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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


Charpentier and Charles Le Brun

We have long been aware that a Te Deum and an Exaudiat by Marc-Antoine Charpentier were performed at a service held on February 8, 1687, and organized by the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture,to thank God for Louis XIV's recovery from surgery. These two compositions were subsequently lost.

Or perhaps, if Catherine Cessac is correct [Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Paris, 1987, p. 144], Charpentier re-used or re-worked his older H. 145 and H. 162 (in notebooks X and XI). When confronted with the realities of seventeenth-century patronage, this hypothesis becomes shaky. That is to say, these two notebooks, which date from 1672, are made of Jesuit paper. This suggests that Charpentier composed these works for the Jesuits and revived/reworked them after 1688, while he was employed by the reverend fathers. So we must ask a crucial, albeit unanswerable question: "Would the Reverend Fathers of the rue Saint-Antoine have agreed to a proposal that works composed for them be shared with the Academy?"

Musicologists have generally been satisfied to refer to the event and to the two commissions, without delving deeper into why Charpentier was selected. They perhaps assume that Charpentier's reputation was by then so lofty that he was the natural choice after Lully. Or they may assume that choosing Charpentier was some sort of power play in which the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture pitted itself against Lully and his Royal Academy of Music. Indeed, the painters and sculptors of the Academy could scarcely have been unaware that Lully was scheduled to conduct his famous Te Deum at a similar event to be held at the Feuillants on January 8. An invitation to Lully therefore raised the possibility that the service being planned by the Academy of Painting and Sculpture would be a replay of the earlier service at the Feuillants. Hence the commission to Charpentier.

I have been musing for some time about whether the choice of Charpentier depended on other factors to which no one has given thought. The facts I present here may be mere coincidences. Still, in view of the many similar "coincidences" that I have encountered during my research on Guise patronage, I have a hunch that these facts could tell us something important if they were used as guides for further research. These facts suggest the existence not only of long-term affective ties between the Marc-Antoine Charpentier and the painter who played the principal role in organizing the Te Deum, they also permit us to see just a bit more clearly a few links in the vast cultural web within which Charpentier worked.

I will start by what, for lack of a better term, I will call "affective" ties — although I realize that the "affection" I am thinking of probably involves a fondness for a small town, a village or a cherished family mythology, rather than a personal and affective fondness for a specific individual.

The "affection" centers upon several square kilometers of land located some 13 km south-east of Beauvais — specifically the towns of Neuilly-en-Thelle and Crouy-en-Telle, which are separated by approximately 1.5 km of road (today's D 92). Just south of Neuilly is a hamlet called Bellé. In that hameau stood a "masure où estoit maison, court, foulloyr et autre aisance avec ung jardin contenant un demy arpent," plus a vineyard. Circa 1550, this property belonged to Jehan Broquoys. [A.D. Seine-et-Marne, 112 E 27, "vendition," Oct. 20, 1624] Jehan had a daughter Anne, born in approximately 1580-1585. Circa 1600 Anne married Louis Charpentier, "huissier and sergent royal à Meaux." Neuilly-en-Thelle and environs

Anne Brocquoys was Marc-Antoine Charpentier's paternal grandmother.

During the same decades of the sixteenth century, a family called Le Brun lived in Crouy-en-Thelle. There Nicolas Le Brun was born, circa 1580. (In other words, Nicolas was Anne Brocquoy's contemporary.) Nicolas became a sculptor and settled in Paris. There, in 1619, Nicolas was hired by the Duke and Duchess of Guise to make a stone fountain for the garden of the Hôtel de Guise. [J.-P. Babelon, "Nouveaux Documents pour la restauration de l'Hôtel de Guise," La Vie urbaine, July-September 1965, p. 5]

Although anything is of course possible, it is difficult to imagine that the Le Bruns of Crouy and the Brocquoys of Bellé-Neuilly did not know one another — or know of one another — during the 1570s, and that their children, born in the 1580s and growing up within these nine square kilometers during the 1590s, did not know — or know of — one another.

Why am I beginning this Musing with Crouy-en-Thelle and Bellé, and focusing on the Le Bruns and the Brocquoys? Because it was Charles Le Brun, first painter of Louis XIV, who organized and supervised the Te Deum of 1687 and who doubtlessly played an important role in the decision to give the commission to Marc-Antoine Charpentier. And because Charles Le Brun was Nicolas Le Brun's son!

Not even my wildest musings prompt me to propose that Charpentier owed his commission for the Te Deum of 1687 primarily to reminiscences  with Le Brun about the good old days when Papa Le Brun and Mémé Charpentier were growing up in those neighboring towns south of Beauvais. To the "affective" tie of the Beauvaisis should be added truly affective ties to Chancellor Pierre Séguier. For both Charles Le Brun  himself and Marc-Antoine Charpentier's cousins had benefitted from Séguier's protection for several decades. I will summarize these links to Séguier briefly.

By 1631, Charles Le Brun had attracted Pierre Séguier's attention. The Chancellor perhaps learned of the young man's talents from one of Le Brun's cousins, Le Bé, a maître écrivain who was teaching the Séguier children. (Mme Le Brun was née Le Bé.) [Charles Le Brun, 1619-1690, peintre et dessinateur, catalogue of the Versailles exhibit of 1963, p. xxxx] Séguier took the young man under his roof and by 1633 was recommending him for various decorating projects [Catalogue, p. xxxx-xxxxi]. It was Séguier who made it possible for Le Brun to study art in Rome, 1642-1645. [Catalogue, p. xxxxv-xxxxvi] When Séguier died in 1672, Le Brun organized a magnificent memorial service that, although ostensibly offered by the Academy of Painting and Sculpture, was actually a Le Brun's quite personal expression of gratitude for thirty years of protection. [Catalogue, p.lxii]

Circa 1640, two of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's relatives likewise gravitated into the Séguier orbit. These relatives are Charles Sevin de Troigny, "conseilleur du roi en ses conseils d'État et privé," and his brother, Nicolas Sevin, bishop of Sarlat, then bishop of Cahors.

You can locate the branch to which these relatives belong by consulting the family trees in Jean-François Viel's presentation of "The Charpentiers before Charpentier." [Bulletin Marc-Antoine Charpentier, no.7, July 1992, p. 12, subsequently republished in Marc-Antoine Charpentier, un musicien retrouvé, ed. C. Cessac, Mardaga, 2005, pp. 53-70] At the very left is Suzanne Croyer, daughter of David Croyer and Jeanne Charpentier. From Suzanne springs the "famille Sevin." Despite the common family name, Charpentier, there is no direct blood relationship between the Sevins and the descendants of Louis Charpentier and Anne Brocquoy. (That is to say, by a marriage of 1576 involving the children of two men named Charpentier who appear to be distantly related, Jeanne Charpentier became the sister-in-law of Louis Charpentier's half-sister.) Still, the fact that Marc-Antoine's elder sister was given the relatively unusual name Étiennette suggests that she was named for Suzanne Croyer's sister, who had moved to Paris by 1615 and appears to have still been alive when Étiennette Charpentier was born).

In the 1630s, Chancellor Séguier chose Charles Sevin as an agent or advisor, then passed Sevin to his daughter when she became Duchess of Sully in 1639. The following letter, dated June 13, 1661, suggests the affective-protective ties that bound Charles Sevin to Pierre Séguier:

"Apres la foule de tant de personnes de condition qui ont esté vous rendre les tesmoignages des regrets qu'ils ont de la mort de feu Monsieur le duc de Sully [Séguier's son-in-law], et de la part qu'ils ont prise en la douleur qu'elle vous a causé, j'ose icy, Monseigneur, me présenter devant vous dans l'affliction où je suis de cette perte, pour vous donner de nouvelles assurances des services que je prétens avoir l'honneur de continuer à sa maison tout le reste de mes jours, avec l'affection qu'y peut et doibt produire le commandement qu'il vous pleut de me faire il y a près de vingt ans et de la bienveillance qu'il a eu la bonté d'avoir, moy qui suis, Monseigneur,
vostre très humble, très obéissant et très obligé serviteur
Sevin de Troigny"

In other words, shortly after his daughter's wedding, Séguier "ordered" Sevin to serve the Sullys in an unspecified capacity. This explains why Séguier and his wife added luster to the signing of the wedding contracts of the Sevin's son in 1662. [B.N., Dossiers bleus, 614, fol. 3v-4]

By 1654 the other Sevin brother had entered the Séguier orbit. From Sarlat May 5, 1654, Nicolas Sevin proclaimed his devotion to the Chancellor: "Vous sçavez trop que je suis tout à vous. ... Quand je n'aurois pas une affection très particulière pour vostre personne, je ne pourrois sans injustice vous refuser les applaudissements que tout le monde doit à la vertu. ... Je n'ai jamais eu de plus forte passion que d'estre estimé de vous ..." A decade later, December 16, 1665, he wrote a still more devoted letter, alluding to the "gratitude" he felt toward Séguier, which is "aussy profonde qu'elle le peut estre dans un cœur qui vous est il y a longtems tout dévoué." [B.N., ms. fr. 17406, Séguier correspondence]

In short, from 1631 to 1672, Charles Le Brun benefitted from Pierre Séguier's protection and affection. And, from the 1630s until at least 1665, one Sevin brother served Séguier and the other worked closely with him on religious issues. During these years, both brothers benefitted from Séguier's protection. I find it difficult to imagine that, by the early 1670s when Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned from Rome, Charles Le Brun did not know that the young composer was the Sevins' relative. And it seems likely that this common link to the Séguiers played a determining role in two commissions led to the names of Le Brun and Charpentier to be linked publicly in the pages of the Mercure Galant. First there was the music (H. 323) for the Feast of Saint-Louis that Le Brun organized in his parish church in 1679; and then there is the music for the Te Deum of 1687.

It is of course possible that Charles Sevin de Troigny considered himself too lofty to receive his musician cousin at his home, owing to his contact with the Séguiers — and with the Grand Condé and the Prince d'Harcourt, who likewise signed the Sevin son's wedding contract in 1662. But in a culture where it was a mark of honor to recommend one's poor but talented relatives, especially when solicited by the family, could the Sevins have failed to recommend Marc-Antoine to Le Brun?

A third affective tie can be identified, and it links Charles Le Brun and Marc-Antoine Charpentier via the House of Guise. The Le Bruns had "belonged" to the Guises since the 1540s; and now, in the 1670s and 1680s, Charpentier "belonged" to the Guises.

Le Brun himself used to tell how his family tree went back to a certain Jacques Le Brun who had been a "gentilhomme servant" to Mary Queen of Scots. Mary was the daughter of Marie de Lorraine de Guise, the daughter of the first duke of Guise. [Catalogue, p. xxxix] (The Marie de Lorraine de Guise into whose service Charpentier entered in 1670 was the daughter of the fourth Duke.) A mere century did not suffice to expunge the ties that bound the Guises to "their people." For example, the heirs of Mme Philippe Goibault du Bois (Du Bois was the intendant of Mlle de Guise's musique in the 1670s and 1680s) argued that Du Bois got the job less on his own merits than because Madame Goibault, née Blacvod, descended from a Scotch doctor (Blackwood) who had served Mary Queen of Scots! [Jean Mesnard, Pascal et les Roannez, 1965, p.672]

Does Jacques Le Brun's service to Mary Queen of Scots in the mid-sixteenth century explain why Mlle de Guise's mother and father hired young Nicolas Le Brun to carve that fountain in 1619? Judging from the tableau recently painted by Katia Béguin [Les Princes de Condé, Rebelles, courtisans et mécènes dans la France du Grand Siècle, Paris: Champ Vallon, 1999, especially pages 171-262], the reply should be an emphatic "Yes." Did a letter similar to this convoluted one addressed to the Grande Condé (quoted by Béguin, p. 182), inform the Duke of Guise, circa 1619, that Nicolas Le Brun had set himself up in Paris and needed protection?

"Ce Mr Degrand est frère d'un gentilhomme nommé Brocourt qui a eu l'honneur d'être page de V.A. Il est cousin issue de Germain de Mr de Cormaillon et parent de mon neveu de Larrey du côté de sa mère. C'est la raison pour laquelle j'implore la faveur de V.A. auprès du premier président, outre que Mme de Cormaillon m'en a fort prié."

Circa 1670, did a letter of this sort — linking Marc-Antoine to former members of the late Gaston d'Orléans' household — result in his protection by Gaston's daughter, the new "Mme de Guise"? Did a similar evocation of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's convoluted family ties to the Sevins prompt Charles Le Brun to become interested in the Guises' composer?

A still more intriguing question can be formulated. In 1679 was Mlle de Guise behind the linking, in the Mercure Galant, of the names of the two artists who "belonged to her"? That is to say, Charpentier copied the motet for Saint Louis's Day (H. 323) into the "French" series of notebooks that contain almost exclusively works composed for the Guises. If we suppose that H. 323 is indeed the motet composed for the service organized by Le Brun — rather than a work for the Guise's own chapel (the ensemble for which it was written could be the Guises' musique, but the Dauphin's musique involved this same mixture of voices and instruments) — then we should probably conclude that, technically speaking, the music was not "commissioned" by Le Brun at all . It would have been offered as a "gift" to the King from the Guises. On the superficial level of the public that read the Mercure, this event would have been seen as a tribute to Louis XIV by Le Brun, who had singled out the Dauphin's composer, Charpentier. (Charpentier had began composing for Monseigneur only a few months earlier, in the spring of 1679.)

For the Guises and their friends there was, of course, another layer of meaning to the linking of Le Brun's and Charpentier's names in the press — first for the Saint Louis Day music of 1679 and later for the Te Deum of 1687 (the latter a "commission," rather than a "gift," for which Charpentier was paid 350 livres). By permitting their composer to participate in these events, the Guises were doing more than showing their respect and affection for the King. Each dropping of Charpentier's name by the editors of the Mercure was a covert flower tossed Their Highnesses' way; and these princesses who prided themselves on their humility presumably caught the flowers with pleased smiles on their faces.) And were both instances to Charpentier not also demonstrating covertly that the cultural influence of the illustrious House of Guise — and the protection it offers to "its people"  — was so powerful that it spanned the centuries?