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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 6 (2000) No. 2

Jean-No�l Marchand. Cantiques spirituels (facsimile edition). Introduction by Thierry Favier. La Musique fran�aise classique de 1650 à 1800, 5648. Courlay: Fuzeau, 1999. 4 fascicles. [ISMN M-2306-5648-1. FF 204.74 ($35).]

Reviewed by Catherine E. Gordon-Seifert*

1. Racine’s Cantiques

2. The Edition

3. The Music


1. Racine’s Cantiques

1.1 The year 1999 marked the three-hundredth anniversary of Jean Racine’s death, an occasion commemorated around the world with conferences and other events devoted to performing and discussing his works. Many of these also included performances of musical settings of his texts, perhaps the most important of these being his collection of four Cantiques spirituels.1 Racine based his first and second canticles on the first epistle of Paul, canticle three on the wisdom of Solomon, and canticle four on various parts of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The work was commissioned by Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon to be set to music for the students at Saint-Cyr, founded in 1686 by Mme de Maintenon to educate daughters of noblemen. Racine wrote the poems for Jean-Baptiste Moreau (1656–1733), who was maître de musique at Saint-Cyr. Moreau, in fact, set canticles one, three, and four in 1694; a setting of canticle two by Michel-Richard Delalande was added later. In addition to Moreau and Delalande, other composers who set the Cantiques to music were Pascal Collasse, Jean-No�l Marchand, and Michel Lambert.2 Of these, only the score to Marchand’s setting of Racine’s Cantiques spirituels is easily available to scholars and performers, thanks to Editions Jean-Marc Fuzeau.

2. The Edition

2.1 The facsimile edition of Marchand’s manuscript includes the settings of all four Cantiques, each separately bound, as well as a copy of Racine’s published text. This edition, like others published by Fuzeau, begins with a chronological list of biographical information about the composer aligned with a chronology of important events and other musical publications from the period. This is followed by the title page, more specific biographical information about the composer, a list of his works, and an introduction, given in three languages (French, English, and German). The commentary, written by Thierry Favier, includes documented information about Racine’s original text, other works set to Racine’s poems, details concerning Marchand’s setting, and performance information. Depending upon the experience of the scholar or performer with manuscript scores from this period, certain aspects of the facsimile may be problematic. There is an extensive use of French violin clef (G-1) as well as C clefs on the first through third lines; the text is not always easy to read; and the text underlay is frequently unclear. If the words in places are difficult to decipher, one can refer to the reproduction of Racine’s original published text. The musical notes, however, were copied in a neat hand and are perfectly legible. Those experienced with reading seventeenth- or eighteenth-century scores will not have any trouble using this edition.

3. The Music

3.1 Very little is known about Jean-No�l Marchand (1666–1710). He was not, however, related to the famous harpsichordist, organist, and composer Louis Marchand (1669–1732). J.-N. Marchand belonged to another Marchand family of accomplished musicians and composers.3 He inherited his father’s post of Ordinaire de la Musique de la Chambre at age nine, and by 1686 he was accepted into the royal chapel as a violinist. In 1689 he received the post of organist at Notre Dame in Versailles, where he worked until his death. He was also appointed lutenist to the royal chamber in 1710, one month before he died.4 His few compositions consist primarily of sacred music, but he also wrote a pastorale, La Feinte heureuse, now lost, according to Favier’s Introduction (p. 6). The composition dates for most of his works, including his Cantiques, are not known.

3.2 Marchand’s Cantiques spirituels belonged to an ever-increasing trend at the end of the seventeenth century of setting to music religious texts in the French language (Introduction, p. 8). The Cantiques spirituels composed by Moreau, Delalande, Collasse, and Marchand are, in fact, sacred cantatas.5 Marchand’s setting, however, differs from the others in its performance requirements. Because the Moreau/Delalande and Collasse works were written for Saint-Cyr, they are chamber pieces, limited to female voices, accompanied by continuo and a few instruments.6 Marchand’s settings may have been written for performance at Notre Dame in Versailles and require a large orchestra, three vocal soloists, and choir (choral parts, however, may be sung by soloists).7

3.3 Each Cantique involves a different group of performers. The first requires three soloists—soprano, counter-tenor, and bass—and two instrumental parts written for violins (one movement uses two flutes). The second features the same soloists, who are supported by a four- to five-part orchestra (two dessus de violon, haute-contre de violon, taille de violon, and continuo group). The third canticle, written in the first person, is for bass solo, accompanied by continuo and two violin parts. This is the shortest and most unique of the canticle settings because it has a personal tone, most likely reflecting Racine’s ties to the Jansenists, and is written like a dramatic scene from an opera.8 The final canticle requires the three soloists, choir, and full orchestra.

3.4 Not only is each Cantique different, but within a canticle, Marchand cleverly contrasts instrumental forces with various vocal combinations. Musical forms and genres include airs in binary form, secco and accompanied recitatives, instrumental simphonies and ritornelles, and the apposition of soloist(s) and choir. Marchand sets Racine’s strophes of the poetry as separate musical numbers. Every strophe, then, is set in a distinctive style. The first canticle, for example, is organized into a series of airs for soprano, counter-tenor, and bass, each singing different stanzas. Some airs are accompanied by two treble instruments, and others by continuo alone. Only one strophe is set as a recitative for bass (with continuo accompaniment), and there are two short choral pieces, the choral finale accompanied by the instrumental ensemble. Instrumental ritornellos for two violins and continuo periodically articulate the vocal pieces. As Favier notes (pp. 8–9) Marchand’s music borrows from both secular and religious musical traditions: secular in its treatment of the strophes, versification, style of airs, recitatives, and instrumental passages (some in French overture style), and religious in its use of accompanied recitatives, melodic restraint, and juxtaposition of choir and soloists, borrowed from the grand motet.

3.5 The variety of instrumental and vocal forces, forms, and genres in each canticle makes for an intriguing and stimulating musical experience. The score is full of musical images that illustrate and underscore key words in the text with luscious musical sounds. Marchand’s use of the orchestra is remarkable; the accompanying instruments not only add contrast to the musical form but also provide color to intensify the vocal line. The publication of this beautiful set of works in 1999 appeared just in time to celebrate in music France’s acclaimed author, Jean Racine.


*Catherine E. Gordon-Seifert (cgordon@providence.edu) is Assistant Professor of Music at Providence College. Her publications and presentations include studies of seventeenth-century French airs and the manuscript parodies of scenes from Lully’s operas as “political erotica.” She is currently working on a book entitled Musical Representations of Love and Gender in Seventeenth-Century France (1650–1700). Return to beginning

1. Œuvres compl�tes de Racine, ed. Georges Forestier (Paris: Gallimard, 1999), 2:1755–7. Racine also wrote interludes to Esther and Athalie, set by J.-B. Moreau for the students of Saint-Cyr. See Olivier Rouvi�re, Jean-No�l Marchand: Cantiques spirituels de Jean Racine, Ensemble Almasis, Iakovos Pappas, director (compact disc booklet, Arion ARN 68467, 1999), 7; and Denise Launay, La Musique religieuse en France du Concile de Trente à 1804 (Paris: Klincksieck, 1993), 456. Return to text

2. The Introduction to this facsimile (p. 7) notes that Racine’s original enumeration differed from his published version of the canticles. Canticles one, three, and four (in the published version, the edition used by composers after Moreau) were originally numbered by Racine as one, two, and three. In addition to Moreau/Delalande, Collasse, and Marchand, Michel Lambert was also said to have composed music to Racine’s text, but the music has been lost. In 1695, Christophe Ballard also published some Psaulmes et Cantiques spirituels by a composer named Duhalle, which included settings of two of Racine’s cantiques. Return to text

3. His father, Jean Marchand (1636–1691), was perhaps the family’s most brilliant representative. It is thought that Jean-Noël, like his father, studied with Jean-Baptiste Lully (Rouvi�re, 9). Return to text

4. David Fuller in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 11:655. See also Marcelle Benoit, “Une dynastie de musiciens versaillais: Les Marchand,” Recherches sur la musique fran�aise classique 1 (1960): 99–129; and 2 (1961–62): 139–158. Return to text

5. Launay specifically cites Racine’s Cantiques spirituels as giving way to a new musical genre, the sacred cantata, which stood as “rival and adversary” to the grand motets by Lully, Du Mont, and Robert (pp. 455–60; see also 167–272, 324–410, and 453–80) Return to text

6. See Laurence Boulay, “Les Cantiques spirituels de Racine mis en musique au XVIIe,” XVIIe Si�cle 34 (1957): 79–92; and Marie Bert, “La Musique à la Maison royale Saint-Louis de Saint-Cyr: son rôle, sa valeur,” Recherches sur la musique fran�çaise classique 3 (1963): 108. According to Jean Duron, it is possible to perform the Collasse work in three different ways: (1) solo voice and continuo, (2) three similar voices, female or male, and continuo, or (3) the same three soloists contrasted with a choir of similar voices and two treble instruments, either two violins or traverse flutes (Pascal Collasse: Cantiques spirituels de Racine, Les Talens Lyriques, dir. Christophe Rousset, [compact disc booklet, Erato WE 810, 1993]). Collasse’s score is available on microfilm of an original print located at the British Library. Only one manuscript source of Moreau’s (and Delalande’s) setting of the canticles survives at the Biblioth�que nationale de France and is bound with the arms of Mme de Maintenon. A setting of Delalande’s second canticle, along with the first by Marchand, was recorded on Michel Richard de Lalande: Cantiques spirituels on texts by Jean Racine, Jean-Marie Leclair Instrumental Ensemble, dir. Louis Frémaux [Westminster XMN 18792, 1957]). Return to text

7. Favier’s Introduction characterizes the orchestral configuration as highly unusual for the period, but it was later to became the norm for sacred music after 1720 (p. 10). On the Almasis recording cited above, up to twelve instrumentalists comprise the orchestra: two flutes, oboe, two dessus de violon, two haute-contre de violons, and one each of taille de violon, basse de violon, basse de viole, harpsichord, and organ. Return to text

8. According to Racine’s son Louis, this was the King’s favorite because he felt a close connection with the words “Mon Dieu quelle guerre cruelle! / Je trouve deux hommes en moi” (“My God, what a cruel war! / I am a man divided”) (Rouvi�re, 8.). Return to text

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