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Spiritual Music in the 17th Century:

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1634?-1704)

     Born in Paris, Charpentier studied with the famous Italian composer Carissimi in Rome, then returned to Paris and in 1670, joining the household of the Duchess of Guise as a singer and as the maître de musique. In 1672 he succeeded the famous French composer and conductor Jean-Bapiste Lully as composer for the theater company of the famous French playwrite Molière. Charpentier composed his beautiful leçons de ténèbres and répons in 1680 and they were then sung at l'Abbaye-aux-Bois. When the Duchess of Guise died in 1688, Charpentier was employed by the Jesuits. Later he became maître de musique at the collège Louis-le-Grand, rue Saint-Jacques, then after that l'église Saint-Louis, rue Saint-Antoine. 
     While he worked for the Jesuits, Charpentier's only musical tragedy, Médée, was performed at the l'Académie royale de musique. The premier took place on December 4, 1693.
     In 1698 he became maître de chapelle at the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. During this last period he wrote his masterworks Messe Assumpta est Maria, the oratorio Judicium Salomonis, and l'offertoire de la Messe Rouge destined to be played annually at le parlement. On February 24, 1704, Charpentier died.
     Almost all of what remains of Charpentier's religious music comes from this period, the last twenty years of his life. It includes not only his famous Te Deum, but also the beautiful Christmas midnight mass and the Missa Assumpta est Maria. It is here, in the composition of sacred music, that Charpentier's true genius lies.
     Charpentier managed to combine the sensuousness of the Italian music that he had studied under Carissimi with the pomp and grandeur of French court music. The result is a distinctive style, decorative yet profound, expansive yet personal, that was a considerable influence on successive generations of French composers.
    During his lifetime, no matter however widely admired he was, Charpentier never attained his ambition of an official post at the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. This was largely due to his rival, the egotistic Jean-Baptiste Lully who enjoyed royal patronage and allegedly conspired against Charpentier in order that he himself might maintain this high position in the king's court. Charpentier did, however, gain an appointment as musician to the king's son, the Dauphin, and the king eventually granted him a pension in 1683 in recognition of those services.
     For nearly three centuries, Marc-Antoine Charpentier was all but forgotten while his contemporary, Jean-Baptiste Lully, had gone down in history as the greatest composer of his time. But now we must state that Charpentier was actually the greater of the two, displaying in his work impressive breadth of range - from the pomp of the court and the flamboyance of the theatre to the intimacy of the private chapel. His music captures the essence of the French nobility in its prime, before the French revolution swept it away. It is simply beautiful.

Charpentier: Te Deum; Messe de Minuit de Noël
Leçons de Ténèbres du Jeudi Saint
More Lessons

On the Web:
We thank the Goldberg Early Music Portal and the Charpentier Website for much of the information contained in this article.

Andrè Campra (1660-1744)

    Campra isn't fully a 17th Century French composer as some of his great sacred compositions were written after 1700. However, he must be described on this page, along with our discussion of his forbearer, Charpentier.
     Born in Aix-en-Provence, Campra grew up in the south of France where he learned music from Guillaume Poitevin. During 1681 to 1683 he served as maître de chapelle in Toulon, Saint-Trophime in Arles, then he went to Saint-Etienne in Toulouse. In 1694 he became maître de chapelle at the magnificent Notre-Dame in Paris, where Perotin's music had been sung 500 years previous. His first book of motets appeared in 1695, the second in 1699. Campra left Notre Dame in 1700 to pursue a career in opera. He returned to sacred composition in 1623 when he was appointed sous-maître at the Chapel of the King. There he wrote three masses, a plainchant hymn, sixty motets for solo voices, and fifty-one grand motets for soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Campra Grand Motets
This is an amazing CD!

On the Web:
Campra on the Goldberg Early Music Portal

Sacred Works on CD
har901238 Harmonia Mundi cantatas Christie/les Arts Florissants
har1901238 Harmonia Mundi cantatas Christie/les Arts Florissants
pie786101 Pierre Verany French cantatas Nicolas (sop)/cuiller (vln)
har901396 Harmonia Mundi Idomenee Christie/les Arts Florissants
har901506 Harmonia Mundi Idomenee-hlts Christie/les Arts Florissants
har901251 Harmonia Mundi Requiem baudry/elwes/herreweghe/

chapelle royale

ele45993 Elektra Classical Messe des Morts nelson/harris/gardiner/english baroque sol
pie784093 Pierre Verany motets nicolas (sop)/lasla (bari)
pie786111 Pierre Verany tancrede-hlts dussaut/bona/arapian/zaffini
ana28050 Analekta mythologie forget*daniele (sop) arion ens
deu77059 Deutsch Harmonia Mundi l'Europe Galante/Bourgeois Gentilhomme kuijken/la petite bande/yakar/jacobs
adda581275 ADDA motet Benedictus Dom/Requiem Gens/Niquet/Concert Spirituel
adda581250 ADDA Te Deum/notus in judea/Deus in nomine tuo Gens/Niquet/Concert Spirituel

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