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Volume 15, no. 1:

Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Motets pour chœur, vol. 8, ed. Théodora Psychoyou. Versailles: Éditions du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, 2008. [xcvi, 223 pp., €120,00]

[Contents: Annuntiate superi. Pro omnibus festis Beatæ Virginis Mariæ (H.333), Litanies de la Vierge à six voix et deux dessus de violes (H.83), Miserere mei Deus (H.193), Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel. Canticum Zachariæ (H.345), Bonum est confiteri Domino (H.195)]

 

Reviewed by Shirley Thompson*

1. Introduction

2. The Works

3. Subsequent Revisions

4. Prefatory Material

5. Editorial Procedure and Presentation

6. Conclusion

References

1. Introduction

1.1 The motets in this volume edited by Théodora Psychoyou contain some of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s most attractive music. The appeal of these works to performers and audiences is underlined by the fact that all have been recorded: two of them in particular—the Litanies de la Vierge (H.83) and Miserere mei Deus (H.193)—appear on several different discs and are frequently performed in concerts.1 Although some of the motets have previously been issued in commercial editions, none has benefited from such a painstaking approach as we find in the present volume, the tenth in a critical edition of the complete works of Charpentier published by the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles in its series Collection monumentales.2

2. The Works

2.1 The present volume has a particular unity in bringing together five works with the same unusual scoring: a symmetrical arrangement of three female voices (haut-dessus, dessus and bas-dessus) and three male (haute-contre, taille, basse), accompanied by two obbligato treble viols and continuo.3 The distinctiveness of this scoring results from the fact that the works were all written for the musicians of Mlle de Guise, Charpentier’s patroness for much of the 1670s and 1680s. The special nature of the patronage provided by Mlle de Guise and her kinswoman Mme de Guise, as well as the identities of the Guise musicians, have been extensively researched by Patricia Ranum.4 By the likely date of the present works (1684–1687) the Guise ensemble was at its height, and had developed from “a small group of musically talented domestics” into what Ranum terms the “Great Guise Music.”5 So skilled was this ensemble of young singers and players that, after Mlle de Guise’s death, the Mercure galant commented that “the musicians of several great sovereigns do not come close to it.”6

2.2 The present editions are made from Charpentier’s autograph scores (the only surviving source for four of the five works), all located within the so-called Mélanges autographes.7 The manuscripts of four of the motets make the Guise link explicit by identifying the singers, and there is general agreement that the fifth was written for the same ensemble. Furthermore, the manner in which the singers are identified confirms that the original performing forces were an ensemble of soloists rather than a choral group in the modern sense, though with two singers on the outer parts in the “full” sections. Despite such relatively small resources, these works nevertheless exploit the alternation between “solo” and “tutti” passages; the composer also makes the most of contrasts between the female and male trios, uses the voices in different configurations, and employs a variety of textures.

3. Subsequent Revisions

3.1 The autograph scores of three of these pieces—Annuntiate superi, Litanies de la Vierge, and Miserere—contain annotations by the composer himself which reveal that they were adapted for subsequent performance. These annotations for the most part reallocate parts to other voice-types as well as indicating octave transpositions of the continuo line necessitated by such re-scoring. The aim seems to have been to adapt the works for larger vocal forces comprising only men and boys—most likely those at the Jesuit church of Saint-Louis, where Charpentier became maître de musique after leaving the Guise household in 1687. We know that this was the eventual venue for the Miserere, not least by the addition of “des Jésuites” to the title in the composer’s score (in a hand other than Charpentier’s and therefore presumably after his death).

3.2 Indeed, the situation is particularly complex in the case of the Miserere: here the adaptation was more extensive, with instructions not just for changes in vocal scoring, but also for an expansion of the instrumental accompaniment. While previous interpretations of these annotations have tended to distinguish between only two versions of the work (i.e. an original “Guise” version and a later “Jesuit” version), Psychoyou argues persuasively—on the basis of a close study of the annotations, including the handwriting and ink—that there were in fact three states of the work, with an intermediate stage between the “Guise” and “Jesuit” versions. Establishing this second state, however, involves a certain amount of guesswork, since the composer attempted to delete some of the relevant annotations when preparing the third.

3.3 Modern performances of the Miserere have been inclined to disregard even the notion of two states of the work, generally settling on a mix-and-match approach combining the womens’ voices of the “Guise” version with the choral and orchestral forces of the “Jesuit” adaptation. This aberration has presumably resulted from the performing material used—that is, editions which have made no attempt to untangle the layers embedded within Charpentier’s score.8

3.4 In editing this Miserere and the other two subsequently re-scored works, Psychoyou’s aim has been to present in score the first state only, with the annotations for revision nevertheless logged in the Critical Commentary. This approach seems eminently sensible; we have the benefit of an uncluttered score presenting one version, while having the instructions for adaptation at our fingertips. Arguably the most important contribution of this volume is its potential to generate performances of these revised works—the Miserere in particular—in a scoring that the composer intended, rather than some hybrid that adheres to none of his versions.

4. Prefatory Material

4.1 A generous amount of space is given over to contextualizing the works, including background on the original performers (acknowledging Ranum’s research), descriptions of the source of each work, and discussion of the re-scoring. Six facsimile images are included, complete with useful explanatory captions; the three which illustrate Charpentier’s annotations for adaptation will prove particularly useful for anyone without access to the relevant facsimile volumes but who wishes to engage fully with the editor’s discussion of this aspect.

4.2 Invaluable though it is, this section is sometimes repetitious. For instance, the link with the musicians of the Guise household is made on numerous occasions. Furthermore, the flow of the discussion within sections could sometimes be more effective. For example, the end of the first section, headed “The Works Presented in This Volume,” gets sidetracked into a discussion of vocal terminology; though interesting, this discussion could have been more effectively woven into the subsequent section on vocal forces, rather than distracting from the introduction to the works themselves.

4.3 The introduction appears in both French and English, but the translation, unfortunately, sometimes creates ambiguities that do not appear in the original. Worse, it includes a glaringly inaccurate statement about the labeling of the two series of gatherings that make up the Mélanges autographes: we are erroneously informed that the cahiers françois contain “works in French” and the cahiers romains “works in Latin.”9 Rather, the former gatherings are labeled with arabic (“françois”) numerals, and the others with roman numerals. Such incorrect descriptions do not occur in Psychoyou’s original French.

5. Editorial Procedure and Presentation

5.1 The statement of editorial procedure describes the treatment of the original labeling, and how certain aspects of the notation (accidentals, layout, clefs, Latin spelling and punctuation) have been modernized. Attention is drawn to the retention of three features of the original notation: the shape of ties and slurs, ornament signs, and key signatures. One aspect not explained, however, is the policy on continuo figuring, other than that the accidentals are modernized. It becomes apparent that the policy is to put all the figures below the continuo line in the conventional way, but to retain the original vertical order. Although this gives rise to some rather unusual-looking configurations, Graham Sadler has observed some evidence in Charpentier’s manuscripts that the vertical order of figures has implications for hand position, and suggests that retaining the original order in a modern edition does at least give “the player the choice of following the layout suggested by the figuring (where this seems significant) or ignoring it.”10 This is unarguable, but it would nevertheless seem desirable to make the policy explicit.

5.2 As is typical of the “monumentales” series, the scores are clearly presented on the page, and there is evidence of close attention to detail. Cross reference to entries in the Critical Commentary is indicated at the relevant point in the score by corner brackets (fortunately no coloration occurs in any of the works in this volume, as it does in other works by Charpentier), and footnotes are used discreetly. Cautionary accidentals are reserved for such instances as that on p. 86, m. 362, where f-sharp and f''-natural are sounded simultaneously. I spotted a relatively small number of oversights, mostly in the figuring, which admittedly does sometimes require a beady eye: for example, in a few cases the figures are incomplete (p. 8, m. 91; p. 15, m. 153; p. 139, m. 363; p. 185, m. 367; p. 200, m. 619), misplaced (p. 37, m. 138; p. 89, mm. 408, 415), or misread (p. 64, m. 59; p. 157, m. 65; p. 184, m. 361; p. 209, m. 780). A few other infelicities include two instances where a tremblement is preceded by a dot not present in the source (p. 31, m. 54; p. 95, m. 501) and one occasion where the continuo rhythm is incorrect (p. 201, m. 652).

5.3 The scores in this volume are clearly intended for performers as much as musicologists: the individual works are available separately (without prefatory matter or critical notes), as are instrumental parts, though none of this material was sent for review. A certain amount of specialist knowledge on the part of the performer is assumed. While the intended performing forces are discussed extensively and there is a brief note on the interpretation of ornaments, other aspects of notation and performance practice receive no attention (for example, meter signs, void notation, pronunciation). And while the policy of providing no editorial figuring is understandable in the context of a critical edition, inexperienced continuo players would surely welcome a few editorial suggestions in passages where the composer’s figuring is particularly scanty—even if these were restricted only to essential accidentals (on p. 52, for instance).

6. Conclusion

This volume is a welcome addition to the library of modern editions which are making Charpentier’s music increasingly accessible to performers and audiences. Furthermore, the discussion of the adaptations of three of the works for subsequent performance enhances our understanding of the composer’s working life and methods.

References

* Shirley Thompson (shirley.thompson@bcu.ac.uk) is Director of Postgraduate Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire in the U.K. She edited New Perspectives on Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Ashgate, 2010) and is the author of numerous articles in the field.

1 See the relevant entries in the Charpentier discography prepared and maintained by Catherine Cessac: http://www.charpentier.culture.fr/fr/html/doc/discographie.pdf. “H” numbers are those assigned to Charpentier’s works in H. Wiley Hitchcock, Les Œuvres de/The Works of Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Catalogue raisonné (Paris: Picard, 1982).

2 Miserere des Jésuites, ed. Roger Blanchard (Paris: Éditions du CNRS-Jobert, 1984); Litanies de la Vierge à 6 voix et deux dessus de violles, in Nine Settings of the Litanies de la Vierge, ed. David C. Rayl (Madison: A-R Editions, 1994); Annunciate superi. Pro omnibus festis B.V.M. (H.333), ed. Dominique Montel (Lédignan: Éditions Dominique Montel, 1999). For more on editions published by the CMBV, see http://editions.cmbv.fr/.

3 While viols are not specifically mentioned in the scores of two of the works (H.193 and H.345), it seems likely that they were the intended obbligato instruments. See Shirley Thompson, “Charpentier and the Viol,” Early Music 32, no. 4 (November 2004): 497–510 (at p. 500 and note 12).

4 Patricia M. Ranum, “A Sweet Servitude: A Musician’s Life at the Court of Mlle de Guise,” Early Music 15, no. 3 (August 1987): 346–60; idem, Portraits around Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Baltimore: Dux Femina Facti, 2004), especially pp. 189–201.

5 Ranum, Portraits, p. 200.

6 Ranum, “A Sweet Servitude,” p. 356.

7F-Pn Rés. Vm1 259. Facsimile edition: Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Œuvres completes, I: Meslanges autographes, 28 vols, published under the direction of H. Wiley Hitchcock (Paris: Minkoff, 1990–2004).

8 As Psychoyou points out, Blanchard’s 1984 edition (see reference 2) “comes down in favour of the orchestral version while using the voices of the original Guise version” (p. LII, note 46).

9 See p. XLII, note 8.

10 Graham Sadler, “Idiosyncrasies in Charpentier’s Continuo Figuring: Their Significance for Editors and Performers”, in Catherine Cessac, ed., Les Manuscrits autographes de Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Wavre: Mardaga, 2007), 137–56 (at p. 149).


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