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8.554397 - LULLY: Grand Motets, Vol. 1
In 1661, Lully became Superintendent of the King's Music and Composer of His Majesty's Chamber. His task was to organize the King's musical diversions, notably the great Court entertainments which culminated in Les Plaisirs de l'Isle enchantée in May 1664. He composed music for ballets (at a rate of over one a year during this period) and began his collaboration with Molière. He received his naturalization papers and married the daughter of Michel Lambert, master of music of the King's Chamber.
What then, during the winter of 1664, inspired this theatrically inclined man of action to write a Miserere for the Chapel Royal, a full motet for soloists, choir and orchestra, when such a task was not part of his duties? The mystery remains unsolved. The work was probably the first example of a style which enjoyed popular esteem until the Revolution. It is as though Lully, versatile creator of so many new musical forms, sought here also to make his mark and point the way towards new architectural possibilities. German cantatas, Italian psalms and English anthems were all inspired by Lully's great design.
The religious context in which Lully wrote this first motet was quite particular. The issue of the "liberties of the Gallican church" (i.e. the place of the spiritual and temporal authorities) was once again prominent in the 1660s. The debate on the question led to a parliamentary declaration in 1663 whose six articles are the precursors of the famous "four articles" of 1682 which marked the French bishops' allegiance to the King. At the same time Louis XIV reorganized his Chapel, appointing two composers, Henry Du Mont and Pierre Robert, in 1663. More than any other work Lully's Miserere, performed before the entire Court, seems to stand as a manifesto for what was expected of a composer at the Chapel Royal: an utterly new form, an innovative design, fit for the King.
The work, whose text is drawn from Psalm 51, one of the penitential psalms, was first performed in late 1664. Mme de Sévigné is known to have wept on hearing it and she was doubtless not alone. Although the motet already shows a clear distinction between airs (called récits), solo ensembles, choruses and symphonies, the Miserere belongs to the first period of full motets (before 1683). Its double chorus effects owe much to the composers of the first half of the seventeenth century: the soloists are part of a "small chorus" which is set against the "full chorus". During choral passages, the soloists systematically double the equivalent voices. Treated this way, the full motet resembles a continuous chorus interspersed with more muted passages, or an organ piece in which subtle stops on the positive provide a contrast with the full organ. Textual expression is given light and shade in a harmonious architectural construct. Listen to Lully's counterpoint, the lines of the strings in the symphony, the low-register thirds. The music sings and the violins, shattering the full harmony on the occasion of a cadence, break into a toccata motif that echoes the composer's Italian past.
Observe Lully's mastery of colour. Listen to how choral and orchestral textures, now in five, now in ten parts, change with the rhythm of the text; note how subtle touches of orchestral colour highlight the meaning of a verb or the sweetness of a modulation. The sublime text of the psalm inspires Lully to paint a whole sweep of emotions, at once melancholy, plaintive, sweet, tragic, suffering, noble and victorious.
Plaude lœtare Gallia, first performed on 7th April, 1668, is on a text by Pierre Perrin, future creator of the Royal Academy of Music, "Councillor of the King's council and introducer of Ambassadors to the late Duke of Orleans". Perrin was the author of several pre-Lully opera libretti such as La pastorale d'Issy, Pomone and La mort d'Adonis set to music by Cambert and J.-B. Boesset. He was also a renowned neo-Latin poet, penning a large number of Gallican para-liturgical texts, well before the hymns of Santeul, Commire, Clairé and Pierre Portes. The full motet Plaude lœtare Gallia is a perfect illustration of the move in France to abandon Roman liturgical practice in both text and music. These full motets, whether psalms or Gallican hymns, were sung at Low Mass in the Chapel Royal. It was the time when there were hopes for uniting the Churches, the period (1666) when Bossuet made contact again with Pasteur Fleury, hoping to "advance as far as possible a reconciliation with the Protestants". In 1670 Pérefixe, the bishop of Paris, having decided to publish a new breviary "ad usum parisiensi", commissioned learned poets to write hymns.
The Te Deum is Lully's best-known sacred work, first performed at Fontainebleau on 9th September, 1677. It was while directing 150 musicians in another performance of the piece on 8th January, 1687 that Lully inflicted on himself the wound which, turning gangrenous, was to prove fatal. The origins of the Te Deum were quite different to those of the other works on this recording. Lully was at the pinnacle of his career, the immensely successful composer of lyric tragedies like Atys and Isis. The Te Deum calls for high pomp and considerable resources. Contemporary reports speak of the large forces (as many as 300 musicians, including chorus, orchestra, trumpets and drums) assembled to perform the work, even at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The success of the Te Deum is almost unique in the history of seventeenth century sacred music.
Translation: Adrian Shaw
Translation: Adrian Shaw
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