Reviewed by Benjamin Van Wye*
(note 1) that these two compositions were written not for Port-Royal des Champsthe convent and lay community near Versailles renowned in the seventeenth century for its Cistercian austerity and Jansenist doctrinebut to its Paris branch, Port-Royal de Paris, which separated from the mother-house when its members renounced Jansenism in 1669. Solo parts in four of Charpentier's Port-Royal pieces bear names of residents of the Paris house, and even though the Mass is not similarly annotated it seems reasonable to assume it to have been composed for the same community.
1.2 However, Cessac's suggestion that the Messe de Port-Royal was commissioned specifically for ceremonies at the convent on 20 July 1687, the feast of St. Margaret, is not entirely convincing. On that day and by permission of the convent's abbess Marguerite Harlay de Champvallon, whose name-day it was, Franciscan monks from the neighboring Grand Couvent des Cordeliers held services at her church in thanksgiving for the recovery from illness of her brother François, archbishop of Paris. To support the theory that Charpentier might have composed his Mass for this occasion Cessac notes that, in addition to the mass ordinary, the work also contains two sets of minor propers (introit, gradual, offertory and communion), one for St. Francis, the other for St. Margaret (the names of the archbishop and his sister). This theory cannot, however, be verified since the autograph source for Charpentier's works (the Méslanges) lacks dates, and it even seems contradicted by an account in the Mercure galant stating that the service was sung not by the nuns but by the Pères Cordeliers.(note 2)
2.2 The context for Charpentier's Magnificat is more slender, the vesper office, of which it forms the climax, represented here by a single psalm (no. 116: Laudate Dominum, H.182)(note 3) and the hymn Ave maris stella, H. 63, one of Charpentier's several settings of the popular Marian text. Instead of following the hymn immediately, the Vesper canticle is delayed by the introduction of a motet pour Ste Thérèse (Flores, o gallia, H. 342). The Port-Royal Magnificat features solo verses in sensual monodic style (the continuo accompaniment played by bass viol and organ) in alternation with choral verses set to a simple fauxbourdon. In this performance the proper Gregorian antiphon Veni sponsa Christi is chanted (unaccompanied and in a period version) before the canticle and reappears after it in a plainchant en taille verset for organ. The juxtaposition of musical styles and media in this climactic canticle offer an excellent illustration of baroque liturgical music.
2.3 Except for the addition of a continuo accompaniment, the Messe pour le Port-Royal stands in the tradition of the plainchant musical mass, a genre that first appears in Bourgoing's mass settings for the Oratorians (1634) and continues in Du Mont's Cinq messes en plein-chant, propres pour toutes sortes de Religieux et Religieuses, de quelque Ordre qu'ils soient; qui se peuvent chanter toutes les bonnes festes de l'année, (1669). By their austere, quasi-modal melodies (which retained traditional Gregorian intonations), simple but marked rhythms, and absence of instrumental accompaniment) such masses served the needs of religious communities seeking to fulfill the choir obligation on feast days with something more attractive than a Gregorian mass, but ill prepared or forbidden by the order's constitutions to perform polyphonic settings. Plainchant musical mass movements had the further advantage of sparing conventual choirs the fatigue and monotony of uninterrupted singing by being cast, like Gregorian ordinaries, in clearly separated sections that could be performed in alternation with vocal solos or, if the conventual chapel possessed an organ, versets. The latter were not regulated by the Ceremoniale parisiense, which addresses itself to parish and collegiate churches and describes alternation with Gregorian chant. Charpentier's Port-Royal Mass, on the other hand, reflects patterns of alternation between soloists, choir, and organist that reflect the unique requirements and resources of conventual music-making.
3.2 Credo is set for voices throughout and only the concluding Amen of Gloria in excelsis is supplied by the organ (a spirited dialogue sur les grands jeux) ; Benedictus, on the other hand, is replaced entirely (and appropriately) by a tierce en taille (à la Couperin). Where a text contains repeated phrases, the organist is given a wider berth: four versets (fonds d'orgue, récit de voix humaine, récit de trompette, and grand plein jeu) alternate with voices in Kyrie eleison; a plein jeu and récit de cornet articulate the first and third acclamations of Sanctus; while the first and third petitions of Agnus Dei are represented by a récit de trompette and flûtes, respectively. In addition, the organist is directed to supply a short prelude before the introit and gradual and after each of the celebrant's intonations, that for Ite missa est being answered by a brief plainchant en taille. At Vespers, the organist's solo contributions are confined to even-numbered stanzas of the hymn (note 4) (récit de cornet, récit de trompette, récit de nasard, and point d'orgue sur le plein jeu) and the repeat of the Magnificat antiphon.
3.3 Chapuis improvises pieces in a variety of genres and registrations which reveal his solid knowledge of the French classical tradition and demonstrate the historic importance of the Houdan organ. Individually as soloists and collectively as a chorus, Mandarins ten Demoiselles masterfully shape Charpentier's deceptively simple vocal lines, stylishly execute his ornaments, and pronounce the Latin in a charmingly Frenchified way.
*Benjamin Van Wye (firstname.lastname@example.org) resides in upstate New York, where he serves as Lecturer in Music at Skidmore College, writes about the organ's role in historic liturgies, and is active as organ recitalist and choral conductor.
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Notes1. Catherine Cessac, Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Paris: Fayard, 1988); English translation by E. Thomas Glasow (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1995).
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2. Mercure Galant, August 1687, 969, quoted
in Cessac (trans. Glasow), op. cit., 163.
3. Although not one of Charpentier's psalm settings
for Port Royal (H. 226 and H. 227), H. 182 appears nevertheless to have
been intended for conventual use.
4. It was customary for the organ to take even-numbered
stanzas when alternating with polyphonic vocal settings, such as this
one for two florid upper voices and basso continuo, and odd-numbered ones
when alternating with plainsong. The alternatim pattern of Charpentier's
hymn is therefore standard and not, as the liner notes state, a reversal
attributable to local custom.
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