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8.554514 - CHARPENTIER, M.-A.: Noels and Christmas Motets, Vol. 1 (Aradia Ensemble, Mallon)
English 

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704)
Noëls and Christmas Motets

After nearly two hundred years of almost total neglect, the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier is now well established both on the concert stage and in recordings. Relatively little, however, is known about his early life and even his date of birth has been open to conjecture. His father was a copyist and the gifted son obviously inherited his father's calligraphic skills, as can be attested by the script of the 28 autograph volumes of his works.

Shortly after his eighteenth birthday Charpentier went to study in Rome, spending three years as a pupil of the famous Italian composer Giacomo Carissimi. Carissimi was distinguished for his Latin and Italian oratorios which played an important part in Roman religious life, as the oratorios of Charpentier were subsequently to do in Paris. Carissimi's reputation was secured with his 1649 oratorio Jephte, and the style of this and other works left its Italianate mark on Charpentier. In both composers we hear flowing melodies, dramatic use of silence, and chromatic and descriptive harmonies with harsh dissonances and expressive modulations.

Charpentier was a close contemporary of King Louis XIV (1638-1715). It was in part because of illness on the day of official auditions for the post of sous-maître for the Chapelle Royale in Versailles and in part because of the overwhelming influence of Jean-Baptiste Lully at the court that Charpentier received few royal commissions, although he was granted a generous pension by the king as a consolation for his failure to gain an official court position. It may, indeed, have been because of Lully's monopoly over the performance of stage works that Charpentier turned to religious oratorios and the church for employment. From the early 1680s until his death, he was, like his teacher before him, employed by the Jesuits, establishing himself as one of the most important composers of French sacred music.

Of the 34 Latin oratorios by Charpentier, the six celebrating Christmas are the most modest. They have an equal balance of French and Italian influence, with instrumental ritornelli, choruses (some called chansons and resembling popular noëls) and recitative narrative by shepherds, angels or evangelists. The texts are adaptations of the nativity account from the Gospel of St Luke2:8-16.

Many French composers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had a particular fondness for setting traditional and popular Christmas carols, known in French as Noëls. There are arrangements for organ by Gigault (1683), Lebèque (1685) and Geoffroy (1690). In addition there is a famous orchestral setting by Michel-Richard Delalande for the Chapelle Royale. The liturgy of the Christmas Midnight Mass had long allowed the singing of these popular carols, but whereas they had often been incorporated into vocal compositions in the sixteenth century, by the time of Charpentier instrumental arrangements were the norm.

Charpentier's noëls are to be found in two groups which seem to have been written in conjunction with the oratorio-like In nativitatem Domini canticum. They are very dance-like in format: Joseph est bien marié and Une jeune pucelle are bourrées, Où s'en vont ces gais bergers? and A la venue de Noël are gavottes, while Vous qui désirez sans fin resembles a minuet. Altogether there are nine noëls in Charpentier's collection.

The first of the motets here included, In nativitatem Domini canticum (H.314), has been dated to the early 1670s and was perhaps written for performance at the house of Mlle de Guise. A motet of this kind could be used during a Mass for the season or after the office of Vespers or Compline. The text Quem vidistis pastores is derived from a trope, an addition to the liturgy that formed the basis of early liturgical Christmas plays.

Canticum in nativitatem Domini, H.393, has been dated to the same period. The instrumental introduction is followed by an alto solo based on the opening text, Frigidae noctis umbra, accompanied by basso continuo. A soprano takes up the message of the angel, telling the shepherds not to be afraid, after which a three-part chorus of shepherds urges immediate presence in Bethlehem. A pause marks the period of their going, followed by three verses for the three-part ensemble, addressed to the Holy Child and to the Virgin. In nativitatem Domini canticum, H.416, conjecturally dated to the later 1680s, includes a chanson, Pastore, undique.

The final motet In nativitatem DNJC, H.414, uses a text that is largely similar to that of H.314, and has been dated to the period between 1683 and 1685. It was written for the singers employed by Mlle de Guise and is a more elaborate work, a miniature oratorio. It starts with a Preludium, after which the narrator, a solo soprano, identified in Charpentier's manuscript as Mlle Isabelle, Elisabeth Thorin, a maid of the chamber to Mlle de Guise, starts the Christmas story, joined by a second soprano, Marie Guillebault de Grandmaison. A solo soprano, in the manuscript Jacqueline-Geneviève de Brion, a maid of the chamber, is entrusted with the words of the angel, followed by a six-part chorus of shepherds, urging each other to hurry, the top soprano line now shared between Mlle Isabelle and Antoinette. Talon. A March represents the journey across the fields to Bethlehem. A solo baritone, identified simply as Joly, a musician who left the service of Mlle de Guise in 1685, takes up the biblical narrative, before a solo soprano, Antoinette Talon, sings the simple Air, a song in the tradition of the French noël. A three-verse final chorus, for five parts, includes a recurrent ritornello. Here the upper part is allocated in the manuscript to Brion, Talon and Isabelle and the second line to Grandmaison.

Aradia has added to this collection by adapting music from the Agnus Dei of the Messe de Minuit, a work that makes use of popular noëls. This is based on the noël A minuit fut fait un réveil. The ensemble has also, in some instances, added the original words to the noëls, notably Laissez paistre vos bêtes and Une jeune pucelle. In the spirit of their dance qualities Aradia have also added percussion. In the Messe de Minuit Charpentier twice directs the organist to play arrangements of noels. With this in mind the ensemble have added arrangements of our own, based on those by Jean François Dandrieu (1682-1738).

Kevin Mallon, adapted by Keith Anderson


[1]

Noël: A minuit fut fait un réveil (H.9)

 

A minuit fut fait un réveil,

jamais n'en fut ouï un pareil,

au pays de Judée, Noël,

au pays de Judée.

 

Les pasteurs s'étaient endormis

Veillant leurs moutons et brebis,

Le long des vertes prées

 

Ebahis furent grandement

Quand en moins d'un petit moment

Ouïrent comme une armée.

 

C'étaient plusieurs anges des cieux

Qui faisaient un bruit merveilleux,

Tant devant que derrière.

 

Entre autres était Gabriel

Messager du Roi éternel,

Parlant telle manière.

 

Ne craignez point, mes bons amis

Pour vous annoncer, suis transmis,

La paix universelle.

 

En Bethléem le trouverez

En une étable, où le verrez

Couché entre deux bestes.

 

Noel: At midnight they were roused, (H.9)

 

At midnight they were roused,

never was heard anything like it

in the country of Judaea. Noël,

in the country of Judaea.

 

The shepherds were asleep

Watching over their sheep and flocks,

Through the green fields.

 

They were greatly amazed

When in less than a moment

They heard something like an army.

 

It was several angels from Heaven

Who made a wonderful sound,

Before and behind them.

 

Among others was Gabriel

Messenger of the Eternal King,

Speaking as follows:

 

Be not afraid, good friends,

I am sent to bring you

Universal peace.

 

In Bethlehem you will find him

In a stable, where you will see him

Lying between two beasts.

 

[2]

Noël: A la venue de Noël, H.531

(instrumental)

 

Noel: At the coming of Christmas, H.531

(instrumental)

 

[3]

Noël: Où s’en vont ces gais bergers?, H.534

(instrumental)

 

Noel: Where are these joyful shepherds going?, H.534 (instrumental)

 

[4]

Noël: Joseph est bien marié, H.534

(instrumental)

 

Noel: When Joseph was wed, H.534   

(instrumental)

 

[5]

In nativitatem Domini canticum, H.314

 

Quem vidistis, pastores,

dicite, annuntiate nobis,

in terris quis apparuit?

Natum vidimus, natum ex virgine.

Parvulum qui natus est nobis.

Filium qui datus est nobis.

Et choros angelorum collaudantes eum.

Notum fecit Dominus salutare suum.

Revelavit in terra justitiam suam.

 

Psallite Domino in cithara

et voce psalmi,

in tubis ductilibus,

et voce tubae corneae.

Flumina plaudant manu.

Monte, exsultent

a conspectu ejus,

quoniam venit salvare terram.

 

Song for the Nativity of the Lord, H.314

 

Whom did you see, shepherds.

speak, tell us,

who has appeared on the earth?

We saw him born, born of a virgin.

The little one who is born to us.

The son who is given to us.

And the chorus of angels praising him.

The Lord has made known his salvation.

He has revealed on earth his justice.

 

Sing to the Lord on the harp

and with the sound of the psaltery,

with trumpets,

and the sound of horns.

Let the rivers acclaim him.

Let the mountains exult

at his presence,

for he has come to save the earth.

 

[6]

Noël: Or nous dites Marie, H.534

(instrumental)

 

Noel: Now tell us, Mary, H.534

(instrumental)

 

[7]

Noël: Vous qui désirez sans fin, H.534

(instrumental)

 

Noel: You who constantly desire, H.534

(instrumental)

 

[8]

Noël: O Créateur, H.531

(instrumental)

 

Noel: O Creator, H.531

(instrumental)

 

[9]

Canlicum in nativitatem Domini, H.393

 

Frigidae noctis umbra

totum orbem tegebat,

et immersi iacebant

omnes in somno profundo.

 

Pastores autem Judeae

vigilabant super gregem suum.

Et ecce Angelus Domini stetit juxta eos,

et amictus splendore magno,

sic ait illis:

 

Nolite timere, pastores.

Ecce enim annuntio vobis gaudium magnum

quia natus est hodie Salvator vester:

in civitate David;

et hoc erit vobis signum;

invenietis infantem pannis involutum

et positum in praesepio;

Ite, ite in Bethleem

et adorate illum.

 

Surgamus, eamus in Bethleem,

properemus, festinemus.

Ibi videbimus puerum

qui natus est nobis;

hic adorabimus Deum

sub forma peccatoris velatum

Quid moramur, quid cunctamur,

O pastores inertes ?

Surgamus, properemus,

eamus in Bethleem.

 

Salve, puerule,

salve, tenellule,

O nate parvule,

quam bonus es.

Tu coelum deseris,

tu mundo nasceris,

Nobis te ut miseris

Assimiles.

 

O summa bonitas,

excelsa deitas,

vilis humanitas,

fit hodie.

Aeternus nascitur,

immensus capitur,

et rei tegitur, sub specie.

 

Virgo puerpera,

beata viscera,

Dei cum opera

dant filium.

Gaude, flos virginum,

gaude, spes hominum,

fons lavans criminum

illuvium.

 

Song for the Nativity of the Lord, H.393

 

The shadow of the cold night

covered all the earth

and plunged all

into a profound sleep.

 

The shepherds of Judea

were watching over their flocks.

And lo, the Angel of the Lord stood by them,

and dressed in great splendour,

said to them:

 

Fear not, shepherds.

Lo, I bring news of great joy

for today your Saviour is born

in the city of David;

and this will be a sign to you:

you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes

and lying in a manger

Go, go to Bethlehem

and adore him.

 

Let us arise, let us hasten, let us hurry,

let us go to Bethlehem.

There we shall see the boy

who is born unto us

Here we shall adore God

hidden in the form of a lowly sinner,

Why delay, why linger,

O idle shepherds?

Let us rise up, let us hasten,

let us hurry and go to Bethlehem.

 

Hail, little child, hail,

tender babe,

O tiny child,

how good you are.

You leave heaven

and are born in the world for us,

making yourself like us

poor wretches.

 

O highest goodness,

lofty Godhead

that today becomes poor

humanity.

The Eternal is born,

the boundless circumscribed,

And hid in worldly garb.

 

Virgin mother,

your blessed womb,

through God

gives birth to a son

Rejoice, flower of virgins,

rejoice, hope of mankind,

fount that washes away the stain

of sins

 

[10]

Noël: Laissez paistre vos bêtes, H.534

 

Laissez paistre vos bêtes

Pastoureaux par monts et par vaux

Laissez paistre vos bêtes

Et allons chanter Nau.

 

J'ai ouÿ chanter le rossignau

Qui chantait un chant si nouveau

Si haut, si beau,

Si résonneau

Il m'y rompait la tête

Tant il chantait et caquetait

Adonc pris ma houlette

Pour aller voir Nolet.

 

Nous courûmes de gran'roideur

Pour voir notre doux Rédempteur

Et Créateur

Et Formateur

Il avoit Dieu le sçache

De linceux, assez grand besoin

Il gisoit en la crèche

Sur un botteau de foin.

 

Or, prions tous ce Roy des Roys

Qu'il nous donne à tous bon Noël

En bonne paix

De nos meffaicts

Ne veuille avoir mémoire

De nos péechées nous pardonner

Et nous mette en sa gloire

Pour toujours régner.

 

Noel: Leave your animals to graze, H.534

 

Leave your animals to graze,

Shepherds over the hills and vales.

Leave your animals to graze

And let us go to sing Noël.

 

I have heard the nightingale sing

Who sang a song so new,

So high, so fine,

So resonant

It made my head burst,

So it sang and chattered.

Then took my crook

To go to see Noël.

 

We ran at great speed

To see our sweet Redeemer

And Creator

And Maker.

He had, God knows,

Great need of covering,

He lay in the crib

On a pile of hay.

 

Now let us all pray the King of Kings

That he grant us all a good Noël

In peace

From our misdeeds.

Be not mindful

Of our sins and pardon us

And put us in his glory

To reign for ever.

 

[11]

Noël: Une jeune pucelle, H.534

 

Une jeune pucelle de noble cœur

Priant dans sa chambrette son Créateur

L'Ange du Ciel descendant sur la terre

Luy conta le mystère

De notre Salvateur.

 

La Pucelle esbahie de ceste voix

Elle se print à dire pour ceste fois

Comment pourra s'accomplir telle affaire?

Car jamais n'eus affaire

A nul homme qui soyt.

 

Noel: A young maiden, H.534

 

A young maiden of noble heart

praying in her chamber to her Creator

the Angel of Heaven descending on earth

told her the mystery

of our Saviour.

 

The Maid was amazed at this voice

And now she said

How could such a thing be?

For never have I known

Any man

 

[12]

I Noël: Les bourgeois de Châtres, H.534

(instrumental)

 

Noel: People of Châtres, H.534           

(instrumental)

 

[13]

Chanson from In nativitatem Domini canticum, H.416

 

Pastores undique certant concentibus,

pastorum hodie natus est Dominus,

certant muneribus, certant amoribus,

palmas victori legite

 

Agni cum matribus caulis prorumpite,

aquae fontibus agro perfundite,

oves in vallibus concordant cantibus,

silvae lac et mel facite.

 

Chanson from the canticum The Nativity of the Lord, H.416

 

Shepherds everywhere contend in songs,

Today is born the Lord of the shepherds,

They contend in gifts, they contend in love,

Gather palms for the victor.

 

Lambs with your mothers, break forth from the fold,

Waters from the springs, flood the field,

Let the sheep in the valleys sing together,

Forests, bring forth milk and honey.

 

[14]

In Nativitatem D(omini) N(ostri) J(esu) C(hriste), H.414

 

Praeludium

 

Récit de l'historien

 

Frigidae noctis umbra

totum orbem tegebat,

et immersi iacebant

omnes in somno profundo.

 

Pastores autem Judeae

vigilabant super gregem suum.

Et ecce Angelus Domini stetit juxta eos,

et claritas Dei circumfulsit eos.

Timuerunt autem pastores timore magno;

et dixit illis Angelus:

 

Nolite timere, pastores.

Ecce enim annuntio vobis

gaudium magnum quod erit omni populo:

quia natus est hodie Salvator vester

in civitate David;

et hoc erit vobis signum:

invenietis infantem pannis involutum

et reclinatum in praesepio.

Ite, pastores, et adorate illum.

 

Surgamus, festinemus,

eamus usque Bethleem.

properemus, festinemus.

Ibi videbimus puerum

qui natus est nobis.

Surgamus, festinemus,

eamus usque Bethleem.

Ibi laudabimus et adorabimus Deum

sub forma peccatoris velatum.

Quid moramur, quid cunctamur,

O pastores inertes?

Surgamus, properemus,

eamus usque Bethleem.

 

Euntes autem pastores

pervenerunt ad locum

ubi puer natus erat,

et intrantes domum

invenerunt Mariam et Joseph

et puerum involutum pannis

et reclinatum in praesepio

Et procidentes adoraverunt eum,

inculto sed devoto carmine dicente:

 

Salve, puerule,

salve, tenellule,

O nate parvule,

quam bonus es.

Tu coelum deseris,

tu mundo nasceris

nobis te ut miseris

assimiles.

 

O summa bonitas,

excelsa deitas,

vilis humanitas

fit hodie.

Aeternus nascitur,

immensus capitur.

et rei tegitur sub specie.

 

Virgo puerpera,

beata viscera,

Dei cum opera

dant filium.

Gaude, flos virginum,

gaude, spes hominum,

fons lavans criminum

illuvium.

 

Song for the Nativity of the Lord, H.414


 

Prelude

 

The Historian's Tale

 

The shadow of the cold night

covered all the earth

and plunged all

into a profound sleep.

 

The shepherds of Judea

were watching over their flocks.

And lo, an angel of the Lord stood by them,

and the glory of the Lord shone about them.

Then the shepherds were greatly afraid;

And the angel said to them:

 

Fear not, shepherds.

For lo, I bring news of great joy

which shall be to all people.

for today your Saviour is born

in the city of David;

and this will be a sign to you:

you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes

and lying in a manger.

Go, shepherds, and adore him.

 

Let us rise up, let us hurry

let us go to Bethlehem,

let us hasten, let us hurry and go to Bethlehem.

There shall we see the child

that is born for us.

Let us rise up, let us hurry,

let us go to Bethlehem.

There shall we praise and adore God

hidden under the form of a sinner.

Why delay, why linger,

O idle shepherds?

Let us rise up, let us hasten,

let us hurry and go to Bethlehem.

 

So the shepherds came with haste

to the place

where the boy was born,

and entering into the house

they found Mary and Joseph

and the boy wrapped in swaddling clothes

and lying in a manger.

And they bowed down and adored him

with artless but devoted songs, saying:

 

Hail, little child,

hail, tender babe,

O tiny child,

how good you are

You leave heaven and are born

in the world,

making yourself like us

poor wretches.

 

O highest goodness,

lofty Godhead

that today becomes poor

humanity.

The Eternal is born,

the boundless circumscribed,

And hid in worldly garb.

 

Virgin mother,

your blessed womb,

through God

gives birth to a son.

Rejoice, flower of virgins,

rejoice, hope of mankind,

fount that washes away the stain

of sins.

 

Translations from French: Keith Anderson
Translations from Latin: Kelly Baxter and Keith Anderson


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