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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


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Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


Marc-Antoine Charpentier's "Petite Pastorale"

(H.479), October 5, 1676

During the fall of 1676, Charpentier copied out, into cahier 13, the only setting of a French text to be found in the "French" series of notebooks prior to circa October 1682. The composition was entitled "Petite Pastorale, Eglogue de Bergers," (H. 479), which the mémoire of 1726 calls the "Jugement de Pan." Different bits of internal and external evidence, pieced together, tell us quite a bit about the raison d'être of this atypical work and help us to place its creation in a larger context.

Philippe d'Orléans ("Monsieur") and his second wife, the German princess known as "Liselotte," or "la Palatine" ("Madame") were by now parents of two children, "Mlle de Chartres" and "Monsieur le duc de Chartres." (The little boy grew up to be the musician-prince who studied composition with Charpentier.) It was customary to "ondoyer" princes and princesses at the time of their birth, and hold an elaborate baptism at a later date. Thus is was that Monsieur's household officers began arranging a festive double baptism at the chateau of Saint-Cloud, to be held when their master returned from the summer military campaign.

For godmothers, Philippe d'Orléans selected his first cousins, likewise princesses of the House of Orléans: Mme de Guise and Mme de Toscane (her sister, who had returned to France from Florence the previous year and was a semi-prisoner at Montmartre):

Le 5 de ce mois [October], Monsieur le duc de Chartres & Mademoiselle de Chartres furent batisez à S. Clou, dans la Chapelle du Chasteau, en presence de Leurs Majestez, de Monseigneur le Dauphin, & et de Monsieur & de Madame, accompagnez de toute la Cour. Monsieur le Duc de Chartres fut tenu sur les Fonts, par le Prince de Condé, & et par la Grande Duchesse de Toscane, qui le nommérent Philippes, qui est le nom de Monsieur. Mademoiselle de Chartres, tenüe par le duc d'Enguyen, & par Madame de Guise, qui le nommérent Elisabeth Charlotte, qui est le nom de Madame. La Maréchale de Clerambaut, Gouvernante des Enfans de Leurs Altesses Royales, présenta le Prince et la Princesse au Baréme: et l'Evesque du Mans, premier Aumônier de Monsieur, fit la Ceremonie, assisté de tous les Aumôniers & de tous les Chapelains et Monsieur & de Madame. Leurs Majestez, avec Monseigneur le Dauphin, estant montées ensuite, au Salon, elles y trouvérent une collation tres splendide: où le Prince de Condé, la Grande Duchesse de Toscane, le Duc d'Enghien, & Mme de Guise furent placez à la mesme table. Il y en avoit une autre dans l'Antichambre de M. le Duc de Chartres, pour les Princes de Conti & de la Roche sur Yon: où se mirent plusieurs Seigneurs de la première qualité. Leurs Majestez eurent ensuitte le divertissement de l'Opera, dans le mesme Salon, qui avoit esté preparé avec toute la magnificence possible.1

The performance of the "opera" in question was almost certainly supervised by Jean Granouillet de Sablières, the intendant of Philippe's music, and by Henri Guichard, who generally took care of decorating rooms, setting up a makeshift stage and preparing fireworks and illuminations.2 Thus it is safe to assume that the improvised stage was prepared by the latter of these gentlemen. But can we be certain that Sablières himself wrote the opera? (A few years later, Sablières would be touted as having composed an opera — as being "l'autheur" of "une manière d'opéra.") It is not entirely sure that he did write the opera that was performed on October 5, 1676. At any rate, Marc-Antoine Charpentier clearly contributed to the event, politeness doubtlessly having forced Monsieur's impresarios to welcome his participation. (Did they also have to look pleased at the news that Condé's musicians would participate too? The sources permit no answer that that intriguing possibility.)

Was Charpentier's "little pastoral" merely the prologue to an opera by Sablières? Or was it the "opera" itself? If it was the latter, the Guise composer clearly not only supplanted Philippe d'Orléans's own protégés that day but any householders whom Monsieur le Prince de Condé may have offered to send along to Saint-Cloud.

The pastoral was written for three male voices, two recorders and a continuo. The identity of some of the performers can be deduced: Charpentier, a haute-contre, apparently played the role of Lysandre; Beaupuis, the bass, played Pan; and Loulié, the principal instrumentalist of the Guise ensemble, blew one of the recorders. The role of Alcidon, which was written for a tenor, was probably performed by a newcomer to the ensemble, Henri Baussen. (Should the fact that none of the chambermaids appears to have taken part in the performance be taken as evidence that the Guise princesses were unwilling to let these young women compromise their reputations by appearing on stage?)

The text — a singing competition that Pan is asked to judge — harkens back to the "splendid" original prelude of Le Malade imaginaire. Indeed, Charpentier incorporated into this pastoral a number of songs written for the ill-fated prologue to that play: "Quittez, quittez, bergers" (H. 496[2]) and "Ah, cruelle bergère," a serenade by Polichinelle that has since disappeared.

He wove two other songs into the pastoral: "Au bord d'une fontaine," and "Brillantes fleurs, naissez" (H. 449). The former has apparently been lost, but the latter, with lyrics by Jean de La Fontaine, was eventually published in 1689. It may be that the composer was working against time and took the easy way out by borrowing from himself. Or was the he making an Orléanist statement? That is to say, by his presence at the second performance after Molière's death, Philippe d'Orléans had overtly come out in support of Charpentier and the grieving, leaderless troop; yet neither before nor immediately after Molière's death, Louis XIV did not deign to attend a single performance of Le Malade imaginaire. And so now, was Charpentier slyly getting even, by making sure that Louis XIV would finally hear bits of the "splendid," prologue that had been written in his honor?

Can we really be certain that Charpentier wrote his pastoral for this event at Saint-Cloud? Definitely. The lyrics are unequivocal: although the singers speak of him in the third person, Louis XIV clearly was present at the performance. "Ne songeons qu'à ses plaisirs," the three men sing: one did not "please" a king by praising him behind his back: one "pleased" him by doing so to his face. In short, the shepherds are expressing their desire to please the king by singing for him — or to be more accurate, by singing of his recent victories ("les beaux faits de Louis"). That the singers are making so much of pleasing the king offers the proof that the pastoral was performed for an event attended by Louis XIV, surely the baptismal party.

In reality, it was Philippe d'Orléans who had been the dominant figure in one of the battles of the summer campaign. The allusions to "Louis's" victories should therefore be read as veiled compliments about Monsieur's prowess on the battlefield. Indeed, the pastoral evokes the combats of the summer campaign from which Louis and Philippe had just returned. The shepherds cease singing about "zephyrs" and — scarcely concealing their mock (and doubtlessly real) stage-fright — they become soldiers who have engaged in a "combat" from which they must not "flee," a combat that they must win lest they be "punished" ("si tu fuis le combat que veux-tu qu'on en pense? ... que le vaincu soit puny"). They must show "courage" ("Auras-tu le courage de chanter les vertus du plus puissant des roys? Que diras-tu d'un roy juste, vaillant et sage?") as they praise the monarch ("jugez qui de nous deux ... scaura mieux publier ses exploits inouïs").

Charpentier tossed another concealed flower in the direction of the House of Orléans and its various protégés: by selecting a song with lyrics by La Fontaine, he was complimenting two grand ladies simultaneously: Mme de Guise's late mother, who had been La Fontaine's first protectress; and Mme de Sablières, not only the poet's current patroness but also the spouse of the intendant of Monsieur's music.

The marginalia to Charpentier's "little pastoral" provides a few clues about his music library, some six years after his return from Italy. First of all, although most of his compositions were in "cahyers," the music for Le Malade imaginaire was in a "livre." In other words, the original version, in all its "splendor," had been isolated from Charpentier's chronologically organized files and had been bound under separate cover. We also learn that this was not the only bound "book" of his compositions: his setting of La Fontaine's lyrics already existed and was to be found in "le livre g, page 182" — apparently a rather thick manuscript volume that appears to have been the seventh volume in a collection composed of books a, b, c and so forth.

Although the Gazette de France did not go into detail about the festivities surrounding the baptism, a letter from Anne de L'Hôpital, comte de Saint-Mesmes (who had been one of Gaston d'Orléans's most faithful servants, who had subsequently served Mme de Guise and her late mother, and who was now Mme de Toscane's principal "gentleman") suggests the excitement it stirred: "Nous voilà de retour pour aller demain à Saint Clou, au babtesme des enfens de Monsieur où il y de grands préparatifs de festes. Les dames y seront fort parées."3

The magnificence of the setting in which Charpentier's pastoral was performed can be deduced from a description of a similar event that Guichard had organized for his master four years earlier. That day, the first surprise came as the guests entered the vestibule of the chateau and saw a "quantité de cuvettes & de pots de Fleurs, dont il estoit orné, ainsi que la Balustrade de l'Escalier, tout au pourtour, depuis le bas jusques en haut." In the Grand Salon, candles emphasized the "Or & les Peintures, dont il est enrichi, & des Crystaux, des Porcelaines, des Girandoles, & des Vases de Fleurs, entremeslez en symetrie, avec des Gueridons d'Or, & de Lapis, au devant de quelques Paravants de la Chine, rehaussez d'or." In reality, all these splendid objects formed a stage, "dont la beauté ajoûtit de nouveaux agrémens, à ceux du Salon." On that makeshift stage — which Guichard had prepared with only a day's notice — the late Molière's troop performed Les Femmes savantes.4

The stage setting was doubtlessly just as lavish in October 1676 when the Guise musicians sang their hearts out to please the king. Mme de Toscane, who had brought her entire household with her (enough people to fill two coaches), was also charmed, "no so much because of the lavishness of the entertaining and the conversazione di musica" (the Florentine resident clearly was referring to the "opera" and/or the "petite pastorale") as because "she spent many hours dancing in private with Monsieur, with little Mademoiselle, and with other ladies of the court." (Her enthusiasm led to a dancing-master crisis a month later. Toscane not only hired a dancing master but wanted him to be admitted to the abbey of Montmartre, where she was confined, in order to teach her the latest French steps!)



1. Gazette de France, October 1676, p. 728.

2. For Sablières and Guichard, see Ch. Nuitter and Er. Thoinan, Les Origines de l'opéra français, Paris, 1886, especially pp. 320-331).

3. Florence, Archivio di Stato, Med. del Prin., 6265, October 4, 1676.

4. Gazette, August 11, 1672, in a special issue devoted to the "Feste de Saint Cloud"; and La Grange, Registre, p. 136.

5. Med. del Prin., 4768, Sept. 28 and Oct. 9, 1676.