The Ranums' Panat Times
1679: M. de Riants Commissions an Opera
In February 1678 the Mercure galant published the following review of a performance of Charpentier's opera, Les Amours d'Acis et de Galatée at the Parisian residence of an official named "de Rians":
Il y a eu icy ce Carnaval plusieurs sortes de Divertissements mais un des plus grands que nous ayons eus a esté un petit Opéra intitulé Les Amours d'Acis et de Galatée, dont M. de Rians, Procureur du Roy de l'ancient Chastelet, a donné plusieurs représentations dans son Hostel avec sa magnificence ordinaire. L'Assemblée a esté chaque fois de plus de quatre cens Auditeurs, parmy lesquels plusieurs Personnes de la plus haute qualité ont quelquefois eu peine à trouver place. Tous ceux qui chanterent et joüerent des Instrumens furent extrêmement applaudis. La Musique estoit de la composition de M. Charpentier dont je vous ay déjà fait voir deux Airs. Ainsi vous en connoissez l'heureux talent par vous-mesme. Madame de Beauvais, Madame de Boucherat, Messieurs les Marquis de Sablé et de Biron, M. Deniel, Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, si celebre pour la Viole et quantité d'autres qui entendent parfaitement toute la finesse du Chant ont esté des admirateurs de cet Opéra. (pp. 131-132)
Fragments of this opera survive as H. 499, first entitled the "Ouverture du prologue d'Acis et Galatée," then altered in 1680 to read "Ouverture du prologue de l'Inconnu."
Thumbing its nose at Lully, the Mercure blatantly used a daring word: "this opera" It is doubtlessly significant that Charpentier had recently collaborated with Jean Donneau de Visé, the playwright editor of the Mercure at the Guénégaud theater, and that the pair was chafing at the limitations in the number of musicians that Lully had imposed upon their performances. And it surely is still more significant that Lully was especially vulnerable during the first months of 1678. He had just his librettist, Quinault, in disgrace for having woven allusions to the royal mistresses into his libretto for Isis, of 1677. The spring of 1678 found Lully cobbling together an operatic version of Psyche with the help of poet Thomas Corneille. As Jérôme de La Gorce observes (L'Opéra à Paris, Paris, 1992, p. 62), after the Isis affair the Mercure had taken advantage of Lully's vulnerability and "ne manqua pas de signaler l'existence d'ouvrages mis en musique par d'autres compositeurs et de les louer avec une exagération certaine." Three of the operas — which were described as "chef d'œuvres" — were performed in private homes and were so well received, the Mercure asserts, that they were eventually performed before the king at Saint-Germain. It is in this context that the Mercure's review of Charpentier's "opera" should be read. First of all, that the Mercure reviewed this "opera" was a dart intended to annoy Lully. Second, since Psyché would not be ready until April, it is not impossible that Charpentier was hoping to be invited to perform Acis et Galatée at court.
The article in the Mercure takes us beyond Donneau's unconcealed exasperation with Lully. (Donneau did not hide his annoyance in the introductions to his different livres de sujet for the Guénégaud nor in the lyrics he penned.) It also takes us beyond any power play that either he or Charpentier was hoping to implement.The individuals named in the article permit us to sketch the musical circles to which Marc-Antoine Charpentier belonged in 1678.
For example, Charpentier doubtlessly was acquainted with the famous Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe of Tous les Matins du monde. This comes as no surprise, for this viole player had studied with Nicolas Hotman, a Guise protégé. Charpentier also knew "De Niel," a name that some scholars have identified as an allusion to Pierre de Nyert, the singer and composer who had spent five years in Rome at the French embassy and who was Bacilly's master. That these musicians are presented as rubbing shoulders with the beau monde enhances the dignity of the occasion: the public is being informed that Rians' salon is ornamented by the gems of the Parisian musical establishment. This tableau stands in marked contrast with social events at court, where it is difficult to imagine royal musicians circulating among the honored guests.
Who was the spunky "M. de Rians" who not only dared sponsor an "opera" during these years when Lully was defending his privilège so fiercely, but also had the temerity to allow Donneau de Visé to praise it in the press? (After all, Lully could conceivably invoke his privilège and demand indemnification from Riants.)
Riants is an intriguing yet cryptic figure. Before notaries, he spelled his family name with a t, "Riants," and gave Armand-Jean as his Christian names (A.N., M.C., VII, 150, Oct. 25 1694, will and inventory), although the cabinet des titres in the manuscript department at the Bibliothèque nationale sometimes reverses these names and calls him "Jean-Armand." The Riants were a solid parlementaire family that had made equally solid marriage alliances: the Le Clerc du Tremblays (the family into which Père Joseph, Richelieu's "grey eminence,"was born), the d'Angennes; the Noblets, the Rébés, the Hérvés, the Moucys, the Beauvais, the Doujats.
Born in 1623, Armand-Jean de Riants began his career as a royal page and purchased first the office of conseiller in the Parlement in 1654, then that of procureur du roi at the Châtelet in 1657. Riants was known for his devotion to the royal family. For example,
"M. de Rians, procureur du Roy dans l'Ancien Chastelet, fit celebrer une Messe Solemnelle en la Paroisse de S. Germain l'Auxerroix, qui est la sienne, en action de graces de la protection particuliere de Dieu sur la personne sacrée du Roy, dans l'accident de sa chute. Le mesme M. de Rians avoit fait faire incontinant apres la mort de la Reyne des Services au Grand et au Petit Chastelet, pour le repos de l'ame de cette Princesse. Il en racheta plusieurs Prisonniers et il fit donner à disner, et distribuer de l'argent à ceux qui voulurent bien le recevoir." (Mercure galant, September 1683, p. 216)
Riants retired in August 1684, his furniture having been sold to pay his debts. His wife, Anne Marceau, obtained a séparation de biens at that time. In December 1684 the King granted him a pension of 6000 livres as a recompense for Riants' "thirty years" of service at the Châtelet. (Gazette de France, December 1684, p. 768)
It was then, or perhaps after his spouse's death in 1686, that Riants withdrew to the modest room at the Abbey of Saint-Victor where he died on February 19, 1694. The bankruptcy and the move to Saint-Victor dashed my hopes at finding a description of the reception rooms in Riants' "hotel" near Saint-Germain de l'Auxerrois where Charpentier's opera was performed. It is impossible to guess at the location of his residence in 1678: for although Riants is described as living in the parish of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois in 1683, in 1670 he stated that he lived on the rue des Lions, near the parish church of Saint-Paul (A.N., M.C., XI, 227, rachapt, September 3, 1670). The October 1694 issue of the Mercure galant published Riants' obituary (pp. 283-287).
Riants had a brother Charles, a maître des requêtes (A.N., M.C., XI, 282, May 4, 1681, marriage), and three sisters. One of them, Anne, wed Urbain de Laval, marquis de Sablé, seigneur de Boisdauphin, the son of the famous Madame de Sablé. So we are beginning to understand why the Mercure of February 1676 called attention to the fact that a Sablé was at the performance! (The marquis de Sablé who attended the opera is not, however, the son of Riant's late sister: he is the son of her successor as marquise de Sablé, Marguerite Barantin, whose first husband had been Mme de Sablé's nephew.)
Another guest was "Madame de Beauvais." For the moment, we will simply identify her: she was the famous (or infamous) Catherine Bellier, known as "Cateau la borgnesse," the one-eyed lady-in-waiting who introduced young Louis XIV the facts of love in 1654! We shall soon see that, if Mme de Beauvais was mentioned, it may in part have been because, like Sablé, she was an alliée of the Riants family.
By praising Riants' "magnificence ordinaire," and then dropping the names of Sablé and Beavais, the Mercure galant was sending a message to readers that we can easily fail to decrypt three centuries later. That is to say, the Mercure is evoking a dying world: the salons of the 1640s, 50s and early 60s. Is the Mercure not suggesting that Riants is continuing those magical moments when Mesdames de Rambouillet, de Sablé and de Beauvais had held salons and presented lavish ballets and entertainments? Riants, who is connected to all three ladies by marriage. In 1659 Armand-Jean's first cousin, Odet Riants, had allied with the d'Angennes, specifically with the daughter of Mme de Rambouillet's second cousin. Armand-Jean's brother Charles had married the daughter of Isabelle de Beauvais (probably a relative of Cateau la borgnesse's late husband); and we have noted that Armand-Jean's late sister was Mme de Sablé's own daughter-in-law.
How many readers of the Mercure realized that Riants could not continue living in this fashion, any more than Mme de Beauvais would long continue her extravagant way of life? Riants was sinking into the pattern of indebtedness and eventual bankruptcy that historians find among parlementaires and nobles alike. The Duke of Richelieu was exemplifying this pattern at court; Mme de Beauvais was exemplifying it in the vast Parisian hôtel (the "hôtel de Beauvais," 68, rue François Miron, completed in 1660). In desperation, these individuals entertained lavishly as they sank ever deeper into debt, hoping vainly that the king would reward their "generosity" and their patronage of the arts. In the cases of Riants, Beauvais and Richelieu, every tactic failed. Mme de Beauvais was forced to surrender her property to her creditors in 1683, Riants did the same in 1684, and a few years later the Duke of Richelieu had to withdraw from the costly life at court in order to save his remaining possessions.
My evocation of the Duke of Richelieu is not accidental. Another guest named by the Mercure leads us to the family of the great Cardinal. That guest is François de Gontault, marquis de Biron — and, one can presume, his wife, Elisabeth de Cossé, the daughter of the Duke of Brissac. The Birons had christened their son Armand — doubtlessly because Mme de Biron's sister had married Charles de la Porte, Duke de la Meilleraye, Cardinal Richelieu's first cousin. (The child's name was not, however, Armand-Jean but Armand-Charles, the Charles doubtlessly for Meilleraye and the Armand for one of the Richelieus.) The Birons were, of course, the alliés of Cateau la borgnesse — whose daughter had wed the Duke of Richelieu's younger brother, the Marquis de Richelieu.
Within this complex web of marriages and cousinships sits Armand-Jean de Riants — himself surely a part of the network surrounding the Richelieus. Indeed, is this not what his contemporaries were given to understand when they saw Riants' and Biron's names linked in the Mercure galant? Still more intriguing is the fact that this tie to the Richelieus clearly pre-dated the marriages cited above. Armand-Jean de Riants appears to have been the only Armand-Jean in his family. Indeed, on the basis of first names we can presume that he was the godson of Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu.
On the surface none of this seems to tell us much about a possible link between Riants and Marc-Antoine Charpentier, but let us delve a bit deeper.
Did the Riants family have some sort of affective tie to the Charpentiers? I ask that question because this proves to be the case for many of the individuals with whom the composer is known to have been in contact. That is to say, they either have ties to the Charpentier family that date back to the early decades of the seventeenth century (and sometimes back to the time of the League), or else they are linked to the House of Guise and/or the House of Orléans. In the case of Armand-Jean de Riants, this question is especially pertinent: Riants bore the same distinctive and quite exclusive combination of Christian names as Marc-Antoine Charpentier's younger brother: Armand-Jean. Anyone christened Armand- Jean during the 1620s, 1630s or 1640s can be presumed to be either a godson of Cardinal Richelieu or the godson of one of his godsons (among them the Cardinal's great-nephew, the Duke of Richelieu, who commissioned the Feste de Ruel from Charpentier in 1685). Since Armand-Jean de Riants was born in 1623, we can conclude that he was the prelate's godson. (The other Armand-Jean of the family, the future Duke of Richelieu, was only an infant.) This means that Riants was twenty-three when the younger Charpentier son was born in 1645: an appropriate age to be a godparent. Will some fragment of the lost Parisian baptismal records one day surface and to prove or disprove this hypothesis?
That is not to say that the Charpentiers and the Riants necessarily were acquainted. What counts is the fact that the two families belonged to circles that touched and overlapped. Like Charpentier's cousins, the Sevins de Troigny, the Riants "belonged" to the Séguiers. In 1666, a "Mme de Rians" wrote Chancellor Pierre Séguier. (She signed the letter "N. Desalrics" and pointed out that her husband the Marquis had died on January 22. La Chesnaye des Bois mentions no deaths that year, and no marriage with a Desalrics, but he is notoriously incomplete.) The widow requested Séguier's continued protection: "L'honneur que vous faisiez à feu Monsieur le marquis de Rians, mon mary, de le considerer pour vostre tres humble et tres fidele serviteur ... et prenant la liberté ... de vous demander la continuation de vostre protection et bienveillance." (BN., ms. fr. 17408, fol. 104)
The Riants were linked by marriage to a family called Alesso de Lézeau et d'Eragny. During the League, François d'Alesso was ardently pro-Guise. That the entire Alesso family had long been attached to the Guises is revealed by the fact that this princely family, who figuratively if not literally owned the famous pilgrimage site of Liesse, had seen to it that one of François d'Alesso's uncles was prior there and another uncle was curate. The wedding contract of François' brother André reveals that the family was related to Denis Riants — to be specific, to Armand-Jean's great-grandmother. In addition, the Alessos were related to the Charpentier-Kerquifinens (a Leaguer family that I have been unable to connect to the composer's family), to the Blacvods (the Scotch-born physician who had followed Mary Stuart — the daughter of a Guise princess — to France and from whom descended the wife of M. Du Bois of the Hôtel de Guise), and to the Versoris (another extremely ardent League family from which descended Denis Voisin, the husband of Elisabeth Charpentier's friend Marie Talon). When Charpentier came to the Hôtel de Guise circa 1669, François d'Alesso's great-grandson, Jean, was one of the principal gentlemen of the young Duke of Guise. It is difficult to evaluate the strength of such long-time links and the implications of these links for Charpentier's career. Indeed such links only gain meaning when one link reinforces another, and when these otherwise feeble links can be seen to stretch in the same direction over the generations. That is the picture that began to emerge when I delved not all that deeply into the Riants family and its connections. (I must write a Musing on the old League ties that surface in the marriage contract of Charpentier's sister. But that will have wait until fall.)
Until then, suffice it to say that Charpentier's cousins, the Sevins, descended from a Leaguer named Eléazar Sevin. (Suzanne Croyer, the daughter of one of Charpentier's cousins, married Eléazar's son, Charles Sevin de Troigny, in 1625.) This really quite prestigious marriage is perhaps explained by Charpentier-Sevin links that have been traced back to late sixteenth-century Meaux.
In like manner, Urbain de Laval, marquis de Sablé — the grandfather of the Sablés who attended Riants' opera in 1679 — was a Leaguer. And Mme de Sablé, née Madeleine de Souvré, was the daughter of a Mlle de Bailleul. The Sablés were such close friends or relatives of the Bailleuls that President Louis de Bailleul (the son of one of the witnesses at Elisabeth Charpentier's wedding in 1662 and the father of another) saw fit to note the death of Mme Sablé's brother in his day book (Arsenal, 8o S. 13744, May 22, 1670). Although I have not found a family tie, Louis de Bailleul was also close to the Boucherats, who also were guests at Riants' opera: he recorded the Councillor's death on May 6, 1681 (S. 13755, May 6). (I have another possible identification of the "Marquis de Sablé: see my "factoid" dated April 5,2007)
Another possible link between Armand-Jean de Riants and the Charpentier family should not be overlooked. Riants was a major figure at the Châtelet from the mid-1650s on — as were the Ferrands, the close friends and protectors of the composer's other sister, Etiennette. The Ferrands emerged from obscurity as retainers of the Montpensiers (Mlle de Guise's maternal ancestors), then came to Paris. By 1594 a Ferrand was lieutenant particulier in the Châtelet, and until the 1690s the eldest Ferrand male of each generation held this position. Now it so happens that the Charpentiers of Meaux had several cousins at the Châtelet (Roland Croyer, conseiller at the Châtelet, who was Mme Sevin's uncle; Roland Croyer's in-laws, the Faviers, who were related to several Leaguer families; and Louis Le Roy, a procureur at the Châtelet, who was Mme Sevin's brother-in-law).
On the basis of this evidence, what tentative conclusion can we draw about Armand- Jean de Riants' decision to commission an opera from Marc-Antoine Charpentier in 1678?
First and foremost, it is clear that Riants was agréable to the Guises. This counted for a lot. (Would Charpentier would have dared accept a commission from an enemy of the House of Guise or the House of Orléans?) Family ties — some distant, some close — had connected him to the Lorraines of Guise for a century.
Second, it seems quite likely that Riants belonged to circles that were far wealthier and far more prestigious than maître écrivain Louis Charpentier and his five children. One circle revolved around Chancellor Séguier, and it included the Riants and the Sevins. A second circle formed at the Châtelet during the first half of the seventeenth century, and it included the Ferrands and Armand-Jean Riants. And a third circle was linked to the Guises and went back to the League. To one or another of these circles belonged not only the families who protected the orphaned Charpentiers in 1662 but numerous relatives of the Riants.
Third, the baptismal names Armand-Jean that we find in the Charpentier and the Riants families suggest that both families were linked to the Richelieus — the Riants in the mid-1620s, the Charpentiers in the mid-1640s (and, of course, again in the 1680s).
The existence of these networks helps us better to understand the raison d'être of an opera that until now appeared to have been prompted primarily by Riants' desire to link his name with a composer whose theatrical activities had been attracting considerable attention. That doubtlessly is the case, but the opera commissioned in 1678 also appears to have been a gesture of friendship, if not more than that — an oblique gesture in favor of the older salon, pluralistic, non-courtly, if not quite anti-court culture of the mid-century.
The French historian, Robert Descimon, who has researched Armand-Jean Riants, writes me: Je signale que Armand-Jean de Ryantz habitait en août 1678 ... rue Saint-Antoine, paroisse saint Paul. Cet homme déménageait vraiment souvent. Je crois que l'interprétation que l'on peut donner l'organisation des grandes fêtes royales à laquelle il s'adonnait, tient dans sa volonté, correspondant à une nécessité, étant donné sa débâcle économique, d'attirer l'attention et les pensions de Louis XIV. Outre que ces fêtes étaient flatteuses et agréables pour un amateur d'art, il faut le reconnaître pour ne tomber dans le réductionnisme économique!" (To which I add that, as I showed in my article on the "Feste de Ruel," the Duke of Richelieu used the very same tactics in a vain attempt to ward off what amounted to bankruptcy.)