bed (and all the necessary bedding) with grey wool curtains trimmed with silk fringe, and a matching spread and headboard. The only other furnishings were a dozen chairs upholstered in red and a table with turned legs and covered with a grey wool table-cover similar to the one in the vestibule. The fireplace was equipped with andirons trimmed with brass globes, plus other essential tools such as a little shovel, a pair of iron tongs.

Two small, glass-doored cabinets opened off the bedroom. They were empty. One of these cabinets led to a large "salle" with a window onto the courtyard. This room too was empty, as was a "long" cabinet adjoining it, also with a window onto the courtyard.

The new master was entitled to store his personal wine in the cellar beneath the house.

The remaining rooms of the "house" revolved around the daily activities of the eight choir boys. On the ground floor was a kitchen. There, seated on benches at a "long table," the eight pupils ate their meals, cooked by the live-in housekeeper who slept in a small room over the kitchen. From the sum allocated each quarter by the Chambre des comptes, which administered the school, Charpentier was expected to pay for his food and that of the choirboys, the grammar teacher, the housekeeper and any other domestics. Firewood was also doubtlessly paid for from this lump sum. (In his will Chapperon refers to "les rétributions qui se payent de trois mois en trois mois pour la nourriture des enfants, de maîtres de musique et de grammaire et des serviteurs et servantes," and he gives the impression that these quarterly payments totaled 3000 livres a year.)

The classroom was adjacent to the kitchen. The boys sat four to a bench, at two tables. The walls were lined with armoires and chests containing the linens and clothes that the royal administration had provided for the boys.

The grammar master and the pupils occupied two contiguous rooms, perhaps near Charpentier's apartment, perhaps on another floor. In a room hung with red Bergamo-style hangings, the grammar master slept in a bed with blue curtains. His work table was covered with a piece of Bergamo-style cloth. A half dozen chairs with green upholstery permitted him to receive friends. All these furnishings, plus the fireplace equipment, had been provided by the royal administration.

The eight choir boys slept in an adjacent room, each in the little curtainless bed provided by the king.

The fate of Charpentier's manuscripts

 — Chapperon's inventory leaves no doubt that all music composed for the Sainte-Chapelle was confiscated by the administrators immediately after the death of the maître de musique.

Charpentier's clothes

 — Once tonsured, Charpentier doubtlessly wore a black cassock and, it would seem, a square "bonnet." The sort of robes the master donned for the Sainte-Chapelle are described in Chapperon's inventory. The Usages of the chapel also tell us that, when these rules were read aloud at the beginning of each quarter of the year, the music master and grammar master were expected to be present, "en soutanes et longs manteaux." Chapperon's inventory suggests that the music master's black garb differentiated him from the canons (who wore "des aumusses de petit gris et des habits de chœur tout à fait semblables" and the Treasurer-abbot, who "seul porte l'aumusse blanche et le rochet sous le surplis." (BN., Morel de Thoisy, 78, fol. 29, rule 1, and fol. 28vo)

Charpentier's burial place

— Charpentier would one day be buried near his predecessor, in the curved cemetery just behind the apse of the Sainte-Chapelle, visible on the plan of the courtyard of the Palais.

An unofficial "purchase" of the office?

 — In what amounted to a de-facto purchase of the office from his predecessor (in Charpentier's case, the predecessor's heirs), the new master apparently had to pay 3000 livres for what was described as a reimbursement of money advanced to cover the first year's food and upkeep for choirboys and staff (see Chapperon's will.