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8.554453 - CHARPENTIER, M.-A.: Sacred Music, Vol. 4 (Le Concert Spirituel. Niquet) - Motets / Litanies a la Vierge

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704)
Sacred Music Vol. 4 - Motets; Litanies à la Vierge

In the seventeenth century, devotion to the Virgin Mary, pleader of man's cause with God the Father and God the Son, was fired by the Counter-Reformation. The numerous prayers to Mary set by Marc-Antoine Charpentier perfectly reflect this Marian fervour. Many motets are based on liturgical texts; others resort to neo-Latin verses of independent inspiration, whose authors are often difficult to identify. Likewise, the use of motets for the Virgin is very varied: regular annual feasts (the Nativity, Purification, Annunciation, Visitation, Assumption…) or more frequent occasions such as the service of Vespers (in which the Magnificat and antiphons have their place) or Compline (Litanies).Or again, as Marc-Antoine Charpentier himself writes in the title of one of his motets, for all the feasts of the Blessed Virgin (Pro omnibus festis B.V.M.). As far as the music is concerned, it is probably in these diverse pieces dedicated to the Virgin that what might be called Charpentier's peculiar vocal style is most successfully employed.

The Antiennes à la Vierge cycle H. 44-47 covers the liturgical year. Although the four pieces follow each other in Charpentier's manuscript, they could not be sung in succession, since each of them corresponds with a different period, precisely indicated by the composer at the head of his works: the Alma Redemptoris 'until Compline on the Day of Purification inclusively', the Ave Regina caelorum 'from Vespers the day after Purification until the first Saturday after Whitsun' and finally, the Salve Regina 'from Vespers on the eve of Trinity Sunday until Nones on the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent'. By re-copying his antiphons, Charpentier had established a corpus on which he could draw at any time, particularly when he was, until the 1690s, Maître de Chapelle at the Jesuit church of Saint-Louis, where sung Vespers seem to have been quite frequent. The four antiphons are written for similar groupings (soloists and four-part choir, accompanied by two violins and basso continuo) and present a certain identity of style. The motet for the Virgin Onmi die dic Maria, H. 30, a short piece to the glory of Mary, makes use of soloists and choir.

Among the nine versions of the Litanies de la Vierge that Charpentier has left us, the one included (H. 83) appears to among the most perfect in aesthetic and spiritual terms. One's soul cannot help but be moved, carried away on a thread of exceptional counterpoint, culminating in the radiant yet ineffably gentle repetition of the ora pro nobis.

The Magnificat, H. 76 takes it, intonation from the fifth liturgical tone. Its verses are mostly linked one to the next, each being characterized, nonetheless by a different vocal formation: solo, dno, trio or choir.

Pro omnibus festis B.V.M. is in the form of a dialogue between men (deep voices) and angels (higher voices), the former putting the questions to which the latter respond, the idea being to praise, with extraordinary fluency, the Virgin's infinite virtues. In the second part of the motet, the two groups join together to worship the perfect personage of Mary, before inviting Earth and Heaven together to intone songs of praise.

The text of the Prière à la vierge du Père Bernard H. 367, is dedicated to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. The motet culminates musically with particularly sumptuous writing.

Just like the Litanies à la Vierge and the Pro omnibus testis B.V.M., the Chant joyeux du temps de Pâques O fili et filiae H. 339, was composed for the musical ensemble of Mademoiselle de Guise, for whom Charpentier was writing from 1670 to 1688. He also sang with them as a counter-tenor. Here, the composer had at his disposal a five or six part vocal formation favouring the high voices, which is particularly apt for the festive aspect of this Chant joyeux. Though associated with this text, at the same time he adds ornamentation and variation with consummate skill. The last Alleluia, with its 38 bars of singing exercises, which stream forth from all the parts without a break, demonstrating all the writer's true prowess, bears witness to the interior joy which drives the composer and which he shares with us with exaltation and generosity.

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