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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


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Judith, Femme forte and Marian figure:

A look at how the Vulgate text was redacted into a libretto for a Guise "devotion"

Prelude:  Madame de Guise's "dévotion"

Click here for John Powell's online edition of Judith sive Bethulia

In 1995 I wrote an article arguing that, beginning in 1675, Her Royal Highness Isabelle (Élisabeth) d'Orleans, known to her contemporaries as "Madame de Guise," commissioned a succession of histoires sacrées (oratorios) from Marc-Antoine Charpentier. (1) The cycle of oratorios portrayed and praised Biblical or saintly persons whom the princess would henceforth be emulating. (2) The first of these oratorios was Judith sive Bethulia liberata (H.391), the story of an Old Testament heroine whom Mme de Guise was taking as a model. Indeed, there were certain parallels between the lives of the two women: like Judith, Mme de Guise was a noble young widow who had decided to retain her husband's name and to spend the rest of her life praying, converting heretics, and helping her people.

Widowed in 1671, Mme de Guise lost her only son in March 1675. A few months later she obtained a chapel in the church of the Italian Theatine fathers. The church of Sainte-Anne-la-Royale had been protected by and named for Mme de Guise's late aunt, Queen Anne of Austria, the consort of Louis XIII. The new chapel was linked in some way to what the Theatine record book calls "la dévotion" of Mme de Guise. As far as I have been able to determine, Judith was part of this "dévotion" and was performed at the Theatines on September 28, 1675.

(A brief parenthesis is advisable here. The expression "la dévotion" is frustratingly vague. According to the Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française of 1694, dévotion, in the singular, denotes "piety," "attachment to the service of God," and "the exercises of devotion." In the plural, the expression "les dévotions" denotes the sacrament of Communion. That option can be eliminated, because the sources do not use the plural. In short, when the Theatine record book, and the notarial act cited in note 13, below allude to Mme de Guise's "dévotion" — her "singulière dévotion" (her "unique" or "rare" dévotion "to which nothing is similiar") — they are referring perhaps to her piety, perhaps to her attachment to the service of God, perhaps to specific devotional "exercises" she is making, and perhaps to a blend of the three!)




I subsequently realized that when I wrote that article, I neglected to mention two evocations of Judith as a femme forte that were woven into the libretto of Charpentier's Judith. On folio 9 of the autograph score, three voices from the "choir of Israelites" praise Judith, saying: O mulier fortis, "Oh, strong woman," that is, "O femme forte." Then, on folio 19, in the final song extolling Judith, the chorus sings several times: Judith fortis, that is, "strong Judith," "Judith forte."

That these words were inserted into a libretto that otherwise stays quite close to the Vulgate text merits our attention, because the librettist of H.391 clearly was familiar with the popular devotional book written by the Jesuit Pierre Le Moyne, La Galerie des Femmes fortes, (3) where Judith is among the heroines portrayed. These words can scarcely have been inserted without Mme de Guise's being made aware. In other words, the fact that the libretto of Charpentier's oratorio alludes to that particular portrayal of Judith suggests that Mme de Guise — like many of the worshipers who attended this devotional event — was familiar with the book. (4)

Now, in late 2013 and early 2014, I am revisiting for our site this corpus of oratorios: Judith (late September 1675), Esther (late September 1677), St. Cecilia (H.397 of November 1677), and The Plague of Milan, a tribute to St. Charles Borromeo (November 1679).

The libretto of Judith sive Bethulia (H.391)

The oratorio about Judith is instructive for several reasons. First of all, it sets the tone for the three oratorios that followed. That is, the ensemble of voices and instruments used in 1675 (presumably hired, but perhaps borrowed from Mme de Guises's first-cousin, Louis XIV) was more or less replicated for each successive oratorio. This permits us to discern the sort of ensemble that was deemed appropriate for a devotional event sponsored by a petite-fille de France in whose veins ran the blood of Henry IV. In addition, the libretto for Judith served as a model for the libretti of the other oratorios in the corpus, which all adhere to a predictable format: once the story has been told by choruses and soloists, the oratorio concludes with a jubilant choral piece extolling the hero or heroine. Lastly, the librettist — let us assume that it was the same librettist throughout the corpus, Philippe Goibaut des Bois, known as "M. Du Bois de l'hôtel de Guise" — based his text on a historical source. The first two oratorios are condensations of the Vulgate text, with occasional changes in wording; and the story of St. Cecilia paraphrases Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend. I will persist in my search for the source for the tribute to St. Charles Borromeo.

In the case of Judith, Pierre Le Moyne's Gallerie des Femmes fortes can be seen as forming a colorful backdrop to the libretto.

Father Le Moyne's "femmes fortes"

What is a femme forte? In his dedication to Anne of Austria, Pierre Le Moyne points out that all the women in his gallery are pious, and their piety goes beyond saying the rosary, praying in private, or giving up domestic pleasures. "There are," he says, "exercises more exposed to the eyes of the world." The femme forte's personal devotions will therefore edify the people around her; when she prays or meditates, she is doing it not only for herself, but for a "multitude of souls." Her meditations and prayers should focus upon "the propagation of the Faith, the defense of the Church, the security of the Kingdom, and the peace and tranquility of the Christian world." (The propagation of the Faith: in other words, the conversion of Protestants.)

The femme forte who is a public figure (personne publique) must, in addition, do things "magnificently"; magnificence is a "virtue" that controls (qui gouverne) the grandes âmes of "public persons." Even at court, her magnificence must be "purified" of pride, ostentation, love of luxury. "This magnificence based on order and rules ... is a sort of force" that will help her achieve her saintly goals. In short, Le Moyne's book was inciting high noble women such as Mme de Guise to live a saintly life amid the pleasures of the royal court, yet at the same time to do things with the splendor expected of a person of her high rank. The oratorios that she began commissioning in September 1675 would, in the eyes of her contemporaries, bear witness to the magnificence of the princess and the purity and sincerity of her religious aims.

Le Moyne's portrait of Judith examines these general principles as they shaped the conduct of one specific woman. Like Mme de Guise, Judith was a young and noble widow: "Upon her husband's death, she overcame the pain of her situation, and she showed that, along with the blood of the patriarchs, her ancestors, she had inherited their faith and their constancy." Having overcome her sorrow, she next overcame sloth and new affections, "which are the most dangerous enemies for young widows." Indeed, "unable to cease being young, unable to toss away her beauty, [Judith] weakened them by fasting and by wearing a hair shirt."

The moral lesson taught by Judith could scarcely be missed by twenty-eight year-old Mme de Guise: "Let [women] therefore learn from this illustrious and glorious teacher, to discipline their charms and to give those charms devotion and zeal; to shut away dangerous beauty and rob it of all the weapons with which it can do harm. Let them learn to reform their widowhood and to shoulder God's yoke .... And finally, let them learn to be faithful to the memory of their late husband, and never discard his name ...."

That is exactly what Isabelle d'Orléans did. She never remarried. She "shouldered God's yoke" and set about converting Protestants and caring for the poor and the sick. She frequently withdrew to a retreat house outside the city to pray and meditate. (There is no evidence, however, that she wore a hair shirt.) To show the force of her religious convictions, she organized the "magnificent" musical devotions expected to a petite-fille de France. Although she had yielded her rights to the duchy of Guise, she continued to use her husband's name. (Her cousin the king would doubtlessly have accorded her a more lofty title had she requested it.)

Note that, at the end of his presentation of Judith, Le Moyne observes that "this example is not unique .... Esther saved [her people] ...." With this brief aside, the Jesuit provided Mme de Guise with the subject of another oratorio, Historia Esther (H. 396). (5)

Redacting the libretto for Judith

Monsieur Du Bois, librettist

Before continuing this Musing, I must repeat my conviction that —as in the case of Caecilia Martyr (H.397) and the subsequent re-workings of that libretto — the author of the libretto for Judith was Philippe Goibaut des Bois. "M. Du Bois," as he was known, was an experienced biblical translator. One of the "Pascalins" around the Duc de Roannez, Pascal, and Port-Royal, Du Bois had worked with Isaac Lemaistre de Sacy on the translation of the New Testament into French, the so-called Nouveau Testament de Mons. It was probably Du Bois, not Charpentier, who had added invented phrases to some of the earliest motets composed for the Guises. (Among such texts would be "O Doctor optime," H.307, which celebrates St. Augustine, whose writings Du Bois was just then beginning to translate.) In 1675, writing a long libretto would have been a new adventure for this Latinist.

Two decades later, Du Bois thanked Mme de Guise for her "protection" and her "kindness" to him "for so many years," depuis tant d'années." (6) Veiled though it is, this thank-you tells us that Mme de Guise continued to "protect" Du Bois even after she moved out of the Hôtel de Guise in 1673. We can surmise that this protection included making it known to Jean-Baptiste Lully that his privilège (his monopoly over sung vernacular and devotional music) did not apply to oratorios, motets and chamber operas produced by Charpentier and Du Bois. Put another way, Du Bois' thank-you suggests that Mme de Guise chose him to write librettos for her musical devotions. For Du Bois, these commissions would have been a lofty compliment. An article about the musical devotion itself was unlikely to find its way into the Gazette de France (the Mercure Galant had not yet been created); and if it did, the names of librettist and composer would probably not be mentioned. Still, the news would circulate by word of mouth, and Du Bois, the provincial minor gentleman from Poitou, would not only bask in compliments, he would also rise in the estimation of educated Parisian dévots, and might even cause some members of the Republic of Letters to view him favorably. (7) To show his gratitude, over the years Du Bois presented Mme de Guise with some sixteen volumes of his translations of St. Augustine, bound in crimson morocco leather. (8) (Did the last of Mme de Guise's protections include militating in favor of Du Bois' election to the French Academy in 1693, mainly in recognition of his translations of Augustine?)

Although Du Bois usually worked from Latin to French, the redactions that I will be discussing in the rest of this Musing would have posed few problems for this future "Immortal" of the French Academy.

The Story of Judith

The backbone of the libretto is the Book of Judith, one of the "apocryphal" books of St. Jerome's Vulgate. The libretto is itself a faithful condensation of the much longer Biblical text. (9)
(If you are not familiar with the story of Judith, click here for a translation of the version prepared for the Dauphin in 1677), and click here for Le Moyne's text and an English translation of it.

Table 1: modifications to Judith 9
Table 2: modifications to Judith 13

The fidelity with which Du Bois adhered to the Vulgate text can be seen in Tables 1 and 2. Excerpts from these two tables will be used below, to show modifications that Du Bois made to the Vulgate wording. The complete tables can be viewed by clicking the appropriate box, above.

Table 1 shows selected verses from Chapter 9, a text that Charpentier calls "la prière de Judith." Table 2 shows passages from the joyous concluding songs of Judith and the Bethulians.

I selected those two segments because, in both the Vulgate and in the libretto, these passages are more conversational than narrative. For Judith's prayer, I reasoned that the libretto might reveal the role that the art of rhetoric played in some, if not all of Du Bois' modifications. And I chose Judith and the Bethulians' final song because it was especially interesting, owing to an unusually high number of modifications, plus some intriguing vocabulary, all woven into a mere eight Biblical verses.

Du Bois' modifications rarely affect more than a few words, and more often than not the word he selected to replace a discarded one is a synonym. We shall see, however, that in some instances modifying only a word or two resulted in significant changes of meaning that are cannot be accidental and that almost certainly reflect Mme de Guise's "dévotion."

Du Bois sometimes omitted a verse or two. Indeed, it is instructive to note which the details he omitted and which that he retained. One omission is especially intriguing. Although he retains about half of Judith 13:20, he omits the allusion to Judith's guardian angel. Yet angels play an important role in Father Le Moyne's portrayal of Judith; Mme de Guise had her late husband painted a the guardian angel of their son; and Lemaistre de Sacy's commentary on the Book of Judith discusses at considerable length the nature of Judith's angel. (10) At first glance, the reason behind the omission seems self-evident: the desire to be succinct. (A second glace, below, may point to a different reason.)

Or take a phrase from the Vulgate that was retained, although it does little to advance the story being told. In Judith 11:21, Holofernes tells Judith that he will be willing to convert to Judaism: et quoniam bona est promissio tua, si fecerit mihi hoc Deus tuus, erit et Deus meus,.., "And because thy promise is good, if thy God shall do this for me, he shall also be my God...." Du Bois retains every word. The reason becomes clear when one recalls that Mme de Guise was committed to the conversion of Protestants and, that very year, would proclaim this intention publicly in the first oratorio honoring St. Cecilia  the converter (H.394).

We saw earlier that, at two points in the libretto, Du Bois added allusions to Judith the mulier fortis, the "femme forte," thereby alluding to links that stretched from Le Moyne's Galerie, to the late Queen Anne of Austria, patroness of the Theatine church and dedicatee of the Galerie, and on to her niece Mme de Guise and her new chapel at the Theatines.

Some Marian figures

By changing a few words from Judith 13, Du Bois created a startling parallel. Judith is linked to the Virgin — and, it would appear, to a "dévotion" being promoted by the Theatines during the early 1670s. Two verses from Judith serve as anchor points for this parallel.

The first verse is Judith 13:20 (the same verse that contains the statement about Judith's accompanying angel). In the libretto, passages from Judith 13:20 are part of Judith's exultation as she shows the head of Holofernes, and then continues on to the "hymn" that she addresses to the Lord. Du Bois made two very significant modifications to his quotation from Judith 13:20 (see Table 2.)

The first modification involves changing one word: sine pollutione peccati ("without pollution of sin") becomes sine macula peccati. Consequently, the libretto reads: "without the stain of sin." Sine macula: that is, "im-macula...," as in immaculée, "immaculate." Can this allude to anything other than the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary?

The second modification involves Judith 13:23 (see Table 2). In the Vulgate, the blessing is stated as follows: Benedicta est tu filia à Domino Deo excelso, prae omnibus mulieribus super terram, "Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth."
In her discussion of Judith as a Marian figure, Elena Ciletti explains, more succinctly and authoritatively than I possibly could, how those lines from Judith were understood to prefigure the Virgin:

No aspect of Judith's triumphant return from the Assyrian camp is more relative to the Marian typology than the praise bestowed upon her by the Bethulian elder Ozias [in Judith 13:23]. His words were read by Catholics as explicitly pointing to Mary: "Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth." Benedicta es tu filia à Domino Deo excelso, prae omnibus mulieribus super terram). We recognize here the adumbration of Gabriel's salutations to Mary at the Annunciation and the Visitation, respectively: "blessed art thou among women (Luke 1:28): benedicta tu in mulieribus.) This is of course the language enshrined in the Ave Maria. The most fundamental of Marian doctrines and prayers were thus construed as Judithic in their essence, affirmed by the Church as scriptural confirmation of Mary's unique supernatural destiny. (11)

M. Du Bois' libretto makes this age-old parallel more explicit than the Vulgate. He changes Judith from a "girl" to a "woman": Et tu benedicta es mulier, "Blessed art thou, woman." He also modifies prae omnibus mulieribus super terram, so that it reads: prae omnibus super terram, "above all the [women] on earth." The resultant statement is: "And thou are blessed, woman, above all the women on earth." (For comparison, the Ave Maria — a familiar text that devout persons repeat thirteen times in the course of praying the rosary — reads: Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus. "Blessed art thou among women ...")

In short, Du Bois' libretto takes us from Judith the femme forte to the emerging doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and on to the Ave Maria-Rosary. The ties linking Judith to the Virgin do not stop there, however. Only a few lines earlier — just before sine macula, "immaculate" — Judith sang the following words from Judith 13:19: Ecce caput Holofernis, quem percussit Dominus per manum foeminae, "Behold the head of Holofernes ... where the Lord our God slew him by the hand of a woman." Du Bois shortens the 25-word sentence into a 9-word one, thereby making the statement more emphatic: Ecce caput Holofernis, quem percussit Dominus per manum foeminae. "Here is the head of Holofernes that our Lord slew by the hand of a woman."

Let us invite Elena Ciletti to explain the significance of these particular words:

The verbal similarity between Ozias's address to Judith and Luke's for the Annunciation illustrates the keystone of the typology: the parallel between the beheading of Holofernes and the conception of Christ. Central to the idea is the symbolic association of Holofernes with Satan and thus with the serpent in Eden, precipitating the Fall and the redemptive mission of Christ. The ultimate crushing by an unnamed woman of the head of the serpent was prophesied in the ipsa conteret caput tuum of Genesis 3:15. That controversial feminine pronoun, ipsa, a grammatical error in the Vulgate text and much derided by reformers, was maintained by the Church as a reference to Mary, who crushes Satan's head by humbly accepting the incarnation of Christ in her virgin womb. The step to Judith's dispatching of the head of Holofernes was inevitable. She thus enters into the symmetrical theology of Eva/Ave, Mary as the Second Eve: the original sin is caused by a woman, the concupiscent mother of us all, and redeemed by a woman, the virgin who conceives the Messiah at the Annunciation. As a patristic source put it, "the serpent deceived the former [Eva], so Gabriel might bring glad tidings to the latter [Mary]." (12)

A word changed in the libretto that creates an allusion to the Immaculate Conception. A modification that brings the text closer to the Ave Maria. A passage retained that had long been understood to allude to the Virgin and to the prophecy that she would crush the serpent's head. In other words, the joyous and praise-filled words of Judith and the Bethulians that bring to a close Du Bois' libretto, clearly were intended for a devotional event at which Mme de Guise, through Judith, glorified the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception.

Was the performance of Judith related to a specific "dévotion" at Sainte-Anne-la-Royale? For example, a confraternity of the Virgin about which the scanty sources are frustratingly silent? Or, when the Theatines alluded to "la dévotion de cette grande princesse," were they simply thinking of the personal and quite private devotions of a grieving mother who came to pray before the altar of Saint Gaetano?

A working hypothesis

In view of the scarcity of archival evidence, at this point I can but hypothesize — and hope that one day someone will come upon evidence that reinforces the following hypothesis or that turns the hypothesis into a statement of proof.

First of all, a pattern begins to emerge. In June 1673, Mme de Guise had founded a salut service at the seminary of Caen, where there was a "dévotion" to the Sacred Heart of the Most Blessed Virgin. The purpose of this foundation is clearly stated in the notarial act: Mme de Guise has "always" had a "unique devotion" for the Virgin; and now she is putting herself and her little son "under the special protection of this divine queen of Heaven, and unceasingly appealing for her help." (13) God having subsequently called the child to his bosom, Mme de Guise appears to have created a new compact with the Virgin, this time at the Theatines. A compact by which she appealed for the Virgin's help, as she embarked upon her new activities as a femme forte.

Was the Scapular of the Immaculate Conception the "dévotion" for which Mme de Guise had requested a chapel at Sainte-Anne-la-Royale? In 1583 an order of Theatine nuns known as the Oblates of the Immaculate Conception had been founded in Italy. The distinctive blue scapular that was part of the nuns' habit was soon adopted by the faithful, and indulgences were granted for wearing it. In 1633, the Theatine fathers recognized the order, and in 1671 the pope assigned them the task of promoting the devotion of the Scapular of the Immaculate Conception.

Did the so-called "Blue Scapular" make its way to France by 1675? The clues that Du Bois wove into the libretto of Judith point in that direction. A link between this devotion and Mme de Guise must, however, remain hypothetical until more solid evidence is uncovered.

The hypothesis that Judith was written for an event related to a confraternity of the Immaculate Conception does, of course, make me re-think the dating that I have proposed. That is, I proposed the final week of September, when passages from the Book of Judith were read during nocturns. (14) Because the Feast of the Immaculate Conception did not yet exist in 1675, was Judith perhaps performed on or about the Feast of the Conception of the Virgin, celebrated each December 8? Is the absent angel a clue? That is to say, was the angel omitted because his presence would have suggested the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25? And what are the merits of the hypothesis that Judith is linked to the Feast of the Assumption, August 15? (15)

Looking over M. Du Bois' shoulder as he redacts the libretto for Judith

Or should I say "over the shoulders of M. Du Bois and Marc-Antoine Charpentier"?

This appears to have been Du Bois' first attempt at writing a libretto for a complete oratorio. An amateur musician, he presumably knew that it was essential to place the accentuated, "long" Latin syllables on the strong beats of the musical measure. (16) Still, there must have been moments when he struggled, as he tried to bend St. Jerome's Latin to the demands of music.
Chapentier too knew Latin: he had studied that language while at a collège, in preparation for admission to the Law Faculty. His skill at fitting Latin words to music almost certainly surpassed that of Du Bois. It is nonetheless quite unlikely that, seated at Du Bois' worktable in his comfortable apartment at the Hôtel de Guise, Charpentier worked with the older man as an equal, contradicting him or insisting on a different approach. Du Bois was Charpentier's superior in several ways: his age, the number of years he had been "near" Mlle de Guise, the position he occupied in the household, and his social status in the world outside the Hôtel de Guise. Armed with tact and patience, (17) the son of a master scribe probably came to the rescue of the gentleman from Poitou again and again, gently and subtly planting in the latter's mind the solution for one or another problem that had initially seemed insurmountable -- and in the process educating him in the art of setting Latin to music.

Changed vocabulary, transposed phrases

Many of Du Bois' modifications involve changing a word here and there, or transposing word groups to make the Vulgate text more singable. I have limited my analysis to excerpts from Judith 9 and Judith 13; but I very much doubt that my conclusions would differ very much, if I had compared the complete libretto with all sixteen chapters of the Book of Judith.

One very common modification consists of changing an isolated word. Another type of modification involves inverting the order of St. Jerome's wording. The reason for many of these modifications can be deduced: declamatory issues. On the other hand, a seemingly insignificant changes in vocabulary or phrasing can potentially modify the message of the line as a whole.

In the seven examples that follow, underlining calls attention to changes in vocabulary made by Du Bois. Ordinary type shows passages from the Vulgate that Du Bois did not use. Bold-face type highlights phrases taken virtually intact from the Book of Judith. The English translation comes from the Douai-Reims Bible; the French translation is based partly on Lemaistre de Sacy's French version and partly on J. Duron's renderings of phrases added by Du Bois. (18)

In the phonetic renderings, y represents the "pointed" French u that is represented phonetically as [y]. Many letters in the international phonetic alphabet cannot be imitated by the alphabets available for web postings, so I have had to be inventive throughout this discussion. These hybrid phonetic indications are shown within square brackets, as true phonetic transcriptions normally are.

 Example 1

Judith 9:1- Quibus abscedentibus, Judith induens se cilicio posuit cinerem super caput suum: et prosternens se Domino, clamabat ad Dominum, dicens: [And when they were gone, Judith went into her oratory: and putting on haircloth, laid ashes on her head: and falling down prostrate before the Lord, she cried to the Lord, saying:]

versus the libretto:
Nocte autem sequentem Judith induta cilicio, posuit cinerem super caput suum: et oravit Dominum dicens: [Et, la nuit suivante se revêtant d'un cilice, Judith mit de la cendre sur sa tête, et elle pria Dieu en disant:]

That is to say, in Judith 9:1 — Judith induens se becomes Judith induta. In other words, 4 syllables are reduced to 3. This change in the form of the verb causes the awkward [ĩ-dy-ãs-sé] to become the more felicitous [ĩ-dy-ta].

There is another significant word change in Judith 9:1:

Judith 9:1 — clamabat becomes oravit. Here the meaning changes slightly: "crying out" becomes "praying." For the gentler concept of "praying," the sounds of the syllables are now gentle as well. The 3 syllables launched by strong consonant sounds (cl, m, b) are replaced by 3 syllables where the sound of vowels is lengthened and strengthened by consonants that can be "doubled." In other words, [kla-ma-ba] becomes [o-ra-vi], where consonants can be lingered upon for a less "clamorous" effect: "o-rra-vvit."

Example 2

Judith 9:2 - Domine Deus patris mei Simeon, qui dedisti illi gladium in defensionem alienigenarum, qui violatores extiterunt in coinquinatione sua, et denudaverunt femur virginis in confusionem: ...
[O Lord God of my father Simeon, who gavest him a sword to execute vengeance against strangers, who had defiled by their uncleanness, and uncovered the virgin unto confusion:] ...Judith 9:6 - Respice castra Assyriorum nunc, sicut tunc castra Aegyptiorum videre dignatus es, quand post servos tuos armati currebant, confidentes in quadrigis, et in equitatu suo, et in multitudine bellatorum. [Look upon the camp of the Assyrians now, as thou wast pleased to look upon the camp of the Egyptians, when they pursued armed after thy servants, trusting in their chariots, and in their horsemen, and in a multitude of warriors.]
versus the libretto:
Domine Deus, Deus patris mei, qui dedisti illi gladium in ultionem contra gentes alienigenas quaerentes animas populi tui fidelis, respice, Domine, respice superbiam Assyriorum et humilitatem filiorum Israel. [Seigneur Dieu, Dieu de mon père, vous qui lui avez mis l'épée entre les mains pour se venger des étrangers qui réclamaient la vie de ton peuple fidèle, jettez les yeux, Seigneur, sur la superbe des Assyriens et l'humilité des fils d'Israël.]


That is to say, in Judith 9:2 in defensionem alienigenarum becomes in ultionem contra gentes alienigenas. The meaning changes only slightly: "ward off strangers" (or, in the Reims-Douai translation, "executing vengeance against strangers") becomes "se venger des étrangers" ("taking revenge on strangers"). This modification replaces the strong consonants d and f of defensionem with a gentle l that flows into a "t-pur (ti) that is pronounced as a "si" as in nation, portion. These sibilant (hissing) sounds are followed by 2 nasal syllables that are each followed by a t: [kõ-tra] and [zhã-tès]. In short, [ĩ-dé-fã-si-o-nèm] becomes [i-nyl-si-o-nèm kõ-tra zhã-tès]. And the 6 rather equal, march-like syllables of the Vulgate become 9 syllables in the libretto, the first 5 permitting the singer to hiss the expression of "revenge," before moving on to 4 resonant and percussive syllables to hammer out the concept "against foreigners."

There is another change of wording:

Judith 9:6 — respice castra Assyriorum becomes respice superbiam Assyriorum. That is, the "camps" of the Assyrians becomes the "arrogance" or "pride" of the Assyrians. This change replaces a 2-syllable word with a 4-syllable one: cas-tra versus su-per-bi-am. Here, Du Bois' modification seems related less to the sound of the words and the number of syllables than to the desire to avoid going into detail about Pharaoh's army.

 Example 3

Judith 9:12-13 - Fac Domine, ut gladio proprio ejus superbia amputetur: Capiatur laqueo oculorum suorum in me, et percuties cum ex labiis charitatis mea. [Bring to pass, O Lord, that his pride may be cut off with his own sword. Let him be caught in the net of his own eyes in my regard, and do thou strike him by the graces of the words of my lips.]
versus the libretto:

 Fac Domine, quaeso, ut Holofernes capiatur laqueo oculorum suorum in me, et proprio gladio superbia ejus amputetur. [Faites, Seigneur, je vous prie, qu'Holoferne soit pris par ses propres yeux comme par un piège en me regardant, que la tête de ce superbe soit coupée de sa propre épée.]

In other words, for Judith 9:12-13, Du Bois adds a polite, "I beg you," quaeso. That is, Fac Domine, ut gladio proprio ejus, becomes Fac Domine, quaeso, ut.... The reason for this modification appears to have more to do with the characterization of Judith than with declamation; still, there could be a rhetorical explanation for the insertion of the polite phrase that escapes me.

And there is an inversion in Judith 9:12-13: gladio proprio ejus superbia amputetur becomes et proprio gladio superbia ejus amputetur. Changing the order of the words permitted Charpentier to place et proprio on a run of quick notes occupying an unstressed position in the musical measure, and then to place the final syllable of gla-di-o in a metrically strong position whose importance is enhanced by the change to cut-C 3/2 meter and white notation, and also by the closely-spaced on-beat "reposes" of the final five measures: pro-pri-o gla-di-|o/ su-| per-bi-a | e-jus/ am-pu-|te-|tur/

 Example 4

Judith 13:18 - Et in me ancilla sua adimplevit misericordiam suam, quam promisit domui Israel: et interfecit in manu mea hostem populi sui hac nocte. [And by me his handmaid he hath fulfilled his mercy, which he promised to the house of Israel: and he hath killed the enemy of his people by my hand this night.]
versus the libretto:
Adimplevit in me ancilla sua misericordiam suam: et interfecit in manu mea hostem populi sui hac nocte. [repeat:] Laudate Dominum... [Il a accompli par sa servante la miséricorde qu'il avoit promise à la maison d'Israël, et il a tué cette nuit par ma main l'ennemi de son peuple. Louez le Seigneur...]

And so, in Judith 13:18, Et in me ancilla sua adimplevit misericordiam suam, "And by me,/ his handmaid/ he has accomplished/ his mercy," becomes Adimplevit in me ancilla sua misericordiam suam: "he has accomplished/ by me,/ his handmaid,/ his mercy." Retaining the 4-syllable ad-im-ple-vit ("accomplished") in its original position would have meant trying to set a phrase that dragged on to suam with no clear repose of the voice: .... adimplevit misericordiam suam "accomplished his mercy." That is, Charpentier was confronted by a run of 12 syllables (ad-im-ple-vit mi-ser-i-cor-di-am su-am) that had to be somehow tucked into the musical meter so that the accentuated syllables would fall on strong beats. By inverting word groups, the phrase becomes balanced: the 10 syllables are split into two smaller units separated by "by me, his handmaid." The emphasis is now on "me" and "his," Judith and God: ad-im-| ple-vit/ in |me/ an-cil-la | su-a / mi-ser-i-|cor-di-am |su-|am.

Example 5

Judith 13:19-20 - Et proferens de pera caput Holofernis, ostendit illis, dicens: Ecce caput Holofernis principis militia Assyriorum, et ecce conopeum illius, in quo recumbebat in ebrietate sua, ubi per manum foeminae percussit illum Dominus Deus noster. Vivit autem ipse Dominus, quoniam custovit me angelus ejus, et hinc euntem, et ibi commorantem, et inde huc revertentem, et non permisit me Dominus ancilla suam coinquinari, sed sine pollutione peccati revocavit me vobis, gaudentem in victoria sua, in evasione mea, et in liberatione vestra. [Then she brought forth the head of Holofernes out of the wallet, and shewed it them, saying: Behold the head of Holofernes the general of the army of the Assyrians, and behold his canopy, wherein he lay in his drunkenness, where the Lord our God slew him by the hand of a woman. [But as the same Lord liveth, his angel hath been my keeper both going hence, and abiding there, and returning from thence hither: and the Lord hath not suffered me his handmaid to be defiled, but hath brought me back to you without pollution of sin, rejoicing for his victory, for my escape, and for your deliverance.]
versus the libretto:
Ecce caput Holofernis, quem percussit Dominus per manum foeminae. Ipse est qui hinc exeuntem, ibi commorantem, et inde huc revertentem sine macula peccati vobis revocavit me. [repeat:] Laudate Dominum... [Voici la tête d'Holoferne, que le Seigneur a frappé par la main d'une femme. Celle-là est celle qui est sortie d'ici, et qui est demeurée là, et qui est revenue avec [sic: à?] vous sans aucune tache de péché. Louez le Seigneur...]

Thus, for Judith 13:19-20, percussit illum becomes quem percussit. This modification sheds light the Latin studies of Du Bois (and/or Charpentier): the quem percussit of the libretto is more classical than the percussit illum of St. Jerome. In other words, this modification appears to have been made by someone who had studied classical Latin.

To this is added another inversion in Judith 13:18: per manum foeminae percussit illum Dominus becomes quem percussit Dominus per manum foeminae. The result is a dramatic phrasing that places the three protagonists, Holofernes, God, and Judith at the reposes at the start of each mesure: ... Ho-lo-|fer-nes/ quem per-cus-sit Do-mi-|nus/ per ma-num foe-mi-|nae/

And there is yet another inversion in Judith 13:19, where peccati revocavit vobis becomes peccati vobis revocavit me. The irregular rhythm of the Vulgate is replaced by two 5-syllable units that lie easily across two musical barlines: pec-|ca-ti vo-bis/ re-vo-ca-vit |me/

Add to the above modifications a change in words in Judith 13: 20: hinc euntem becomes hinc exeuntem; in other words, "going" becomes "going out." Was the ex- added in order to provide a syllable for the final eighth note of that measure? It and its companion note could not be combined into a quarter note or slurred together, because that would have unduly lengthened the short initial syllable of e-un-tem.

... plus yet another modified word in Judith 13: 20, where sine pollutione peccati becomes sine macula peccati. This reduces the original 10 syllables to only 8 syllables. On the surface this appears to be an insignificant change that replaces "undefiled" with "unblemished." The modification is, however, extremely significant, because the expression sine macula was associated with the increasingly popular devotion of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. This modification is therefore an important clue to the nature of Mme de Guise's "dévotion" in the mid-1670s.

 Example 6

Judith 13:21-22 - Confitemini illi omnes, quoniam bonus, quoniam in saeculum misericordia ejus. Universi autem adorantes Dominum, dixerunt ad eam: Benedixit te, Dominus in virtute sua, quia per te ad nihilum redegit inimicos nostros. [Give all of you glory to him, because he is good, because his mercy endureth for ever. And they all adored the Lord, and said to her: The Lord hath blessed thee by his power, because by thee he hath brought our enemies to nought.]
versus the libretto:
 Hymnum cantate Domino, dicite illi canticum, annuntiate gentibus quoniam suavis est et mansuetus, quoniam in saeculum misericordia ejus. [Chantez un hymne au Seigneur, dites-lui une cantique, annoncez tout ceci aux peuples parce qu'il est doux et bon, parce que sa miséricorde s'étend dans tous les siècles.]

In  short, in Judith 13:21, in place of bonus ("good") two different adjectives are inserted to describe God: suavis ("sweet" or "pleasant") and mansuetus ("tame"). That is, the original 2 syllables have been replaced by 8 syllables that provide 3 expressive, "sweet" sibilant s's. Actually, the above French translations do not convey the seventeenth-century meaning of these two words: suave denoted the sweet smell of perfume or flowers; and mansuétude evoked the Christian virtue of mildness or benignity. In other words, this appears to be an evocation of what was called the "odor of sanctity."

 Example 7

Judith 13:23-25 - Porro Ozias princeps populi Israel dixit ad eum: [repeat:] Benedicta es tu filia à Domino Deo excelso, prae omnibus mulieribus super terram. Benedictus Dominus, qui creavit caelum et terram, qui te direxit in vulnera capitis principis inimicorum nostrorum: Quia hodie nomen tuum ita magnificavit, ut non recedat laus tua de ore homini in aeternum, pro quibus non pepercisti animae tuae, propter angustias et tribulationem generis tui, sed subenisti ruinae ante conspectum Dei nostri. [And Ozias the prince of the people of Israel, said to her: Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth. Blessed be the Lord who made heaven and earth, who hath directed thee to the cutting off the head of the prince of our enemies. Because he hath so magnified thy name this day, that thy praise shall not depart out of the mouth of men who shall be mindful of the power of the Lord for ever, for that thou hast not spared thy life, by reason of the distress and tribulation of thy people, but hast prevented our ruin in the presence of our God.]
versus the libretto:
Et tu benedicta es mulier, prae omnibus super terram; quae non pepercisti animae tuae, propter angustias generis tui. Benedictus Deus Israel qui per manum tuam percussit Holofernem. [Repeat:] Et tu benedicta es mulier, prae omnibus super terram. Judith fortis, Judith pulchra, Judith casta, magnificabitur nomen tuum per universam terram. [Vous êtes celle que le Seigneur a bénie parmi toutes les femmes qui sont sur la terre. Parce que vous n'avez point épargné votre vie, en voyant l'extrême affliction où votre peuple se trouvait réduit. Béni soit le Dieu d'Israël qui par votre main frappa Holoferne. Vous êtes celle que le Seigneur a bénie parmi toutes les femmes qui sont sur la terre. Courageuse Judith, belle Judith, chaste Judith, votre nom sera magnifié par toute la terre.]

(Note: this example includes the words added by Du Bois to the effect that Judith is forte.)

Significant changes have been made to Judith 13: 23. Benedicta es tu filia à Domine Deo excelso, prae omnibus mulieribus super terram becomes Et tu benedicta es mulier, prae omnibus super terram. A change that initially appears to have concision as its aim, turns out to be far more than that: the text is being brought closer to Luke 1:42: Benedicta tu inter mulieres, et benedictus fructus ventris tui ("Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb"), making somewhat more explicit the parallel between Judith and Mary. This parallel becomes clearer when we look more closely at the Reims-Douai translation of Judith 13:23 and replace "daughter" by "Judith": "Blessed art thou [Judith] above all women upon the earth." This little exercise can be carried one step further, with Mary replacing Judith: "Blessed art thou [Mary] ...." In Du Bois' libretto, Judith is no longer a "daughter (of Israel)"; she is a "woman" who is "blessed above all women on earth." In short, she is a prefiguration of the Virgin Mary.

What lessons can be learned from this analysis?

 First, we can assert with considerable certainty that Charpentier and his associate were deeply concerned with the music of the words. Treating the Vulgate with utmost respect, they searched for synonyms whose consonants and vowels, and whose musicality or percussiveness, evoked the image or emotion being portrayed.

Second, the need to place the "long," accentuated syllables of the text on the first beats (reposes) of the musical meter, prompted them to invert word groups. This was done with great reverence.

Lastly, all modified words and phrases are not equal! Sometimes an apparently insignificant change turns out to be a beacon that illuminates a "dévotion" of whose existence we were unaware.


Charpentier must now add the "tones" and the "grands effets" suggested by the libretto

Many of Mme de Guises's guests, that day in 1675, would have been familiar with Father Le Moyne's Gallerie des Femmes fortes. As they waited for the devotional concert to begin, their minds — and their expectations — would have been alive with images based on Le Moyne's "Judith." Even today, someone who reads Le Moyne's super-baroque text cannot easily erase from his mind the Jesuit's vivid word-paintings. The audience must have been shivering in anticipation of hearing musical "effects" that evoked some, if not all of Le Moyne's shiver-producing images. (Click here to read Le Moyne's portrayal of Judith, plus an English translation of the text.)

Le Moyne's Judith

Let us imagine that we too are present at the performance of Charpentier's Judith sive Bethulia. And let us note the behavior of the devout people around us. Upon hearing the ritournelle called "La Nuict," they realize that this is a musical representation of the "intelligent" and "discrete" Night that, according to the Jesuit, was summoned by the Angel of Israel to put the enemy troops and sentinels to sleep, thereby making it easier for Judith and her handmaid to move to and fro from Bethulia to Holofernes's camp. (19) They also realize that Judith's seemingly friendly and subservient exchanges with the Assyrian guards and with Holofernes himself are deceptions (a Songe imposteur), and that she is far from agreeable: "she is dangerous," and there is "lightning" in her "piercing" eyes. Indeed, the people sitting near us clearly know that Judith's eyes are weapons with which she traps Holofernes, just as she binds him by letting him catch a glimpse of her shapely ankles and the laces of her sandals. In short, the informed audience is not fooled: Judith is play-acting the "coquette," so they expect her to speak to Holofernes with the slurred, caressing speech melodies associated with a courtisan, the better to make him fall madly in love. Nor can these readers of Le Moyne put from their minds the Exterminating Angel who stands near Judith in the tent, giving her Holofernes's sword, whose gemmed hilt glows magically and whose blade emits mysterious sparks. The angel is not mentioned in the libretto, but the people in the church are seeing it in their mind's eyes. And what reader can fail to "see," during the Ancilla's account of the decapitation, the "smoking blood" and the clotted drops that fall to the ground as Judith makes her way back to Bethulia?

None of these colorful details are mentioned in the libretto; but I wager that much of it is present in the modes, melodies, rhythms, chords and dissonances of Charpentier's music. (I lack the expertise to carry out a musical analysis of the relationship between Le Moyne's imagery and Charpentier's music for Judith, so I hope someone will do it in my stead.)

Together, Du Bois' libretto and Charpentier's music create a colorful, almost three-dimensional painting whose "depth," figuratively and expressively, depends on the "tones" and "grands effets" of rhetoric for which the Journal of Trévoux would praise Charpentier in 1704 and again in 1709.



1. People have a way of assuming that virtually everything Charpentier composed and copied into the "French" notebooks, 1670-1687, was for Mlle de Guise. As far as the oratorios of 1675-1679 are concerned, that reasoning is misguided. For a personal devotional event, it would have been pretentious for Mlle de Guise to hire a rather large ensemble that was more appropriate for a prince or princess of the blood. Hiring that sort of ensemble for an event honoring the king or the dauphin would, on the other hand, have been deemed "magnificent" and "generous"; but none of those oratorios mentions the royal family, not even in passing. Ergo, it is not likely that Mlle de Guise commissioned Judith, Esther, the first two Caecilia's, and Milan (Borromeo).

2. That article provides the documentation in support of my arguments, so I refer readers to it: "Un 'foyer d'italianisme' chez les Guises: quelques réflexions sur les oratorios de Charpentier, in Marc-Antoine Charpentier, un musicien retrouvé, ed. Catherine Cessac (Sprimont: Mardaga, 2005), pp. 85-109. The article first appeared in 1995 in the Bulletin Charpentier. Graham Sadler recently informed me that he has proved that Charpentier did indeed write for the canonization of St. Gaetano at the Theatines in 1672, as I proposed. (Sadler's "The West Wind Blows North: Charpentier's Messe à quatre chœurs, the Theatines and the "Zefiro" Ciaccona Tradition," is in press at Seventeenth Century Music.) In other words, when Mme de Guise obtained her chapel and commissioned Judith, she and her composer had been linked to Sainte-Anne-la-Royale for at least three years.

3. I refer readers to the first edition La Gallerie des Femmes fortes (Paris: Sommaville, 1647), available online at  The story of Judith occupies pages 39-50. Between 1660 and 1668, the Gallerie was reprinted almost yearly, by publishers in Leiden, Paris, or Lyon. In other words, in 1675 it was scarcely a rare book.

4. The book does not appear in the inventory of the small devotional library adjacent to Mme de Guise's chapel in the Luxembourg Palace, compiled after her death in 1696. That cannot however be construed as evidence that she did not own the book: the complete death-inventories of the furnishings at the Luxembourg, and in her hôtel at Alençon, appear to have been lost.
5. Le Moyne's remarks, summarized in these four paragraphs, are found in the un-paginated Épître to Anne of Austria, and on pages 44-46, 48 of the 1647 edition.

6. From the dedication to Mme de Guise of his translation of the Sermons de S. Augustin (Paris: Coignard, 1694).

7. Jean Mesnard, Pascal et les Roannez (Paris, 1965), pp. 663-665, concludes that Du Bois had a "modest" side to his personality, yet at the same time he was "plein d'ambition inavoué, il était sensible à la faveur et à la flatterie, il aspirait aux succès les plus matériels. ... Un attachement au monde ... se joignait en lui aux charmes de l'esprit et aux élans sincères de la foi."

8. Mazarine, ms. Rés. 19170, fragments of her death inventory, not paginated.

9. For seventeenth-century images of Judith. see Louis Réau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien (Paris: PUF, 1956), vol. 2, pp. 329ff.

10. Louis-Isaac Lemaistre de Sacy, Tobie, Judith et Esther traduits en françois avec une explication tirée des Saints Pères et des auteurs ecclésiastiques, pp. 172-173. For an insight into the angel's presence in one early seventeenth-century Roman fresco, and its relationship to the newly popular devotion to guardian angels, see Elena Ciletti, "Judith Imagery as Catholic Orthodoxy in Counter-Reformation Italy, in K. Brine, E. Ciletti, and H. Lahnemann, eds., The Sword of Judith, paragraphs 23-26, available online through Open Book Publishers. For an overview of Judith as a literary subject, see Jacques Poirier, Judith: Echos d'un mythe biblique dans la littérature française (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2004), passim. The omission of the angel is all the more intriguing because Mme de Guise was about to commission (or had recently commissioned) an almost life-size painting "représentant l'ange gardien qui mène un enfant par la main, où est le portrait de Monsieur de Guise et celuy de Monsieur d'Alençon," Arsenal, ms. 6631, undated but preserved among expenses of 1676.

11. Ciletti, paragraph 27. A similar blessing, this time uttered by Elizabeth, is found later in Luke: Benedicta tu inter mulieres, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, " Luke 1:42. In a note to his quite cursory comments about Charpentier's Judith, David Marsh, "Judith in Baroque Oratorio," The Sword of Judith, op. cit, pp. 387-389, points out that "The final chorus celebrates Judith in words that evoke the Virgin Mary: "Et tu benedicta es mulier" (And you are blessed, woman)"; but he does not explore the matter further. Lemaistre de Sacy, p. 169, describes Judith as "une excellente figure" of the Virgin, and cites Luke 1:48-49, "Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all ge:erations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name."

12. Ciletti, paragraphs 28-29.

13. "Pour la singuliere devotion qu'elle a toujours eue à la tres saincte et sacrée Vierge mere de Dieu, voulant mettre sa personne et celle de Monseigneur le duc d'Allençon son fils soubz la protection specialle de ceste divine royne du Ciel, et invoquer incessament son secours..." she was giving the seminary of Caen founded by Jean Eudes, the future saint, 12,000 livres, in return for a weekly salut service in which the litanies of the Sacred Heart of the Virgin would be recited. AN, MC, LXXV, 166, fondation, June 3, 1673. The act also notes that this was a continuation of the "dévotion particulière" that Mme de Guise's late mother had for the Sacred Heart of the Most Blessed Virgin.
14. Lectios from the Book of Judith and the Book of Esther were read at nocturnes during the final weeks of September. The probable dates of some of the other oratorios shown in the chronological table to my Musing on St. Cecilia does however open the possibility that the four oratorios of the cycle were, instead, performed in November or early December, in the context of a "devotion" appropriate for the month that stretches from November 4 to December 8.

15. "La bénédiction finale [de Judith] est inspirée d'une lecture de la fête de l'Assomption, où Judith se présente comme le substitut de la Vierge Marie," Catherine Cessac, Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Paris, 2004), p. 335. I own a French breviary that is contemporary with Judith (the title page is missing, but the table of moveable feasts begins with the year 1674). Nowhere in the liturgy for the Octave of the Feast of the Assumption could I find such a lectio (which I presume is what Cessac means by "lecture"). The closest I could come to Du Bois' libretto in the liturgy for that entire Octave is a brief antiphon recited on the Feast of the Assumption and mirrored in the libretto of Judith: Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, which is recited only once, after Psalm 18, during Vespers of August 15.

16. For long Latin syllables and how they come to a repose, see Patricia M. Ranum, " 'Le Chant doit perfectionner la prononciation, & non pas la corrompre': l'accentuation du chant grégorien d'après les traités de Dom Jacques Le Clerc et dans le chant de Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers," in J. Duron, ed., Plain-Chant et liturgie en France au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Klincksieck, 1997), pp. 59-83.

17. I base this imaginary scene on my page on master-servant relations, which applied to superior-inferior relations within a princely household.

18. Louis-Isaac Lemaistre de Sacy, Tobie, Judith et Esther traduits en françois avec une explication tirée des Saints Pères et des auteurs ecclésiastiques (Paris: Desprez, 1711); and M.-A. Charpentier, Histoires sacrées, ed. Jean Duron, vol. 4 (Versailles: CBMV). The first edition of this translation appeared in 1688, four years after de Sacy's death.

19. In the seventeenth century, moving about at night was fraught with danger and gave rise to superstitious fears and to appeals for protection from one's guardian angel. See A. Roger Ekirch, At Day's Close: Night in Times Past (New York: Norton, 2005), passim. His book suggests that Charpentier's "La nuict" probably was perceived as eerie and frightening, while we today probably imagine that it suggests a peaceful interlude between Part I and Part II of the oratorio.