In theory the Jesuits were not supporters of music or were even anti-music. Loyola believed music to be something of a distraction and positively discouraged the establishment of choirs in Jesuit establishments. Other early Jesuits argued against the use of the organ. Some of their critics saw their supposed anti-musicality as entirely appropriate to their supposed character – Jean-Le-Rond d’Alembert (1717-1783), mathematician and collaborator of Diderot on the famous Dictionaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, observed that “The Jesuits are unable to sing – birds of prey do not know how to sing”!
In practice, a number of important Jesuit establishments actually did much to encourage music andRead more were active patrons of the art. Notably these establishments included the Collegium Germanicum in Rome (founded in 1552), the Collegium Gregorianum in Munich (founded in 1572), the Collegium Ferdinandeum in Graz (founded in 1574) and colleges in Vienna, Prague, Cologne, Mainz, Augsburg and elsewhere – all of which is discussed in Thomas D. Culley’s Jesuits and Music (1970), which carries the subtitle “a study of the musicians connected with the German College in Rome during the 17th century and of their activities in Northern Europe”. Giacomo Carissimi was director of music at the German College in Rome from 1629 to 1674. An extraordinarily influential teacher, his pupils (definite or probable) included Giovanni Paolo Colonna, Christoph Bernard, Antonio Cesti, Alessandro Scarlatti – and Marc Antoine Charpentier.
Charpentier’s connections with the Jesuits were extensive. They were explored, and their musical implications examined, in a fascinating article by C. Jane Gosine and Erik Oland (‘Docere, delectare, movere: Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Jesuit spirituality’) in Early Music (November 2004). By the end of the 1680s, Charpentier had become maître de musique at l’Église Saint-Louis, the most important Parisian Jesuit church. Even before this appointment Charpentier had often written music for use in Saint-Louis.
In these years, the church of Saint-Louis was lavishly adorned with gold and silver, full of sculptures and paintings, the atmosphere rich with incense; the whole sought to engage the senses, the emotions and the intellect of the worshippers in the service of a kind of affective spirituality, derived in part from the Spiritual Exercises of Loyola himself, in which the worshipper would imaginatively identify with, and respond to, key episodes in the Christian narrative. At Saint-Louis, music was certainly expected to play its part in stimulating this kind of engagement. In a sense, musical performance was part of a kind of ‘holy’ seduction, through which worshippers might be instructed and educated. It was as part of this strategy that popular singers from the opera were sometimes employed as soloists at Saint-Louis – leading some to complain of the excessive theatricality of the sacred music heard (and seen) there.
The substantial body of church music which Charpentier wrote for Saint-Louis can be seen to play its part in such a strategy. Indeed Gosine and Oland see them as musical equivalents of the meditations in the Spiritual Exercises – equivalents “in which Charpentier’s affective treatment of the text vividly brings to life the words being set”. Their article persuasively suggests ways in which Charpentier’s settings were influenced by the ideas about rhetoric which underlay contemporary Jesuit ideas on effective preaching.
Much of this can be vividly heard on these two reissued CDs which present a selection of works, most of which are presumed to have been written in the ten years (1688-1698) when Charpentier was most closely involved in the musical life of Saint-Louis. There is some very beautiful music to be heard, for nicely varied forces. Regina Caeli is for two sopranos and instrumental accompaniment; the Laudate Pueri is for soloists, choir and orchestra; the Sancti Dei is for unaccompanied bass. There are plenty of examples of Charpentier’s precise attention to the verbal detail of his texts – not least in the superb Beatus Vir. At the words Peccator videbit et iracitur dentubus suis fremet et tabescet: esiderium peccatorum peribit mildly dissonant harmonies serve to give a musical emphasis to the verbal imagery in a manner which is surprisingly powerful. Charpentier’s control both of contrasts of dynamics and of tempo throughout this piece (and elsewhere) is perfect demonstration of the kind of ‘musical rhetoric’ which underlies Charpentier’s works for the Jesuits.
These CDs come with the imprimatur of the important Charpentier scholar Catherine Cessac, who provides some notes (rather poorly translated) and there is much to admire in the performances here. None of the soloists let the side down and Corboz certainly has a real feel for the music. Some will worry about the presence of women’s voices, no doubt, and even in the years since these recordings were made in 1993, ideas about performance practice in this music have changed; but given the evident love and respect which can be heard throughout these performances it would be petty pedantry to worry too much about such matters. Better to revel in the well-recorded beauty of so much of what is to be heard here, in terms both of vivacity and limpid grace – both heard to delightful effect in the Nisi Dominus.
Full texts and English translations are provided.
-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International Read less
Wonderful Exciting CharpentierJanuary 16, 2013By Clifford H C. (Thompson, MB)See All My Reviews"Charpentier - Jesuit Vespers - Michel Corboz - Lausanne Vocal Ensemble - For someone that disliked French Music 10 years ago, I certainly have a lot of it now. Once I was introduced to Charpentier and Gilles my appreciation took off. Charpentier's sacred music is nuanced, subtle and distinct without losing the characteristic French sound. Corboz and his musicians do a wonderful job of bringing those characteristics to life. These pieces are practiced and polished with an air of excitement at the reawakening of such wonderful music."Report Abuse