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Thread: Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704)

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    Default Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704)


    Charpentier was born in or near Paris, the son of a master scribe. He had a good education, possibly with the Jesuits. He started to study law but withdrew and eventually went to Rome in 1665 (?) where he spent several years studying with Carissimi and acquiring a knowledge of the Italian style.

    He returned to France in 1670 and entered the employ of the de Guise family. He was initially employed to write religious music, but the family also enjoyed musical entertainments and Charpentier also wrote chamber operas (in defiance of Lully's monopoly). Because of their patronage, he began writing incidental music for the spoken theater of Molière after Molière had fallen out with Lully in 1672. After Molière's death he continued to write for the King's Troupe renamed in 1682 as Comédie-Française. Charpentier's music became more expansive and demanded more instruments than were allowed by Lully's monopoly over theatrical music. By 1685, the troupe capitulated and Charpentier's career as a writer for the theatre was over.

    Charpentier's primary vocation was religious music and he steadily wrote masses, motets, hymns, and various other liturgical pieces. He was appointed as musician to the Dauphin in 1679, He wrote primarily for the prince's private chapel, composing devotional pieces for a small ensemble and, with the de Guise's permission was able to re-use many of the pieces he had written for Mlle de Guise. When the king visited his son, he was impressed by Chapentier's music. In 1683, Chapentier was awarded a royal pension and was being commissioned to write for court events such as the annual Corpus Christi procession. In the same year, he fell ill shortly before the competition for the sub-mastership of the royal chapel.

    In 1687, shortly before the death of Mlle de Guise, Charpentier went to work for the Jesuits at Louis-le-Grand where he wrote oratorios for the students and then to the church of Saint-Louis where he wrote mainly psalm settings for the novitiate.

    Charpentier was appointed maître de musique for the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris in 1698, a royal post he held until his death in 1704. It is from this period that some of his best work emerges e.g. the Mass Assumpta Est Maria, Judicium Solomonis and the Motet for the Offertory of the Red Mass intended to celebrate the annual return of the Parliament.

    As well as being a composer, Charpentier was also a theorist. In 1691, he succeeded Loulié as musical tutor to Philippe d’Orléans, duke of Chartres and wrote a manual which he expanded in 1693. His work at Sainte-Chapelle would include teaching solfege, sight singing, harmony and possibly composition.

    His one failure was the opera Medea premiered at the Academie Royale in 1693 to total indifference.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    Having read the above fascinating bio of Charpentier, I feel like apologising for my favourite Lully's greedy selfish behaviour!

    Here from YouTube is Charpentier's truly beautiful Mass 'Assumpta Est Maria':

    My fiddle my joy.

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    Senior Member Sonata's Avatar
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    Charpentier is a wonderful composer, I find such joy in his work.
    "When words fail... there is music"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ingélou View Post
    Having read the above fascinating bio of Charpentier, I feel like apologising for my favourite Lully's greedy selfish behaviour!
    We accept your act of contrition on his behalf.

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    You can't mention Charpentier without posting his greatest hit. William Christie conducts it a little differently from what we expect, but it has drums and lots of noise, and that's what it's all about.


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    Senior Member JSBach85's Avatar
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    It was in 2008 when I started to get interested in Marc Antoine Charpentier, and currently is among my favourite composers and an absolute reference as far as baroque sacred music is concerned. Some months ago I got more recordings of his famous Te Deum. Those are all the recordings I own of Charpentier's Te Deum:

    Marc Antoine Charpentier - Te Deum H.146 Part I

    Composed between 1688 and 1698. It is thought that the composition was performed to mark the victory celebrations for the Battle of Steinkirk in August, 1692 against England, United Provinces, Denmark, Scotland, as a part of the Nine Years' War, resulting in the victory of the French under Marshal François-Henri de Montmorency, duc de Luxembourg. Hopefully, the book I ordered this week: "The Wars of Louis XIV. 1667-1714 by John A. Lynn" will bring me a detailed description about this battle. Those are the recordings I own:

    William Christie - Les Arts Florissants


    Includes an amazing "Marche de timbales" by Philidor just before the predule. The conducting is lively, full of textures and colorful, the tempi are correct, maybe slower than Minkowski, timbales and trumpets are powerful. This is my favourite recording because is also well balanced.

    Marc Minkowski - Les Musiciens du Louvre


    The conducting of Marc Minkowski is the most forceful and incisive of any other recording I've listened. The timbales and trumpets are the most powerful and orchestra is simply brilliant. The vocal performance is not as good as Christie and tempis are faster so some details and textures are not perceived with the same clarity as Christie recording. Minkowski is my second favourite recording and still a great reference.

    Vincent Dumestre - Le Poeme Harmonique & Capella Cracoviensis


    This recording also includes Lully's Te Deum, another great piece of sacred music, discussed before in Lully's thread. The timbales in this recording is one of the best features, a solid conducting and convincing vocal performance. However, Dumestre takes some risks and being a live recording, the sound is not as clear as Christie and Minkowski recordings. This is my third favourite recording.

    Martin Gester - Le Parlement De Musique


    Martin Gester conducting is nearly as good as William Christie and tempi is similar as well. Gester exhibit a solid conducting but orchestra performance is not as brilliant as Minkowski. The vocal performance should be more incisive in details. In a similar manner as Christie, Gester recording is well balanced, for this reason is my fourth favourite recording.

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    Marc Antoine Charpentier - Te Deum H.146 Part II

    Le Concert Spirituel - Hervé Niquet


    Niquet is a strong reference in regards to Baroque French sacred music. However, conducting is perfunctory, with faster sections in respect of other recordings, losing many details, textures and lacks of color and luminosity. In contrast, vocal performance is among my favourite. This is, therefore, my fifth favourite recording.

    Musica Polyphonica - Louis Devos


    Devos recording is just a classic, was the first recording on period instruments. Maybe the best feature is the imposing prelude. The conducting is lively, the orchestra full of details, contrast and colors. However, the vocal performance is not as good as today's standards and had to face a strong competitive environment with Christie and Minkowski as the undisputed leaders. Conducting is very well balanced and because of its influence over Christie recording, is a must have in my collection. This is my sixth favourite recording.

    Jean Tubéry - Namur Chamber Choir, La Fenice, Les Agrémens


    Tubery's recording was my last purchased. The best features are the timbales and an acceptable vocal performance. However, conducting lacks of contrast, brightness and is flat. This is an issue for me because I think this event demands an explosive conducting, greater luminosity and more contrast. The sound quality is also worse than other recordings.

    This is a photo I've taken from my collection ordered by my preferences as mentioned:

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