Panat in postcardThe Ranums'

Panat Times

Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


A new date for cahier "II":

La Descente d'Orphée aux enfers (H.488)

This Musing refers to Laurent Guillo's "Les papiers imprimés
dans les Mélanges: relevés et hypothèses," pp. 37-54,
in Les Manuscrits autographes de Marc-Antoine Charpentier,
edited by Catherine Cessac and published
by the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles
(Wavre: Mardaga, 2007).

This Musing was revised in February 2015 to take into account evidence unavailable when it was written circa 2005.


Cahier "II" can now be dated more precisely. La Descente d'Orphée aux enfers (H.488), performed by the Great Guise Music and Antoine and Pierre Pièche, musicians to the Dauphin, almost certainly was composed between the late spring of 1687 and the autumn of 1687.

Cahier "II" as viewed between 1994 and 2007

Twenty years ago, in my Vers un chronologie (1994) I observed that cahier "II" is on paper L, and that it therefore seems to be contemporary with cahiers 46, 47, XLIX, L, and LI.

Basing my reasoning solely on the watermarks of the paper, I proposed that La Descente d'Orphée (H.488) was written between the fall of 1685 and the summer of 1687. Since Charpentier wrote a role for himself, I eventually proposed that La Descente was written prior to December 1685, just when (or so it seemed at the time) the composer stopped singing with Mlle de Guise's musicians. For the same reason, I proposed that cahier "II" might be the missing cahier 48 (see below, Post Scriptum), which came immediately after cahier 47, fits the time slot for early 1686 and contains H.415, the last work in the French cahiers for which Charpentier wrote a part for himself).

Laurent Guillo's research — presented to musicologists in 2004 and available since 2013 in a special number of the Bulletin Charpentier, "Chronologie raisonnée des manuscrits autographes de Charpentier. Essai de bibliographie matérielle" ( in which Catherine Cessac presents the results of her Herculean task of compiling the findings of Laurent Guillo, Jane Gosine and Patricia Ranum — has made me revise these hypotheses!

Since 1994 we have known that the paper in cahiers 46, 47, and XLIX was made by the same paper mill as the paper in cahier "II." That is to say, these three cahiers are all made of paper L, with its L-coeur-B and grand-raisin watermarks. But now, thanks to Guillo's research, we know that the staves of cahier "II" were manuscript, but that the staves in cahiers 46, 47, and XLIX were printed by the form that Guillo calls "PAP-86."

In short, although all paper L was made by the same paper mill, a print shop (presumably in Paris) obtained some of that paper and printed staves on it; and Marc-Antoine Charpentier used some of that printed paper in 1685. It appears, however, that another ream of that same paper was ruled by hand, and that this hand-ruled paper was on Charpentier's writing table when he copied the Descente d'Orphée into cahier "II."

When did Charpentier copy out cahier "II"?

Cahiers L and LI provide an answer to that question. These cahiers too are made of paper L, and the staves are hand-drawn. In other words, cahiers L, LI, and cahier "II" all contain the very same paper.

Cahiers L, LI, and "II" therefore are almost certainly contemporary with one another. We are fortunate that cahiers L and LI can be dated with considerable precision. For cahier L, the hand-ruled paper L was tucked into three outer folded sheets of hand-ruled paper 10 onto which Charpentier had copied the end of a "Noël" for the Great Guise Music (H.483b), intended for Christmas 1686. To the middle of this thin cahier, he added sheets of hand-ruled paper L and copied out a musical setting of Psalm 91 (H.195), to be performed by the Great Guise Music (with François Anthoine, rather than Charpentier, singing the haute-contre line). The precise date of performance of H.195 is unknown, but the chronology within the cahiers suggest that it was copied into cahier L during the late winter or early spring of 1687. In other words, the hand-ruled sheets of paper L were already on Chrpentier's work table in the spring of 1687.

Shortly after that, to make cahier LI Charpentier used more sheets of this same hand-ruled paper. We can deduce the approximate date when he did this: May 1687, because the first piece in cahier LI was composed for Corpus Christi of 1687 (H.346), which fell on May 29 that year, A mass for Port-Royal (H.5), sung on July 20, 1687, completes cahier LI. In sum, cahier LI contains works written for performance between May and July of 1687.

It clearly was around this time, roughly March through August 1687, or at the latest during the autumn of 1687, that Charpentier made cahier "II" from the same ream of hand-ruled paper L,.copied La Descente d'Orphée aux enfers into it, and marked "II" on the outer sheet.

In short, La Descente d'Orphée (cahier "II") seems to have been written for an event scheduled either for the late winter or spring of 1687 or for an event held late in the autumn of that year.

The fact that the Guise Music was disbanded in early March 1688 provides us with a convenient terminus ad quem. That is to say, La Descente d'Orphée can scarcely have been written for a performance planned for 1688. In addition, we can presume that the opera was written for performance before the Dauphin. Indeed, the presence of his musicians, Antoine and Pierre Pièche, who are named in the manuscript, would suggest that their presence is a "flower" sent to Monseigneur by Mme de Guise and the dying Mlle de Guise. The latter princess was especially eager to "establish" some of her musicians; at least one of them, Mlle de Brion, was promptly incorporated into the royal "musique."

A bit of fine-tuning of C. Cessac's "Chronologie raisonnée" appears to be in order: La Descente d'Orphée aux enfers does not date from "1686" but from 1687 (pages 39 and XIX of the "Chronologie"). The error is of course mine, not Cessac's.

This dating of course means that Charpentier did not definitively stop singing with the Great Guise Music in December 1685 (cahiers XLVIII-XLIX, H.483a), as I once proposed. Two years later we find him still singing with the Guise ensemble, to the accompaniment of two of the Dauphin's musicians. In other words, although François Anthoine, a younger haute-contre, clearly assumed Charpentier's place in the Guise ensemble early in 1686, the composer ― who had recently turned forty ― was still in voice in 1687 and was performing a minor role before his former master, the Dauphin, the heir to the French throne.

A possible clue?

Now, in February 2015, I would like to propose a court event at which the La Descente d'Orphée aux enfers may have been performed. This proposal became possible thanks to the publication, in 2009, of Christophe Levantal's amazing Louis XIV, chronographie d'un règne, vol. 2, p. 504.

On October 2, 1687, the king, the Dauphin, the Dauphine Monsieur et Madame, and the court set off to spend several weeks at Fontainebleau, to hunt and to enjoy the theater, music and at least one "opera."  There, on October 20, 1687, a "new opera" was performed. According to Dangeau (note 4331, p. 504) the person who "made" the opera was a certain Luquenet: "un opéra qu'a fait Luquenet."  A week later, October 29, in the presence of the Dauphin, "le soir, il y eut appartement où l'on entendi pour la seconde fois l'opéra de Luquenet," (Dangeau, Journal, II, pp. 54, 58).

Who is this Luquenet about whom Google, Gallica, the CMBV database and Richard Newton (L'espace du roi, with its 80 pages of indexed names) — to name only a few —are frustratingly silent? Rather than being the composer of this unidentified opera, as Levantal assumes (index, p. 966), was Luquenet the librettist for La Descente d'Orphée aux enfers, that is, the person who "made" the libretto, the "tragedy" that Charpentier then set to music? Or was he a courtier acting as impresario, what we would call the "producer"?

I shall keep the name "Luquenet" in mind ....

Post Scriptum

Jane Gosine was correct when she observed that cahier "II" can scarcely be the missing cahier 48, as I once hypothesized:

... it seems more likely that Cahier "II" is either Cahier LII or LIII, both of which are missing. ... Cahier "II" has the same watermark as Cahier LI, and the ink used for these cahiers is noticeably fainter than that found elsewhere in the Meslanges, thus linking them chronologically. The handwriting in Cahier "II" strongly suggests that it is the missing Cahier LII, rather than Cahier 48. If Cahier "II" were Cahier 48, one would expect to find the opening sections of H.430 — the musical fragment that opens Cahier [49] ― and yet no such music exists in Cahier "II." (paragraph 5.3.1 of her online article, "Questions of Chronology...,"