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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


The Jesuits and Carissimi: Can we assume that Marc-Antoine Charpentier actually met with him?

How possessive were the Jesuits about the maestro di cappella at their different schools and churches? For example, would the Jesuits in Rome have permitted Giacomo Carissimi (d. 1674) to discuss music with persons who belonged neither to the Company nor to one of the lay circles close to it?

Over the past several years [that is, prior to circa 1990] there have been discussions on France-Musiques (the radio station owned by the French government) about Marc-Antoine Charpentier's experiences in Rome during the 1660s. Some of these discussions have focused on the possessiveness of the Company of Jesus and on the strictness of the rules governing the conduct of their chapel masters. One question recurs again and again: "Charpentier is said to have studied with Giacomo Carissimi, the maestro di cappella, that is, the chapel master at the Collegio Germanico in Rome. Is there proof that Charpentier actually did so, or is their exchange based on hear-say or hypotheses?" Some musicologists assert that these exchanges are documented, although they can't always quote the source — which happens to be the Mercure Galant of January 1678: "Il a demeuré longtemps en Italie, où il voyoit souvent le Carissimi, qui estoit le plus grand Maistre de Musique que nous ayons eu depuis longtemps": He lived a long while in Italy, where he often saw Carissimi, who was the greatest music master we have had in a long time (p. 231). Iconoclasts assert that this is surely a fable or a distortion of the truth, and that the Mercure simply equated journeying to Italy and learning the Italian style with studying with the famous Carissimi.

The Mercure is, however quite explicit: Charpentier "voyoit souvent le Carissimi" — which has only one possible reading: "Charpentier saw Carissimi personally quite often." (It would be perverse to argue that by "saw" the author of this article meant that Charpentier often "saw" Carissimi beating time during chapel services.) We can identify the author of that article: Jean Donneau de Visé, who speaks in the first person — "Je prétends que..." — and who praises the music that Charpentier had recently composed for Circé, a spectacle for which Donneau de Visé was one of the co-authors. In other words, if the Mercure says that Charpentier "saw Carissimi often," it is highly probable that this was indeed the case, because Charpentier can be supposed to have told Donneau de Visé this. But can we assume that Donneau de Visé stated this information accurately? Yes, for he would soon be named royal historiographer, which suggests that his judiciousness about fact versus fiction was recognized at the highest levels of the royal administration. Given the reliability of this witness, to argue that the Mercure's assertion is unreliable is to argue that Charpentier was a liar who invented a friendship with Carissimi that did not in fact exist.

I for one am very reluctant to view Charpentier as a prevaricator. His protectresses, the two Guise princesses, had so many gossip links to Rome that the composer's duplicity would have been discovered promptly — and he probably would have been dismissed, for it is unlikely that these pious women would have continued to protect a fraud whose eventual unmasking by rivals would have brought humiliation to the House of Guise. Thus I am convinced that we must accept Donneau de Visé's assertion as fact: Charpentier "saw Carissimi often" while in Rome, circa 1666-1669.

That he did so implies, of course, that the regulations governing the conduct of the chapel master at the Jesuit-run Collegio Germanico did not restrict Carissimi's contacts with outsiders, and that he was therefore free to talk about music with people who were not students at the Collegio. This reading of the Mercure's remarks about Charpentier meshes with what we know about the Company of Jesus's powerful concern that all aspects of its pedagogy, its liturgy, its administration be as uniform as possible, from one administrative "province" of the Company to the next. This reading of course runs counter to the assertions being made on France-Musique and being echoed elsewhere, arguing that Charpentier could not possibly have discussed composition with Carissimi during the late 1660s unless he was a student at the College. Since Charpentier was approximately 23 when he reached Rome, and 26 or 27 when he left, it is highly unlikely that he was a student at the College. (But can one rule out his being, at the start of his stay in Rome, one of the anonymous outsiders who boarded at the College and who are mentioned in the Lenten surveys of "the state of souls" preserved at Saint-Jean-Lateran? I for one do not think we should rule this out categorically and therefore stop searching for Charpentier on the fringes of the Jesuit circle of Rome. The Charpentier family had powerful friends in the Jesuit order, one of whom had spent many years in Rome as the French secretary to the General.)

Still, rather than insist upon this vague possibility, I have preferred to take a different position in my writings on Charpentier — and indeed in my research on the French community in Rome during the 1660s. I argue that it is unlikely that the Jesuits prevented Carissimi from talking to non-Jesuits who shared his interest in composition, and that they would scarcely have prevented him from spending an hour or two with Charpentier — especially since Charpentier's links to the Jesuits would have made him a persona grata, and also because both men apparently had an entrée to the household of Queen Christina of Sweden in the 1660s. (I'll return to this point later.)

To understand Charpentier's career — not only his years in Rome and his visits to Carissimi but the commissions he seems to have received from the Jesuits of Paris while he was working for the Guises during the 1670s and 1680s, as well as his artistic production as a Jesuit maître de musique (hereafter rendered as "music master") during the 1690s — we must learn more about the regulations that governed the conduct of Jesuit music masters in general.

I have found no such rules for Paris, where little evidence survives owing to the expulsion of the Jesuits and the destruction of numerous archives during the Revolution. But I do have the regulations that Thyrso Gonzales, the General of the Company, drew up in 1699 for the maestro at the Collegio Romano in Rome and the vast and splendid Church of Saint Ignatius that was associated with it. Nothing about these rules suggests that they are innovations: rather, they should be seen as re-statements of established practice, prompted perhaps by troubles during the tenure of this master or his predecessor. These rules state very clearly that the master of the College was allowed to accept outside commissions, provided he requested permission from the superior of the institution. Similar principles govern the participation of outside composers in Jesuit services: they could not impinge upon the master's sovereignty without prior consultation. Here is a translation of these rules (for the original text in Italian, see our "Fugitive Pieces"). Each clause is followed by my bracketed comments about what can be inferred about Charpentier's contact with Carissimi in Rome, and his subsequent collaboration with the Parisian Jesuits in the 1690s.

"1. The maestro di cappella pro tempore [of the Church of Il Gesu] is to be such for this church as he already is for the church of the Noviciate of S. Andrea, for the usual feast days or sacred functions to be celebrated and that might be celebrated in the future, without any exception whatsoever."

[In short, Il Gesu, the Noviciate and the College not only observed the same rules, they shared the same chapel master. This is important for our understanding of Charpentier's career during the decade he worked for the Jesuits in Paris. He too seems to have composed simultaneously for two or even three of the Paris houses. I don't know what the routine functions were in each house in Rome, but they must have involved the same — or very similar — "feast days" and other "sacred functions" that can be discerned in Charpentier's notebooks for the 1690s.]

"2. The above-mentioned maestro, on days of the above-mentioned feast days or sacred functions, is not to participate in musical performances of other churches not of the Company, without first having had permission from the Father Rector of the College or from his church prefect."

[The Jesuits did not want their master giving them short shrift and adding to their rivals' glory. Hence this article. He could, however, work for other Jesuit houses, and the master's supervisor (in this case, the head of the Collegio Romano) could authorize him to work for non-Jesuits. By extension, one can argue that Carissimi could have been authorized to discuss the compositional art with young Charpentier, both inside and outside the precincts of the Collegio Germanico. In fact, if Charpentier had ties of friendship to the Jesuits of Paris, as we know he did, a letter of recommendation from one of them could have kept Carissimi's intellectual exchanges with Charpentier within the Company, so to speak. This clause therefore suggests that Carissimi was no more a prisoner of the Jesuits than the maestro was at the Collegio Romano — unless, of course, we discover that the Father Rector was unusually possessive and uncooperative.]

"3. The regular musicians who serve the church of the Gesù are also to serve on the above- mentioned feast days or sacred functions of the Roman College."

[Since the musicians of the principal Jesuit church in Rome performed at the Collegio Romano, we can assume that the musicians of the opera who performed at Saint-Louis in Paris also performed at the Parisian Collège de Clermont (later called "Louis le Grand"). We know that Charpentier was master at each house "successively," first at the Collège, it would seem, and then at Saint-Louis.]
"4. In any sacred function or public ceremony that may be the responsibility not of the College but rather of any outside party [qualche esterno] for its special devotion or its own observance and that is to be celebrated with the approval of the superiors, the outside party is to be free to use either the maestro di cappella and musicians of the College or any other [master], as it pleases."

[Esterno, a term that here seems to denote all non-Jesuits, could organize devotions in music at the Collegio but first had to obtain the Father Rector's approval. For such devotions, the outsiders could choose any maestro and musicians they wished. Similar rules surely were in force in Paris at Saint-Louis, the church of the profess house. This helps us understand how the Guise household musicians could perform a work by Charpentier at the various Jesuit establishments in Paris (his first motet for Saint-Cecilia was performed at a conversion sponsored by Mme de Guise at Saint- Louis). All it took was authorization by the superior or rector, and Charpentier's music could be performed instead of the music of the reigning chapel master. This helps us understand how Jesuit paper found its way periodically into Charpentier's notebooks of the 1670s and 1680s.]

"5. For the usual feast days or sacred functions to be celebrated or that might be celebrated in the future, the Father Rector or his church prefect, beside the regular musicians, can call on other outsiders, including instrument players. These, however, are to be under the baton and supervision of the regular maestro di cappella. This latter, moreover, must treat them according to the usual arrangements to be practiced by maestri di cappella in similar employment of outside musicians and players."

[This is really interesting: the official master got to beat time and conduct the musicians, but it was the Rector who hired them! Note that the Jesuits followed the "usual" practices of non-Jesuit musicians and music masters. It is therefore difficult to argue that Carissimi was an exception and was prevented from talking with or teaching other musicians.]

"6. When the Father Rector or his church prefect might have psalms or antiphons to be sung according to their taste [lor piacimento], the maestro di cappella must have them sung with all care to the greater satisfaction of the listeners."

[This one is fun! When the rector wanted a specific piece performed, the master could not refuse. This reinforces my observations about article 4: if a Jesuit friend of the Guises convinced the rector to have a piece by Charpentier sung at a service, the music master was powerless to prevent it.]

"7. The Father Rector or his church prefect must not leave out any of the usual music to be performed without my [the General's!] being aware of the reasons there may be for not doing it."

[The rector's personal preferences could not however be allowed to distort established liturgy: the General himself made sure of that.]

"8. In any questions that might come up with respect to these decisions, I [the General] reserve the settlement of them myself."

[At first glance this clause doesn't seem important to the Charpentier-Carissimi issue, but it really is. The Charpentier family was friends of Pierre Verthamon, the General's long-time secretary. If push came to shove, the General could have stepped in and ordered Carissimi's superior to let him talk with Charpentier.]

Nowhere do these rules forbid the maestro di cappella to associate with other composers, talk about composition with other musicians, and so forth. Rules are, of course, only as good as the administrators' desire to enforce them. In fact, rules tend to be flexible until someone bends them so far that disciplinary action is required — at which time the rules are cited in order to force a subordinate to retreat to the accustomed and generally tolerated degree of rule-bending. Hence the regulations for Saint Ignatius of 1699.

There is, of course, considerable evidence that Carissimi was not a prisoner of the Jesuits, and that he composed for extra-Jesuit events. There are his oratorios for the Confraternity of the Crucifixion that met in the beautiful little chapel behind San Marcello. And there are the secular airs he sent to an Italian in Mazarin's circle just prior to Christina of Sweden's visit to France in 1656, as part of what he knew to be a publishing venture. If these airs were performed at the French court it surely was in anticipation of Christina's impending visit: she had recently made Carissimi her maestro di cappella del concerto di camera, and the French naturally were eager to compliment her for her good taste. This nomination is sometimes dismissed as a mere compliment paid to Carissimi by the Pallas of the North (Christina) — or, perhaps, as an attempt on Christina's part to garner to herself some of the famed composer's glory. To so argue is to misunderstand Christina. The remnants of her papers at the library of the Medical School of Montpellier show convincingly that the Queen never did anything lightly and without first calculating the material or moral advantages she would gain from the gesture If she named Carissimi to her "chapel" and her "chamber" on the eve of her departure for France (the document was signed on July 18, 1656 and she left for Paris on July 19), it is because she fully expected that he would be composing simultaneously for her and the Jesuits when she returned. In a word, she was stating publicly that Carissimi "belonged" to her; she was, so to speak, branding him so that he could not stray from her orbit during her absence from Rome.

This link to Christina's household music means that Carissimi knew Jacques Dalibert, the Queen's master of revels — who prior to his arrival in Rome had "belonged" to the same French royal prince as several friends of the Charpentier family. (This of course suggests another context in which Charpentier could have "often seen" Carissimi: at the Riario Palace, during conversations with Dalibert.) Once someone was incorporated into in Christina's orbit, he could not easily exit. She regularly threatened to have Dalibert tossed out the window, and he took the threat so seriously that he turned down a post with a less stingy and far less irascible prince. When a singer's voice faded, Christina traded him away for a valuable manuscript. Or, if extreme disloyalty was involved, she considered it her prerogative to execute the offender — as she had ordered Monaldeschi "executed" at Fontainebleau. In short, until we can prove that Christina's nomination of Carissimi was nothing but a token gesture, we should assume that he served the Queen by composing for her at more or less regular intervals — this, of course, with the permission of the superior of the Collegio Germanico.

Almost two decades later, Charpentier became the "maître de chapelle" of the Parisian Jesuits — first at the Collège de Louis-le-Grand (previously known as the Collège de Clermont) and then at the Church of Saint-Louis. No rules for the master's conduct at either establishment have thus far been unearthed. Still, the available evidence suggests that business was conducted more or less consistently throughout highly centralized Jesuit order, and that, like the master of Saint Ignatius in Rome, Charpentier had the right to compose for outsiders — as long as the superior approved. Charpentier's autograph notebooks for the 1690s confirm that he did indeed accept extra-Jesuit commissions. The motet in honor of St. Louis (H.365) and the élévation that precedes it (H. 264) in notebook LXIII bear all the hallmarks of having been written for Louis XIV — if, that is, one assumes that Charpentier continued to separate his works into "ordinary" and "extraordinary" commissions after Mlle de Guise's death in 1688 (see my Vers une chronologie), which would mean that notebook LXIII contains compositions that were not part of his weekly obligations as music master. In sum, Charpentier's situation during the 1690s parallels Christina's protection of Carissimi: in each case, the superior of a Jesuit institution authorizes his music master to compose for royalty, thereby adding to the glory of the Jesuit order as a whole (and by "as a whole," I mean that the glory that came to one Jesuit or one Jesuit house contributed to the glory of the entire order).

Even more telling: Du Pradel's Livre commode des adresses (1692) shows that, during the years when Charpentier was music master for the Jesuits (judging from his address, he probably had not yet left the Collège de Clermont for the Church of Saint-Louis), he had, so to speak, hung out his shingle and was teaching composition to persons outside the Collège! Lecerf de la Viéville confirms this when he alludes to women who had learned to love italianate music under Charpentier's tutelage. To Lecerf's evidence we might add what is possibly an exception imposed upon the Jesuits by the royal family: circa 1693, Charpentier was teaching composition to the King's nephew, the Duke of Chartres. In other words, there is irrefutable evidence that the master of music of a Jesuit college — but a college that admittedly was situated in Paris rather than in Rome — was permitted to teach composition to outsiders. To this evidence can be added the case of Charles Masson. Judging from the title pages of his Nouveau traité ... pour la composition, it was during the 1690s that Masson served as "maître de musique of Saint Louis," the principal Jesuit establishment in Paris. A method for composition! By a master who was prevented from teaching composition to anyone outside a closed Jesuit circle? A master who was free to talk with Marc-Antoine Charpentier, his colleague at the Jesuit college and, perhaps, with the schoolboys there — but with no one else? Once again historical evidence shows how implausible is that image of an isolated and imprisoned Masson. In the mid-1680s, Masson became a friend of Etienne Loulié and Sébastien de Brossard, both of whom were passionately interested in the art of composition and in musical theory. Who would argue that Masson was barred from helping Brossard, an autodidact, improve his understanding of counterpoint and harmony, simply because Masson was employed by the Jesuits? Who would assert that Brossard was able to tell Masson about having "invented" major and minor keys — which is exactly what Brossard claims to have done — but that Masson did not dare reciprocate?

Put another way, there is solid evidence that the music master of a Parisian Jesuit institution was by no means a near-prisoner who did not dare linger over a glass of wine with another composer, accept outside commissions or teach his art to people outside the school run by the Jesuits. And by analogy it is perverse to argue that Jesuit rules prevented Carissimi from talking about music with Charpentier — unless historical documents can be unearthed to demonstrate that: 1) the Jesuits observed very different rules in Rome and in Paris; and 2) these regional differences were accepted by the General, despite a preoccupation with centralization, in their various houses in Rome and in Paris, that prompted the General to summon representatives of all the European Jesuit establishments to Rome every three years, so that they could inform him about the activities in each house and, above all, receive his orders.

If I am so troubled by the comments I have heard on the radio, it is because they give the impression that scholars will be wasting their time examining the intellectual and artistic milieus of 17th-century Rome, in order to reconstitute networks of protections and friendships that may have shaped Charpentier's Roman stay. How can we place Carissimi in these networks, if he continues to be portrayed as an artist who was forced to sit on the sidelines, in splendid isolation, an artist who was confined to a gilded cage? It is the musicologists who will find that they are imprisoned in an intellectual cage that can scarcely be described as gilded! For musical life in France, this sort of research into networks is busy opening doors that will eventually permit us to understand the intellectual and artistic trajectories of Charpentier, Sébastien de Brossard, Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre. For art history, such research is exemplified by Elizabeth Cropper and Charles Dempsey's recent Poussin (Princeton University Press, 1996), with its portrayal of the international circle of artists that gathered around Vicenzo Guistiniani during the 1640s.

Scientific inquiry cannot be served when the radio audience of an entire nation is informed, quite categorically, that Charpentier's supposedly frequent encounters with Carissimi are nothing more than unreliable hearsay, that the rules of the Jesuit order prevented Carissimi from talking at length with any musician dwelling outside the walls of the Collegio Germanico, that Carissimi therefore refrained from the intellectual exchanges that were such a fundamental part of Roman society, and that Charpentier consequently could not have known him personally and merely knew about him and his music. Confronted by such a categorical tableau, will young and enthusiastic scholars see through the chinks in this argument and set about testing these categorical assertions by delving deeply into archives throughout Europe?

I have so many trails to follow in my quest for an understanding of Charpentier that I simply can't devote time to Carissimi. Yet it is important for me to to find evidence that either supports or contradicts the picture of Carissimi as a virtual prisoner of the Collegio Germanico who did not dare to talk about music with a young Frenchman who had arrived on his doorstep bearing impressive letters of recommendation. Whichever way the evidence points, I am eager to accept it and let it shape my thinking. If evidence is unearthed that Carissimi's nomination to Christina's household was meaningless and that he probably did not set foot in the Riario Palace (where Dalibert played the combined roles of organizer of royal revels, jester and secretary to French-speaking nations), I will shape my conclusions in conformity to that evidence. In a word, I will cease proposing that either the Jesuits or Dalibert — or both — were instrumental in arranging Charpentier's frequent conversations with Carissimi. And I will cast about for another explanation of the remark in the Mercure Galant — which as far as I can tell comes from an unimpeachable source.

As a conclusion to these thoughts, I am tossing out a few questions that some of you out there can perhaps answer. 

— Has anyone come upon the rules that specifically governed the conduct of the maestro di capella at the Collegio Germanico of Rome during the 1660s?

— Is there a source that suggests that — despite the triennial meeting in Rome attended by delegates from each Jesuit institution throughout Europe, and despite the printed forms they completed about personnel and activities — the different "provinces" of the Company of Jesus were so independent that the chapel master in a Roman college worked according to totally different rules than the music master of a similar college in Paris?

— Does anyone know whether Carissimi composed music specifically for Christina of Sweden?