For years I refrained from following a clue provided by Saint-Simon's Mémoires for 1696. The death of Mme de Guise (that is, Isabelle d'Orléans, duchess of Guise) prompted him to write several long paragraphs about Louis XIV's first cousin, including the following:
"Elle passoit six mois d'hiver à la cour, fort bien traitée du Roi et soupant tous les soirs au grand couvert, mais passant les Marlis à Paris. Les autres six mois, elle les passoit à Alençon, où elle régentoit l'intendant comme un petit compagnon et l'évêque de Séez, son diocésain, à peu près de même, qu'elle tenoit debout des heures entières, elle dans son fauteuil, sans jamais l'avoir laissé asseoir, même derrière elle, en un coin."
Thanks to the correspondence of the Florentine residents in Paris, I was able to confirm the general accuracy of Saint-Simon's assertion that Mme de Guise spent the warm half of each year at Alençon. Indeed, thanks to the Florentines, I can be more precise than the duke: she usually left for her duchy in mid-May and returned to the royal court in October. (In other words, during those months she had little use for Charpentier and the Guise musicians.)
When in Paris, Mme de Guise spent very little time in her half of the vast Luxembourg Palace, because she was haunted by recollections of her son's death there in 1675. But, if Saint-Simon is accurate, she nonetheless made it a habit to go to Paris during what were known as "les Marlis," that is, the days when the king and select members of his court were at Marly. Without precise information about the presence of the royal court at Marly, from roughly mid-October to mid-May of every year, it was pointless to attempt to link pieces composed for and performed by the Great Guise Music to Mme de Guise's presence in Paris.
Then the publication of Christophe Levantal's Louis XIV: Chronographie d'un règne (Paris: Infolio, 2009), made it possible to focus on Marly. I could now hope to link works written for the Great Guise Music to Mme de Guise's probable presence in Paris.
Links of that sort seem possible, because we know she would occasionally quit Alençon and go to Paris for a few days, for a very special event. For example, the Florentine residents inform us that Mme de Guise went to Paris for four days, circa August 17, 1683, to attend a "function" in memory of the late Queen. (1) The event in question appears to have been a "solemn Mass" sung at the Mercy (Mlle de Guise had a chapel there) during the final weeks of August. (2) During the service, Mlle de Guise's household musicians appear to have performed Charpentier's Luctus de morte... (H.331). For this event Mme de Guise was able to plan her journey in advance, so that it would coincide with a musical event being planned well in advance by Mlle de Guise. (The Queen had died on July 30, some three weeks prior to the solemn Mass.)
This raises an important question: Were "les Marlis" announced sufficiently in advance for Mme de Guise to send a messenger to Paris and request that M. Du Bois or one of his assistants prepare a command performance of a religious piece or a chamber opera? Or were "les Marlis" organized on the spur of the moment?
Construction at Marly began in May 1679 and work was not yet complete on June 13, 1684 (Levantal), when the king and the Dauphin inspected it. By a strange coincidence, Charpentier's first piece for the Great Guise Music (that is, the expanded ensemble) is in cahier 41, which dates from mid-1684. In other words, prior to the early summer of 1684, Marly was still not being visited, and the expanded ensemble of Guise musicians was about to perform in public for the first time. Thus, in mid-1684, Louis XIV was reveling in his new "palace," and the Guise women (mainly Mlle de Guise) were reveling in the creation of a musical ensemble superior to that of many European sovereigns. Whether there was any connection between Marly and Mme de Guise's presence in Paris between the summer of 1684 and the first months of 1688, is another matter.
Finally, on April 17, 1685, Louis XIV showed Marly to the Dauphine and her ladies; and a week later a select group of women lunched there. From then on, as Levantal's index shows, there were quite a few court visits to Marly during the part of the year when Mme de Guise was at court; but most of those visits were brief: perhaps a noontime meal, perhaps a ride in the countryside followed by a tour of Marly and a return home by dark. Above all, many of these excursions appear to have been impromptu. Mme de Guise would scarcely have had time to request a performance in Paris, much less make the round trip by coach and be present to greet Louis XIV upon his return from Marly. She could conceivably have gone to Paris between September 23-26, 1686, when Louis spent a few days at Marly, but apparently without the ladies of his court. That seems unlikely, however, because she was ill with a fever for a good part of that month. (3) Or she could have gone to Paris during another of the King's more or less solitary visits to Marly in the months that followed.
However, for none of these three- or four-day "Marlis" could I find a work in Charpentier's Mélanges that corresponds chronologically. His pieces for late 1686 and early 1687 are in cahiers 49 and 50. Among these works is the Idylle sur le retour de la santé du roi (H.489). It corresponds to a royal absence from Versailles and to a visit to Paris by Mme de Guise; but Marly definitely was not involved. That is to say, the Guise musicians almost certainly performed the Idylle before Mlle de Guise, Mme de Guise and Mme de Toscane during one of the private celebrations that followed Louis XIV's visit to the Hôtel de Ville of Paris, January 20, 1687.
In sum, the evidence pulled together by Christophe Levantal do not permit me to draw any firm conclusions based on Saint-Simon's statement. Levantal's index for "Marly" reveals, however, that visits lasting several days became quite common after the spring of 1688. By then, however, the Guise Music had been disbanded and Marc-Antoine Charpentier was in the employ of the Jesuits. Mme de Guise's visits to Paris during "les Marlis" doubtlessly took place at some time after 1685; but they almost certainly took place between March 1688 and her death in March 1696.
As far as Marc-Antoine Charpentier's musical output is concerned, the enticing clue dropped by Saint-Simon did not bear fruit.
1. Florence, Archivio di Stato, Med. del Prin.4826, letter dated August 16, 1683; and Med. del Prin. 4683, letter of Sainte-Mesme dated August 18, 1683. During her stay in Paris, she dined at Montmartre (August 18), dined at the Luxembourg with her sister, Mme de Toscane (August 19) and started back to Alençon "a few days later."
3. Med. del Prin., 4792, letter of September 9, 1686. Zipoli, the Florentine resident, does not say whether she was at Alençon or somewhere in the Paris Basin. She appears to have suffered from chronic malaria but refused to take quinine.