Born: 1643 Died: February 24, 1704
Long completely forgotten and then hailed, in the twentieth century, as a Baroque genius, Charpentier was born in Paris, in 1643. In the mid-1660s, he traveled to Rome, where he spent three years studying with Carissimi and mastering the Italian style. Upon his return to Paris, Charpentier accepted employment and patronage from the powerful and pious Marie de Lorraine, known as Mademoiselle de Guise, last scion of the illustrious Guise family. In 1627, already known for his religious music, Charpentier agreed to provide incidental music for Molière's comedies. With astounding facility, the church composer wrote witty, charming, and delightful music in perfect consonance with Molière's comedic genius, as exemplified by the extraordinary score for Le Malade imaginaire. Nevertheless, church music remained Charpentier's primary vocation, and he steadily wrote masses, motets, hymns, and various other liturgical pieces. After Mademoiselle de Guise died in 1688, Charpentier found employment at the college Louis le Grand, where his accomplishments included the Latin oratorio David et Jonathas, a dramatic masterpiece. His next post was at the Jesuit Church of St. Louis, where he composed music for various aspects of the Catholic liturgy. In 1693, Charpentier's Medea, a tragédie en musique, had its premiere at the Academie Royale. If the composer thought this extraordinary work would secure him a royal appointment, he was mistaken, for the audience seemed deaf to the music. In 1698, Charpentier became music master for children at the Sainte-Chapelle, remaining there until his death. Two and a half centuries after Charpentier's death, millions heard the opening bars of his stunningly brilliant Te Deum (H. 146), selected as Eurovision's official theme. A master of harmonic and melodic invention, Charpentier satisfies the three prerequisites for beauty formulated by St. Thomas Aquinas: consonantia (harmony), integritas (perfection), and claritas (brilliance). This quintessentially Catholic composer ingeniously resolved the perceived conflict between faith and pure beauty by creating music in which devotion and beauty cannot be separated. Indeed, musicologist Catherine Cessac captured the essence of Charpentier's music when she wrote that the "grandeur and originality of Charpentier's music is due to a combination of exceptional musical talent and deep faith, each complementing the other."