That Charpentier's Epithalamio in lode dell'Altezza Serenissima Elettorale di Massimiliano Emanuel Duca di Baviera (H 473) was copied out into a "French" notebook suggests that he composed this work for the Guises, most likely Isabelle d'Orléans, better known as "Mme de Guise." Why do I propose that the work was written at the request of Mme de Guise? First of all, as Louis XIV's first cousin, she was the Dauphine's aunt. Thus it was quite plausible for Mme de Guise to offer the Dauphine a work celebrating the recent wedding of her brother Maximilian Emanuel, better known as Max-Emanuel. Then too, since Charpentier had composed regularly for the Dauphin from early 1679 until early 1683, such a gift would have a double thrust. That is to say, if the tribute pleased the Dauphine, it could open for Charpentier the door to the future king and queen's household, thereby assuring his future should the aging Mlle de Guise die.
Because the Epithalamio begins at the end of notebook 45, it clearly was written in 1685; and because several subsequent compositions separate it from a work in honor of Saint Cecilia (whose feast day is November 22), we can deduce that the work was probably composed circa July of that year. (Notebook 44 contains a work for Easter 1685, notebook 45 contains the Dialogue d'Angélique et de Médor, for a Dancourt play that opened on August 1, 1685, and that doubtlessly was in the troop's hands well before rehearsals in July; and the Epithalamio comes one folio after the Dialogue.) In other words, we can more or less rule out the possibility that the Epithalamio was written shortly after late January 1685, when news of the impending marriage reached the French court, and was promptly shipped off to Munich for performance at the Elector's wedding on July 15.
Are we therefore to conclude that this work (which requires two soprani and is described by Catherine Cessac as being "truly international" in style, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Paris: Fayard, 1988, p. 362) was intended for performance at the French court, primarily as a compliment to the Dauphine, and with the expectation that it would not be performed again? This question prompts others that cast doubt on the solidity of that conclusion: Why an Italian text? And why the parts for soprani — almost certainly castrati?
The catalogue of an exhibit devoted to Max-Emanuel suggests why Charpentier worked with an Italian text rather than a French, German or Latin one. The Dauphine and her brother had learned Italian as children and had visited Italy in 1667; and for each birthday, the future Dauphine would be given an Italian song written for the occasion (Kurfûrst Max Emanuel Bayern un Europa um 1700, Munich, 1976, item 35, and p. 240). In other words, an Italian text would have strong emotional resonances for the Dauphine: not only was Italian the language that marked important milestones in her life and in that of her brother, it would remind her of childhood adventures shared with her brother. By contrast, for a piece intended for performance at the French court, the choice of an Italian rather than a French text is troubling.
A tentative answer to the second question — Why castrati? — can be made on the basis of the lists of musicians in the Duke-Elector's service in 1680-1685, preserved in "Fürstensachen 677e" of the Munich archives. Instrumentalists and singers alike bear Italian names: Bombarda, Pelegrini, Ferrari, Steffani, Barberio,Venturi, and so forth. Nineteen Italian musicians in all. It is impossible to say whether any of them were soprani, for the vocal range of the singers is not specified. That Charpentier wrote melodies for soprani does not, of course, rule out a performance at the French court, for castrati had been brought to Paris by Paolo Lorenzani a few years earlier and some were presumably still there, despite the fogs and cold of the Seine valley. (Lorenzani was sent to Italy by Louis XIV in June 1679 to find "10 or 12 castrati," Archivio di Stato, Florence, Med. del prin. 4820, June 9, 1679.) In other words, when Charpentier wrote the Epithalamio there was a growing interest in Italian music at the French court. Still, that does not explain why someone would want to honor the brother of the now-French Dauphine by having an Italianate work performed at a French court function.
From the above musings, the following working hypothesis emerges, as a guide for further research: I propose that Charpentier composed the Epithalamio with the Elector's musicians in mind; and that an eventual performance at the French court, although a possibility, was not a prime concern.
A chronological context can be sketched out upon which to superimpose the proposed composition date of the Epithalamio: circa July 1685. Briefly, the Dauphine announced Bellefonds mission in mid-July; and Charpentier appears to have written the Epithalamio in July:
That is to say, the Marquis de Sourches suggests that Louis XIV was far from pleased when he learned of the young Duke's impending marriage. Indeed, he was quite piqued: for not only had Max-Emanuel not consulted him, the marriage alliance was scarcely advantageous for France (I, p. 172). This did not prevent the Dauphine from naming the Marquis de Bellefonds "pour aller faire ses compliments" to the newly-weds. The choice of Bellefonds was announced in mid-July, a week after the date that had been fixed for the marriage (I, p. 267). Bellefonds's departure was however delayed, for no envoy from Munich materialized to inform the king officially that the wedding had indeed taken place (I, p. 311, n. 3). As the summer progressed, news of Max-Emanuel's military prowess against the Turks reached the French court, combined the non-appearance of the Bavarian envoy, made it hard for Louis XIV to conceal his annoyance with the Bavarian Duke. Late in August, the envoy finally reached Paris — at which point the king promptly became "indisposed" (I, p. 300, especially fn 3, where Sourches notes: "Les malicieux disoient que cette indisposition ne venoit que du chagrin que le Roi avoit eu d'apprendre la ligue faite contre lui, et en même temps le succès des armes de l'Empereur.") Then, on September 3, Louis XIV abruptly set off for Chambord and allowed the envoy to cool his heels for a full month. The audience finally took place in early October, at Fontainebleau, where the court was to remain until November 1, for hunting, "appartements," ballets and plays (I, p. 307). Meanwhile, Bellefonds "nonetheless" had been allowed to start off on his mission at some point between August 15 (he had travelled to Anet with the Dauphin on August 12-14) and early October: "On avoit remis son audience [of the envoy] jusqu'après le voyage [of the court to Chambord and Fontainebleau]. Néanmoins on fit partir le marquis de Bellefonds...." (I, p. 312).
Relying on the chronology of Charpentier's manuscripts, the chronology provided by Sourches and what I have learned about Mme de Guise's preoccupations in the early 1680s, I propose the following working hypothesis: Circa May 1685, before she set off for a summer in her duchy of Alençon, Mme de Guise informed Charpentier that she would like a piece honoring the forthcoming wedding of the Dauphine's brother; she provided him with an Italian text, perhaps penned by one of the Florentines in Paris with whom she and Mlle de Guise were in constant contact; and she instructed the composer to see that a calligraphed version of the work was in the Dauphine's hands by mid-July, when the arrival of an envoy from Munich could be expected at the French court — and when, having officially learned of her brother's wedding, the Dauphine would dispatch her chosen envoy to Munich with gifts and congratulatory documents.
Things did not proceed quite as planned. First of all, if a performance of the Epithalamio was contemplated for the French court, neither late-July nor August proved propitious. After the Fête de Sceaux on July 16, the royal household was preoccupied with the marriage of the king's bastard daughter, Mlle de Nantes, and the Duke de Bourbon. In other words, the final half of July was scarcely ideal for praising any marriage other than that of Mlle de Nantes! August brought a series of operatic events at Marly, a reception for the Etats de Languedoc and, on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption. Above all, Max-Emanuel's envoy had not yet reached the French court. Since the king had no official notification that the projected marriage had in fact taken place, protocol would have prevented a performance of the Epithalamio. But, during the court's visit to Fontainebleau in early October, an event took place that was tailor-made for a performance of the Epithalamio — if such a performance was indeed planned: Max-Emanuel's envoy had his audience with Louis XIV. The marriage having finally become an acknowledged fact, the Dauphine could now rejoice publicly. But did these rejoicings include a performance of Charpentier's Epithalamio?
By then, Bellefonds was already on his way to congratulate Max-Emanuel on the Dauphine's behalf. Did he take with him a copy of the Epithalamio? If so, this musical gift would have been perceived by the Duke and his entourage as one of the official presents sent by the court of France. Is it likely that this was the case? Not if it was Mme de Guise, rather than the Dauphin, the Dauphine or the king who commissioned the Epithalamio (Had the work been requested by the royal family, would it not have been copied into a "Roman" notebook, rather than a "French" one?) In late-July or early-August of 1685, did the Dauphine turn to Herr Martin Mayr, the Bavarian agent in Paris — who was the Elector's cultural attaché, shipping-agent and bill-payer all wrapped up in one — and ask him to transmit to her brother a more personal gift, Charpentier's Epithalamio? If so, the identity of the "mailmen" can be proposed. The Munich archives tell of four young musicians (with German- or French-sounding names rather than Italian ones) who had been sent from Munich to Paris in February 1684 to learn French music, under the protection of the Dauphine and Herr Mayr. As we see in the Fugitive Piece containing correspondence about Herr Mayr and the Bavarian Musicians, these musicians started back to Munich in mid-August 1685, approximately a month before Bellefonds. To the court in Munich, Mayr routinely dispatched French music, sometimes printed and sometimes in manuscript. Were a score and partbooks of Charpentier's Epithalamio tucked into the musicians' baggage? Dr. Robert Münster of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich has informed me that the Epithalamio is not among the 15 manuscript works that survive from the days of Max- Emanuel and his wife, will further research in German libraries and collections unearth a copy of this "truly international" work?