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Panat Times

Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


Was Charpentier's "Messe à 8 voix" (H. 3) written for the Canonization of Francesco Borgia, January 1672?

I would like to suggest that this mass was indeed a Jesuit commission. And here is my reasoning: [This Musing dates from the 1990s and does not take into account the work on papers and hands done post-2000. May it serve as an example of how evidence can be pulled together to form a working hypothesis.]

Let us suppose that cahier IX, with its Jesuit paper, contains works written for December 1671. The cahier may have been recopied during the 1690s while he was music master for the Jesuits; but if so, Charpentier replaced the recopied or revised work back into its original chronological position. The composer appears to have been scrupulously honest about not re-using for one patron or employer a work he had written for someone else, by its mere presence this Jesuit paper suggests that the original work was a Jesuit commission, and that Charpentier reworked it during the 1690s for the original "owners."

Let us look at the works themselves, for clues to the ensemble for which it was composed and the possible venue.

A number of these works would definitely have been appropriate for services at the Jesuit church of Saint-Louis. There are two psalms for vespers (H. 160 and H. 161) to be performed by a large ensemble and that use either texts that were recited during the principal high feasts of that month or for the Feast of the Circumcision on January 1, when Louis XIV customarily attended mass at one of the churches of the capital.

There is also a duet for two dessus to be sung on December 8, the Feast of the Conception of the Virgin. That particular text, which is part of the Roman ritual for the Immaculate Conception, would be recited at the Jesuit church of the rue Saint-Antoine on December 8. To this slender clue can be added another that is far more solid. "Beaupuy" and "Dun" were among the singers performing the Nisi Dominus (H. 160) and the Lætatus sum (H. 161). And the color of the ink suggests that these names are contemporaneous with the score itself. In other words, Pierre Beaupuis and Jean Dun, two basses who would routinely sing at Saint-Louis during the 1680s and 1690s, took part in this vesper service.

Back in 1671, young Beaupuis had been singing for Robert Cambert and Pierre Perrin, the creators of French opera, so it is quite possible that he sang the original version of one or more of these works. Indeed, Mme de Sévigné tells us that, in January 1672, the Jesuits hired the performers of the "Opéra" — that is, Perrin's academy: "Toute la musique de l'Opéra y fait rage. Il y a des lumières jusque dans la rue Saint- Antoine; on s'y tue." [Lettres, January 20, 1672]. The presence of Beaupuis's name in a work written for December 1671 does not, of course, prove that the Nisi Dominus and the Lætatus sum were commissioned by the reverend fathers of the rue Saint-Antoine. Still, at least one Jesuit commission is suggested by the combined clues of paper and performers' names, plus the presence of a text associated with the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin (H. 313).

During the final weeks of 1671 and the early weeks of 1672, Charpentier was busy meeting the demands of several patrons, some of whom can be identified with a modicum of certainty while others remain anonymous. Above all, the final weeks of 1671 saw him working on a Messe à 8 voix (H. 3) for a large ensemble that resembles the ensembles for which Charpentier wrote during his years as chapel master for the Jesuits of the maison professe (that is, the Church of Saint-Louis on the rue Saint-Antoine).

Can we find any information about the festive masses with music that were held in Paris, circa January 1672? And were any of  these masses held at Saint-Louis? Yes indeed, two pontifical masses were said during the week of January 17-24, which celebrated the canonization of Saint Francesco de Borgia:

[Le 17 janvier] les Jesüistes firent l'Ouverture de la Feste de la Canonisation de Saint François de Borgia, Général de leur Compagnie, en leur Eglise de la rue Saint Antoine, laquelle estoit magnifiquement ornée. Nostre Archévesque [Harlay de Chanvallon] célébra pontificalement la Messe: le premier Panegyrique fut prononcé avec beaucoup de succez, par l'Évesque d'Evreux: et à l'issue du Salut, chantée par une excellent Musique, le dedans et le dehors de l'Église parut tout en feu, ainsi que le grand Autel, par un grand nombre de lumières. Le lendemain, et les autres jours, cette Solennité fut continüée, avec la mesme pompe, l'Office ayant esté fait par divers Prélats, et l'Éloge prononcé par les Évesques de Bayeux, de Lombez, de Tulles, d'Autun [Roquette], et d'Amiens, le Coadjuteur de Vances, et l'Abbé de Fromentiéres: qui tous triomphérent à l'envy, sur un si beau sujet. Le 23 Monsieur et Madame assistèrent au Salut, où l'Évesque du Mans, premier Aumônier de Son Altesse Royale, officia, aussi, en ses habits Pontificaux. Le 24, dernier jour de l'Octave, l'Archévesque de Reims [Le Tellier] y celebra la grand'Messe, et l'archévesque de Paris officia, encor, au Salut, et termina par la Benediction du Saint Sacrement, cette Cérémonie, qui fut, ainsi, des plus augustes, et des plus éclatantes. [Gazette de France, January 1672, p. 119.]

At least two of the fathers who was planning these festivities during the better part of 1671 occupy places in my Portraits around Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Pierre de Verthamon, the former assistant to the General of the order, who was none other than the uncle of Daniel Voisin (the husband of the Charpentier-Édouard friend, Marie Talon). Verthamon had been residing at Saint-Louis since early 1671; but circa October 1671 he was transferred to the Collège de Clermont, near the Sorbonne, and assumed the responsibilities of recteur. In other words, he probably was still at the maison professe when the Jesuits began planning their canonization services and commissioning music for the octave. Be that as it may, for Verthamon left his nephew, Louis Voisin (Daniel's brother) behind him at the professed house. It is therefore likely that Father Voisin was involved in the planning for this octave, from start to finish.

Sketches of two of the three prelates who celebrated the pontifical masses that festive week hang in my gallery of Portraits around Marc-Antoine Charpentier: François de Harlay de Chanvallon (who prided himself in being a "cousin" of the Lorraines of Guise, and Charles-Maurice Le Tellier (who while in Rome had trusted "Carpentier" to supervise the preparation of his livery: see my Musing about Charpentier's Stay in Rome. They were joined by Gabriel de Roquette, Mlle de Guise's "Tartuffe," who gave one of the eulogies in honor of the saint.

Although the Gazette de France does not so state, it can be assumed that, like the salut of January 17, the pontifical masses and the other services held during the octave were "chantés par une excellente Musique."  Music was in integral part of Jesuit services, just as it would be during a mass in which Bishop Roquette would participate a few months later: "M. l'Evêque d'Autun ayant fait le panégyrique de Mxxx aux Jésuites, qui avoient toute la musique de l'Opéra, on dit à Paris que les Jésuites avoient donné deux comédies en un jour, l'Opéra et Tartuffe." [Sévigné, Lettres, April 24, 1672. By "M***" did Mme de Sévigné mean "Madame," who had died on April 3?]

This comment about the "opera" singers adds plausibility to the hypothesis that the ensemble singing at Saint-Louis in December 1671 and January 1672 had included Pierre Beaupuis and that some of the works in Charpentier's cahier IX were Jesuit commissions. The "opera" singers, one of whom was performing for Perrin and Cambert's academy, doubtlessly were joined by instrumentalists from the Academy — and by an organist. (In short, Charpentier's calling upon opera singers Beaupuis and Dun in the 1690s continued a two-decade-long practice.)

Now, we know that one of the organists — or the only organist? — hired by the reverend fathers was Robert Cambert himself! "Les révérends Pères luy en estant venus prier jusques dans l'Opéra mesme," Cambert agreed to "faire une musique aux Jésuites de la rue Saint Antoine, au mois de janvier soixante et douze." [Thoinon and Nuitter, Origines de l'Opéra, p. 221.]  Unless he added the following comments in the 1690s, Charpentier's mass was written with an organ in mind: "Icy l'orgue joüe un couplet [du Kyrie] si l'on veut," he noted on the seventh sheet of cahier VI; and on the reverse side of the same sheet he commented: "Icy l'orgue joue un couplet sur les petits jeux."

Not until later, and using an ink that is considerably lighter than the original, did Charpentier add the comments about the organ being optional. (The following underlined words were added later: "Icy l'orgue joüe un couplet si l'on veut, ou s'il n'y a point d'orgue il faudra joüer quelques simphonie. Passez après le couplet de l'orgue au Christe (fol. 7). Icy l'orgue joue un couplet sur les petits jeux si l'on veut, après lequel les violons recommencent Le Prelude du Kyrie et les voix Reprenent ensuite le Kyrie, comme cy devant l'orgue finit, ou quelque simphonie.") In sum, the organ may well have been an integral part of the original performance of this mass, and of the 1690s version as well.

The participation of so many friends of the House of Guise — and so many friends of the Charpentier family — in the services for this octave suggests that the Jesuits not only came to Cambert to "beg" him to "make music" for them (should we take that as meaning "compose" music for a service? or simply "play and improvise upon the organ?), but that they likewise came to "beg" Her Highness to "order" Charpentier to compose for them.

This canonization was just the sort of "extraordinary" event in which outside composers could participate without offending the master of music in ordinary.  (See the "Fugitive Piece" on the Jesuit general's ruling about music masters) Two pontifical masses, six "offices" and two musical saluts: what master-in-ordinary would insist on having exclusive rights to the creation and rehearsing of so much new music, to the exclusion of the protégés of the various reverend fathers — or those of the different guest prelates? Ten prelates: and each prelate doubtlessly had his own protégé and was eager to put him in the limelight, the better to enhance the prelat's own glory.

The organizers of these festivities doubtlessly had to step in and calm a certain number of "démêlés" among the composers and the musicians, just as they were obliged to resolve the dispute that pitted two of the officiants, Harlay de Chanvallon and Le Tellier, against one another "pour une cérémonie" — that is, a question of protocole. "Paris veut que Reims demande permission d'officier," observed Mme de Sévigné about the fête. "Reims jure qu'il n'en fera rien. On dit que ces deux hommes ne s'accorderont jamais bien qu'ils ne soient à trentes lieues l'un de l'autre." In like manner, for each service, the prelate of the day can be presumed have made sure that "his" musicien or a compositeur was commissioned to write the music.

Was the Messe à 8 voix sung on January 20, when Roquette eulogized the saint? Were the Offerte (H.524 ) and the Magnificat (H.73) that directly follow the mass in Charpentier's notebooks — but that are not identified as being part of it — composed for other services during the octave? This is a distinct possibility, because the composer used the same ink for these two works and for the mass. (The color of the ink changes abruptly, on the other hand, between the Magnificat (fol. 46) and the Prose pour le jour de Pasques (H. 13), fol. 47. The composer clearly used a new bottle of ink for H. 13, H. 312 and H. 284.)

It cannot, of course, be ruled out that Charpentier intended the works in cahiers VI to VIII for quite a different event, for example, the consecration of Paul-Philippe de Chaumont, a relative of President Louis de Bailleul. Bailleul jotted down: "Le 1 mars 1672, Mr l'evesque d'Acqs de la maison de Chaumont, mon cousin germain, a esté sacré au Noviciat des Jésuites, faubourg Saint Germain, par Mr l'Archevesque de Paris [Harlay de Chanvallon], qui avoit pour assistans Mrs les Evesques de Tarbe [Malier, the nephew of the Charpentier-Édouards' friend, Mme de Bailleul], mon nepveu, et de Langres." [Arsenal, 8o S: 13746]  This hypothesis is, however, weakened by the fact that the composer generally specified "pour le sacre d'un évesque" when he composed for that sort of ceremony. Even more, the Jesuit paper of cahiers VI to VIII suggests that these works were recopied/reworked after 1688, while Charpentier was employed by the Jesuits: in short, the works in these notebooks can be presumed to have been Jesuit commissions extended to him back in the early 1670s.

Or, if one agrees that this mass was probably commissioned by a Jesuit yet hesitates to place Marc-Antoine Charpentier at Saint-Louis and working closely with Robert Cambert, another article in the Gazette de France suggests a slightly less prestigious event. On March 25, 1672, the Feast of the Annunciation, "le Roy Casimir de Pologne, assista en l'église du Noviciat des Jésüites, à la Solennité qui si fait, tous les ans, dans la chapelle de la Congrégation." Still, there is no allusion to "music." [Gazette, March 1672, p. 335]

It is interesting to note that, when he made cahiers VII and VIII (probably in the 1690s), Charpentier mixed two different batches of Jesuit paper. On most of the sheets in cahiers VI to XI, the ink of the staves has turned brown over the centuries. But cahiers VI and VIII contain three sheets of paper where the ink employed for the staves has remained very black. These three sheets appear to have been left over from a supply that Charpentier had used for the partbooks of the mass and that — by a stroke of luck for us! — he tucked into his own notebooks. In itself, the presence of these three sheets of paper proves nothing; but another sheet of the same paper appears in the middle of cahier 5, which contains a Prose des morts (H 12). In other words, if the mass was recopied during the 1690s, during his tenure at the Jesuits, he recopied the funeral music too. (For Mlle de Guise's death in 1688? For Mme de Guise's in 1696?) This isolated sheet with black staves must be yet another remnant left lying about on the composer's desk during the weeks when he was recopying/reworking the mass.

Judging from the chronology of the "French" series of notebooks, this prose for the dead was composed during mourning for Louis-Joseph de Lorraine — that is, between August 1671 and July 1672. Charpentier appears to have finished copying out the original version of this work circa April 1672, for (as I argue in my Musing on "Charpentier's funeral music, 1671-1676") this Prose was appropriate for the late duke's "Bout de l'An," which was scheduled for July 30, 1672.