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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 4 (1998) No. 1

Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Meslanges autographes, vol. 1. Introductions by Catherine Massip and H. Wiley Hitchcock. “Œuvres complè?tes,” I. Paris: Minkoff France, 1990. [xvi, 153 pp. FF 475 ($86).]

Reviewed by John S. Powell*

1. The Original Manuscripts

2. The Contents of Volume One

3. The Reprint Project


1. The Original Manuscripts

1.1 The Meslanges autographes are the autograph manuscript scores of Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643–1704), currently found in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (Ms. Rés. Vm1 259). Upon the composer’s death in 1704, these manuscripts passed into the hands of his nephews—one of whom, Jacques Edouard, was a Parisian bookseller and printer who sold them in 1727 to the Bibliothèque du Roy for the sum of 300 livres. It was evidently sometime after this purchase that the royal library bound these cahiers into the 28 volumes in which they are found today, the order of which is preserved in this Minkoff facsimile reprint.

1.2 Charpentier organized these clear copies of his finished works in carefully numbered fascicles (cahiers)—roughly half of which carry arabic numerals, and the other half roman numerals. Whereas each series seems to have originally contained 76 cahiers, eleven are missing from the first series, and twelve from the second. For reasons unknown, the composer evidently compiled these two series of cahiers concurrently.(note 1) Having studied the some 50 different brands of paper together with the various inks and watermarks contained within the Meslanges autographes, Patricia Ranum concludes that Charpentier assembled his collection of manuscripts over a long period of time.(note 2) Furthermore, Ranum’s paper study corroborates Hitchcock’s contention that the scores in successively numbered cahiers were composed successively—often (according to Ranum) on paper supplied to the composer by someone commissioning his music.

1.3 Hence, the first volume (eight cahiers) of the arabic series represents some of Charpentier’s earliest sacred works composed after his return to Paris from Rome and his studies with Carissimi. On the basis of the cahier numbers, the composer’s handwriting, and musical style, Hitchcock dates the works in the first volume as “?early 1670s.”(note 3) Ranum speculates further that the first five arabic-numbered cahiers contain music composed for the musical establishment of Marie de Lorraine, the Duchesse de Guise, between 4 April 1670 and Holy Week of 1672, and she proposes more specific dates for a number of these works.(note 4) Moreover, she identifies four of the singers listed in cahiers 5 and 6 (“Melles B. et T.,” “Melle Mag.,” “Melle Margot”) as chambermaids employed in the De Guise household during this time.(note 5)

2. The Contents of Volume One

2.1 The first volume contains Tenebrae lessons, elevations, hymn settings, psalm settings, motets, masses, and instrumental sacred music. Here is a sampling of Charpentier’s most attractive sacred works on both a large and small scale. His Messe pour les trépassés ´┐ŻO 8 (H. 2) is a concerted polychoral Requiem modeled after those he had studied in Rome. Other companion works follow: the eight-part motet for the dead Miseremini miei (subtitled “Laments of the Souls in Purgatory,” H. 311), a setting of Psalm 129 (H. 156; which includes the verses of “Requiem aeternam” and “Et lux perpetua”), and an impressive polychoral setting of the “Dies irae” (Prose des morts, H. 12)—the opening section of which is based on the Gregorian sequence melody. Further on we find the unusual (and unfortunately incomplete) orchestral Mass (Messe pour plusieurs instruments au lieu des orgues, H. 513); this work adopts the alternatim practice of the organ verset, whereby instrumental “verses” in various combinations alternate with sung plainchant. Its Offertory is an instrumental polychoral motet that pits the wind band (flutes; octave, treble, and bass recorders; oboes and bass crumhorns) against the strings. At the other end of the performance spectrum are Charpentier’s exquisite chamber settings of three Marian antiphons (Regina coeli laetare H. 16 for two sopranos and continuo; Salve regina H. 18 and Ave regina coelorum H. 19, both for three sopranos and continuo) and his elevation motets (O sacrum convivium H. 235, for three sopranos and continuo; Gaudete fideles H. 306, Ave verum corpus H. 233, and Haec dies quam fecit Dominus H. 308, for two sopranos, two flutes, and continuo).

3. The Reprint Project

3.1 After the first two volumes appeared in 1990, the Minkoff reprint of the Meslanges autographes was stalled for a number of years due to financial exigencies. Funding from Musica Gallica has since greased the wheels of production, and eleven volumes in the series have appeared so far (vols. 12 to 14 are expected before June of 1998, and vols. 15 to 18 the following winter). Although slightly reduced from the folio format of the originals, the present reprint volume is large in size, well bound, and handsome in appearance. Catherine Massip, Head Librarian of the Music Department of the Bibliothèque Nationale, provides a preface to the series; this is amplified in the introduction by the eminent Charpentier scholar H. Wiley Hitchcock, who includes a table of contents and a useful index which classifies each piece by genre.

3.2 As Massip states in her preface, “Charpentier’s full use of the space on each page makes for occasional difficulties in reading the inner margins of staves caught in the binding; these have been carefully checked and, where necessary, retranscribed.” This is the case on the very first page (fol. 1r), where the initial letters of “flute,” “flute,” and “prélude” are obscured by the tight binding of the manuscript, and so they fall outside the half-tone photoreproduction of the Minkoff reprint; these words have been completed by Jean Duron in clever imitation of the composer’s original handwriting. Such reconstructive additions are certainly beneficial to the reader—who, however, also needs to be forewarned that the Meslanges autographes are riddled with “authentic” copying errors. For example, the brief duo setting of Regina coeli found on p. 24 (fol. 12v) is missing an accidental in the second dessus, m. 4, note 6 (which clearly should be a B-natural) and an entire measure in the continuo part (m. 12).

3.3 As previously noted, the Bibliothèque Royale purchased Charpentier’s manuscripts from the composer’s estate in 1727 for the sum of 300 livres. In more recent years, the Bibliothèque Nationale has sought to recoup this expenditure by claiming authors rights over the contents of the Meslanges autographes. I inadvertently ran afoul of French law in the mid-1980s when I published an edition of Charpentier’s cantatas based on the Meslanges autographes: imagine my chagrin upon receiving a letter from the library demanding payment of a “somme forfaitaire” of 5,000 francs for the right to publish my transcriptions. According to articles 21 and 23 of the French copyright law (1957), an author enjoys the exclusive right to profit from his own works during his lifetime, after which that right passes to his heirs. But in the case of unpublished works, such as Charpentier’s Meslanges autographes, that right is retained indefinitely by whoever (or whatever) is the legal owner, until they are published. One bonus of this reprint is that after almost three centuries Charpentier’s music will finally come into the public domain.


*John S. Powell (john-powell@utulsa.edu) is Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Tulsa. He has published articles in JAMS, Early Music, Music & Letters, Revue de musicologie, Recherches sur la musique française classique, and Revue d’histoire du théâtre; he has edited two volumes of Charpentier’s music for A-R Editions, and is currently preparing Music and Theatre in France, 1600–1680 for Oxford University Press. Return to beginning of article

1. For example, an inscription preceding the Prose des morts (H. 12; found in cahier 5 of the arabic series) states that “son prélude est au cahier XVII” (of the roman series). (Unfortunately, this instrumental number is missing from cahier XVII, wherein we find incidental music for a revival of Molière’s 1673 comedy-ballet, Le Malade imaginaire and two short three-part symphonies for the Latin oratorio Sacrificium Abrahae [H. 402].) Return to text

2. Patricia M. Ranum, Vers une chronologie des œuvres de Marc-Antoine Charpentier (The Author, 208 Ridgewood Road, Baltimore, Maryland 21210, 1994). Return to text

3. H. Wiley Hitchcock, Les Œuvres de / The Works of / Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Catalogue raisonné (Paris: Picard, 1982), passim. Hitchcock (pp. 30–34) uses the dates of Charpentier’s theater music (that is, the dates of the theatrical productions for which he composed these scores) to establish the chronology of the roman-numbered series. Upon this basis he assigns the years 1672, 1673, and 1674 respectively to cahiers XV, XVI, and XVII—all found in volume 16 of the Meslanges autographes. Return to text

4. Patricia Ranum, “A Sweet Servitude: A Musician’s Life at the Court of Mlle de Guise,” Early Music 15 (1987), pp. 347–60 [at 357–58, n. 9]; Catherine Cessac accepts Ranum’s dating in Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Paris: Fayard, 1988), 476–519. However, if roman cahier XVII (dated 1674 by Hitchcock) did indeed once contain an instrumental prelude to the Prose des morts (H. 12), then that would imply a date later than 1672 for the music contained in arabic cahier 5. Return to text

5. “A Sweet Servitude,” pp. 351 and 358, n. 11. Return to text

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