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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


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Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


Paolo Lorenzani and the musical devotions at the Theatine Church in Paris


This factlet was originally posted on Oct. 10, 20056

Sometimes the end of a statement in a historical source merits being quoted with the rest of the text. For example, the following statement about the Theatins and the opera-like works performed in their convent church had been quoted many times by musicologists. But I don't recall having read the final sentence (highlighted by bold type), which I happened upon the other day when looking for something else in Depping's Correspondance administrative sous le règne de Louis XIV (Paris, 1851), II, p. 602:

Colbert de Seignelay to Archbishop Harlay of Paris, Fontainebleau, Nov. 6, 1685:

On s'est plaint au roy que les Théatins, sous prétexte d'une dévotion aux âmes du Purgatoire, faisoient chanter un véritable opéra dans leur église, où le monde se rend à dessein d'entendre la musique; que la porte en est gardèe par deux suisses, qu'on y loue les chaises 10 s, qu'à tous les changemens qui se font, et à tout ce qu'on trouve moyen de mettre à cette dévotion, on fait des affiches, comme à une nouvelle représentation. Sur quoy S.M. m'ordonne de vous escrire pour sçavoir de vous s'il y a quelque fondement à cette plainte, et pour vous dire que, dans le mouvement où sont les religionnaires pour leur conversion, il seroit peut-estre à propos d'éviter ces sortes de représentations publiques que vous sçavez leur faire de la peine, et qui peuvent augmenter l' esloignement qu'ils ont de la religion.

The Edict of Nantes had been revoked only a few weeks earlier, on October 18. Louis XIV viewed the new collaboration between Paolo Lorenzani and the Theatins as creating a unnecessary psychological and moral obstacle to the conversion of France's Huguenots to Catholicism. True, Lorenzani continued to work for the reverend fathers for two more years, but this text suggests that the theatricality of these "devotions" was curtailed after late 1685. Was Marc-Antoine Charpentier -- and the two Guise ladies, whose devotional activities included converting Huguenots -- given the same message? It seems likely that the royal desire was indeed made known to Mlle and Mme de Guise, all the more so because, if I am correct in hypothesizing that many of Charpentier's oratorios were performed at the Theatins, the princesses and their composer were as open to criticism for sponsoring opera-like devotions as the Theatins were.

At any rate, after the Feast Day of Saint Cecilia, 1685 (that is, approximately two weeks after Seignelay wrote this letter) Charpentier abruptly stopped composing in the oratorical genre. (He did, however, write a new prelude for an older work for Saint Cecilia's Day. 1686, H.415a, which I have surmised may have been intended for a private performance to honor M. Du Bois' dedication of a book to Mlle de Guise). Nor after 1688, while in the service of the Jesuits, did Charpentier go back to writing elaborate compositions that could be accused of resembling operas. True, the 1690s brought a few works that C. Cessac classifies as histoire sacrées, but they rarely called for more than 4 singers and 4 instruments (H.417, H.416; H.418, H. 421). The Judicium Salomonis (H.422), written for the opening of the Parlement of Paris, is a notable exception to this rather surprising about-face. but it was commissioned for a very exclusive event that was unlikely to affect Huguenot sensibilities.

A related A factoid that I just found in one of Depping's footnotes, shows how committed to conversions Mme de Guise was during the weeks after the Revocation. On December 30, 1685, her secretary, Charmoy, wrote La Reynie, head of the Paris police:

Mme de Guise vient de me commander de me donner l'honneur de vous escrire qu'elle estime, si vous voulez bien faire encore quelque semonce un peu forte à Mme de la Garde, qu'elle prendra le party de faire l'abjuration plustost que de quitter Paris; S.A.R. vous prie de luy garder le secret.

La Reynie (or his aide) noted on the letter: "Si elle ne veut pas faire abjuration, le roy ne la veut pas souffir à Paris." (Depping, IV, p. 388, note 1.)

To summarize: The Guises promoted the oratorio in France; and from 1675 on into 1685, they ordered Charpentier to compose numerous, often quite ambitious works in that genre. But after the Revocation of October 1685, they bowed to Louis XIV's wishes and ceased sponsoring oratorios. I personally have not come upon any sources, post-Revocation, that suggest how the Theatines responded to the king's wishes. As for the Jesuits, throughout the 1690s they clearly refrained from presenting full-blown oratorios in their church.