Three from 17th Century France

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Program: #18-26   Air Date: Jun 18, 2018

Tenebrae lessons by Charpentier and a world-premier recording of the Tenebrae of Michel Lambert; and between, the popular fables of La Fontaine set by Clérambault.

I. Michel Lambert: Leçons de Ténèbres (Marc Mauillon, bar./Myriam Rigolo, gamba/Thibaut Roussel, theorbo/Maroun Mankar-Bennis, hrpschrd. & o.) Harmonia Mundi CD HMM 902363.64

Michel Lambert: Leçons de Ténèbres
From The Guardian: French-baroque enthusiasts will perhaps recognise Michel Lambert’s name for the hundreds of songs he composed for the court of Louis XIV, and maybe also as the father-in-law of Jean-Baptiste Lully. Born in 1610, Lambert was a dancer and singing teacher before establishing himself as a composer in the 1650s, and he became the king’s maître de musique de la chambre. As well as courtly airs, Lambert’s responsibilities included writing music for the liturgy, and his two settings of the Tenebrae Responsories, intended to accompany the complex church rituals of the final three days of Holy Week, were regularly performed at public services.

Though Lambert’s second set of Leçons de Ténèbres is relatively well known, this is a recording of the earlier set, appearing on disc for the first time. Written for a solo male voice with continuo, it is one of the earliest known French settings of the responsories, with texts culled from Old Testament Lamentations, Augustine’s commentary on the psalms, and Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians and the Hebrews. It proved a hugely influential model for subsequent French composers, including Marc-Antoine Charpentier and François Couperin.

Lambert’s manuscript gives detailed instructions on the ornamentation of the vocal lines and the virtuosic melismata they weave around the plainsong skeletons, but it leaves the exact relationship between the voice and the accompaniment very approximate. Getting that alignment right was a major challenge for the baritone Marc Mauillon ( whose voice is described, slightly preciously, on the sleeve by the archaic name of “basse-taille”) and his continuo group of bass viol, theorbo and positive organ. The performance certainly seems to be smooth enough, if a little unrelenting, though the rather closeup perspective of the recording may have something to do with that.

Disc 1

Michel Lambert [1610-1696]

Première Leçon du premier jour

Incipit Lamentatio Jeremiæ - Aleph. Quomodo sedet sola 2'35

Beth. Plorans ploravit in nocte 2'39

Gimel. Migravit Judas 2'18

Daleth. Viæ Sion lugent eo 2'07

He. Facti sunt hostes 2'52

6 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum 2'00

Seconde Leçon du premier jour

Vau. Et egressus est 2'04

Zain. Recordata est Jerusalem 2'11

Heth. Peccatum peccavit Jerusalem 1'31

10 Teth. Sordes ejus in pedibus 1'29

11 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum 1'05

Troisième Leçon du premier jour

12 Jod. Manum suam misit hostis 1'38

13 Caph. Omnis populus ejus 2'19

14 Lamed. O vos omnes 1'29

15 Mem. De excelso misit ignem 1'39

16 Nun. Vigilavit jugum iniquitatum mearum  1'37

17 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum 1'46


18 Prélude non mesuré pour viole seule 1'56

Michel Lambert [1610-1696]

Première Leçon du second jour

19 De Lamentatione Jeremiæ - Heth. Cogitavit Dominus 2'41

20 Teth. Defixæ sunt in terra 1'26

21 Jod. Sederunt in terra 1'34

22 Caph. Defecerunt præ lacrimis 1'39

23 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere 1'44

Seconde Leçon du second jour

24 Lamed. Matribus suis dixerunt  2'16

25 Mem. Cui comparabo te 2'08

26 Nun. Prophetæ tui viderunt 1'48

27 Samec. Plauserunt super te manibus 1'52

28 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere 1'22

Troisième Leçon du second jour

29 Aleph. Ego vir videns 2'36

30 Beth. Vetustam fecit 3'09

31 Gimel. Circumedificavit adversum 2'44

32 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere 1'04


Disc 2

Nicolas Hotman [avant/before 1613-1663]

1 Allemande 2'37

Michel Lambert [1610-1696]

Première Leçon du troisième jour

2 De Lamentatione Jeremiæ - Heth. Misericordiæ Domini 4'21

3 Teth. Bonus est Dominus sperantibus 3'13

4 Jod. Sedebit solitarius 2'36

5 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum 0'51

Seconde Leçon du troisième jour

6 Aleph. Quomodo obscuratum est aurum 2'04

7 Beth. Filii Sion inclyti 1'46

8 Gimel. Sed et lamiæ nudaverunt mammam 2'01

9 Daleth. Adhesit lingua lactentis 1'53

10 He. Qui vescebantur voluptuose 1'39

11 Vau. Et major effecta est 1'31

12 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum 0'59

Nicolas Hotman [avant/before 1613-1663]

13 Courante 2'38

Michel Lambert [1610-1696]

Troisième Leçon du troisième jour

14 Incipit Oratio Jeremiæ 1'52

15 Pupilli facti sumus 2'06

16 Servi dominati sunt 1'54

17 Mulieres in Sion 0'52

18 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum 1'07

Ennemond Gaultier [1575-1651]

19 Tombeau de Mézangeau 4'39


II. Fables d’après La Fontaine (Almazis Ensemble/Iakovos Pappas) Maguelone CD MAG 358.406.

Nicolas Louis Clérambault: Fables d'après la Fontaine

performed by AlmazisCéline Martel (violin)Christophe Crapez (tenor)Elizabeth Fernandez (soprano)Iakovos Pappas (harpsichord)Nina Rouyer (bass viol)Paul-Alexandre Dubois (baritone)Yuka Saito (bass viol)Iakovos Pappas (conductor)
composed by Jean-François DandrieuJean-Philippe RameauJoseph-Nicolas-Pancrace RoyerLouis-Claude DaquinLouis-Nicolas Clérambault

From ResMusica: There are precious qualities found in the fables of La Fontaine that Clérambault set to music in 1730 for a violin and two bass viol on airs known (Christmas and even operatic arias: Atys, Alcyone) and unknown;  after this poet (who remains anonymous the libretto informs us) has put them down. The Fables are not set out in extenso and if you want to sing them in turn, as well as the only accompaniments of the last tracks of the CD invite, we will also learn new lyrics (the stars Cigale and Ant having moulted for example in Ant and Grasshopper). Effectively supported by Christophe Crapez and Elisabeth Fernandez, Paul-Alexandre Dubois, these works delighting perpetuating the warnings of the great moralist.
Young and old alike will be delighted with this journey through the tubes of La Fontaine, where animal instruments (Cuckoo, Vertigo, Poule and Chasse) offering a welcome break in the logorrhea, allowing you to taste the fingering of harpsichordist Pappas. A way of bringing back to Greece these fables La Fontaine went to seek.
  1. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: Les grenouilles qui demandent un roi
  2. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: Le rat dans un fromage de Hollande
  3. Le Coucou, rondeau for harpsichord in E minor (Pièces de clavecin, Suite No. 3)
  4. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: La grenouille & le b?uf
  5. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: La fourmi & la sauterelle
  6. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: Le corbeau & le renard
  7. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: L'aigle, la corneille & la tortue
  8. Le Vertigo, rondeau for harpsichord in G minor
  9. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: La cour de Lion
  10. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: La chèvre, le chevreau & le loup
  11. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: La poule aux ?uís d'or
  12. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: Le coq & le renard
  13. La Poule, for harpsichord in G minor (Nouvelles suites)
  14. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: Le loup & la cigogne
  15. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: La mouche & la fourmi
  16. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: Le rat & l'huitre
  17. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: Le lion & le rat
  18. La Chasse, for harpsichord
  19. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: Le cerf se mirant dans l'eau
  20. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: La torture & l'aigle
  21. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: La cour de Lion, le Fin Courtisan
  22. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi, l'amour du changement
  23. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: Le Corbeau et le Renard, la Flatterie
  24. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: La Mouche et la Fourmi, Sotte vanité
  25. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: La Grenouille et le Boeuf, l'Ambition
  26. Les fables de la Fontaine, for voice & continuo: La Chèvre, le Chevreau et le Loup, la Méfiance

III. Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Leçons de Ténèbres (Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen). Hyperion CD CDA68171.

CDA68171 - Charpentier: Leçons de ténèbres, Litanies & Magnificat
Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s remark from his treatise titled Règles de composition provides an apt ‘marketing strap-line’ to describe his oeuvre as a whole—and particularly the works presented on this recording. Unique amongst his contemporaries, one aspect of this ‘diversity’ was his musical language. Following a sojourn to Rome to study with Giacomo Carissimi at the Jesuit Collegium Germanicum in the late 1660s, Charpentier returned to Paris with a compositional style that betrays a clear absorption and fusion of mid-century Italian and French styles.


Unsuccessful in gaining a position at Louis XIV’s court, or in establishing a career at the Paris Opéra (in part due to the machinations of his powerful rival Jean-Baptiste Lully), Charpentier did acquire across his lifetime several major posts and commissions in Paris. In turn, this afforded him numerous opportunities to compose in a diverse range of genres and styles (refining his Franco-Italian stylistic plurality) and for a range of performing forces. Thus, today we are left with the largest body of seventeenth-century French music by one composer, consisting almost entirely of autograph manuscripts. These are further unique on account of the detail they contain on matters of performance. Numerous annotations made by the composer demonstrate both a creative and diverse approach to the practice of performing.

Litanies in honour of the Blessed Virgin (known as Litanies of Loreto) became increasingly popular throughout the Counter-Reformation and onwards as the Catholic Church continued its quest to directly connect Mary with scripture and Church tradition. Of Charpentier’s nine settings of this text, the only one not written for the Jesuits is the Litanies de la vierge, H83, on this recording. On returning to Paris from Rome in the early 1670s, Charpentier took up a position as composer-in-residence for the powerful and pious Mademoiselle de Guise, a patron whose date of birth fell on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, and who in her own youth made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Loreto. It was for her that these Litanies (H83 in the thematic catalogue) were written, with performing forces drawn from the ensemble of domestiques in her service. Numbering around fifteen performers by the mid-1680s, this ensemble is known to have included the composer himself as in thirteen works (including H83) the annotations ‘Charp’ and ‘moy icy’ appear adjacent to the haute-contre part (a type of high tenor/alto unique to French music of this period). The talent of these musicians was widely acclaimed, and the Mercure galant once described her ensemble as ‘so fine that we may say that those of several great monarchs cannot compare with it’.

Having such talent at his disposal was not lost on Charpentier, as seen in the scoring of H83 which differs markedly from the standard five-part scoring established at Louis XIV’s court and Chapelle Royale. Written for six mixed voices (three female and three male), along with two treble instruments and continuo, the piece exploits the possibilities of combining and contrasting these two symmetrical groups with the full choir—for example, the male trio at the text ‘Mater Christi’ against the female trio at ‘Salus infirmorum’. These groups are juxtaposed with complex contrapuntal writing involving all six voice parts, such as at the first iteration of the text ‘ora pro nobis’, the request for Mary to hear the penitent’s prayer, which recurs in a variety of guises throughout the work.

Charpentier’s ten settings of the Magnificat contain one extraordinary version: the Magnificat à 3, H73, presented here. Scored for a trio of male voices, again including the characteristically French haute-contre, plus two treble instruments and continuo, it is an unusual combination, but one Charpentier often uses. The composer’s mastery of mid-century Italian style and technique is revealed in the work’s melodic and harmonic construction. Two such Italianisms include the use of instrumental ritornelli at the end of each verse and extended melismas such as on ‘Et exsultavit spiritus’ representing the notion of rejoicing and exaltation.

Perhaps most remarkable is the use of a descending four-note ostinato, G-F-E flat-D, in the bass part throughout this work. Moreover, the skilful way in which phrases in the vocal and instrumental parts both coincide and overlap with each repetition of this ostinato is reminiscent of the duet ‘Pur ti miro’ in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea. As well as providing melodic and harmonic structure, this specific four-note pattern (a descending minor tetrachord) may also have had semiotic significance. Widely acknowledged as representing both lament and romantic love in secular music, the tetrachord is also thought by Lois Rosow to signify ‘the full range of passions associated with a love of Jesus and the Church in the Jesuit-dominated religious culture of seventeenth-century France’; the latter a religious order with whom Charpentier maintained a lifelong connection.

Independent instrumental works composed with either a para-liturgical or ceremonial function are rare in French music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Charpentier’s manuscripts, however, do contain several examples, with the Ouverture pour le sacre d’un évêque, H536, perhaps the grandest in terms of scoring and compositional techniques. Whilst the title indicates the type of occasion for which the work was composed (the consecration of a Bishop) there is some circumstantial evidence to suggest that this work may have been performed at the Jesuit Collège Louis-le-Grand on 9 December 1695 as part of the celebrations for the enthronement of Louis-Antoine, Cardinal de Noailles, the new Archbishop of Paris. The work comprises two very distinct and contrasting sections: the first in dotted, duple rhythms, the second in triple metre. Imitative counterpoint is particularly prominent at the opening of the second section as the individual soloists enter. Such textures and techniques are clearly reminiscent of the French ouverture, itself associated with sentiments of grandeur.

Equally lavish is the scoring for four-part strings, a continuo part for organ and lower strings, and the tantalizing possibility of two flutes or recorders, as indicated by the annotation ‘s’il y en a’ (‘if there are any’). While Charpentier is often specific in the scoring he desires, this annotation and the addition to the title of ‘et hautbois’ (possibly added later on account of a difference in ink colour) suggest this work was originally scored for four-part strings alone and likely to have been for a previous consecration ceremony. However, we might speculate that in the 1690s Charpentier added woodwinds for de Noailles’ consecration where, for a ceremony of such prestige, more and varied types of instruments may well have been available at the Jesuit Collège.

Musical settings for the services of Tenebrae (referring to the darkness that ensues from the gradual extinguishing of candles during the service) exist as far back as the fifteenth century. Taking as their basis texts from the Old Testament ‘Lamentations of Jeremiah’ (a poem written on an acrostic of the Hebrew letters of the alphabet) and a plainchant melody known as the ‘tonus lamentationis’, these musical accompaniments to the Passiontide liturgy became popular with many composers including Palestrina, who wrote five books of them from 1564 onwards. Although Tenebrae is no longer a standard part of today’s liturgy, in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century France a flowering of this genre occurred under composers such François Couperin and Sébastien de Brossard. It is from Charpentier, however, that we have the largest number of settings: a total of fifty-three pieces.

Ordinarily, Leçons de ténèbres are the Offices of Matins for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (with three leçons sung each day). Traditionally, the first leçon would be sung at daybreak, as the term Matins implies, but in Charpentier’s day ténèbres services were celebrated the evening before; hence the leçon for Thursday is entitled ‘Mercredi’. These later leçonsdiffer in several respects to those Charpentier wrote in the 1670s: an assured stylistic plurality between Italian chromaticism and French air de cour writing styles (a hybrid of aria and recitative) occurs alongside a firm union between textual meaning and musical content (word painting), with a juxtaposition of assured counterpoint against syllabic declamation.

Both the first and third leçons are scored for solo bass voice, woodwinds, strings and continuo group. In addition to the stylistic features already highlighted, these works afford a more prominent role to the instruments, despite acknowledged clerical ordinances imposing reductions in the use of instruments during Lent. Charpentier’s concern for both timbre and dramatic intensification may be seen where he demands reductions in the dynamic level (and possibly the use of mutes), as indicated by the term ‘sourdines’, along with specified silences, such as that for ‘un grand silence’ which occurs ahead of the section ‘Quomodo sedet sola civitas’ (‘How desolate lies the city’). Here we can assume that the acoustic of the church would have played an effective role in prolonging the final notes of the preceding fully scored section that ends with the sung Hebraic letter ‘Aleph’, as well as providing a poignant introduction to the text that follows.

Melismatic writing and bold chromaticism feature prominently in the Seconde leçon. Whilst this is one means of drawing the listeners’ attention to key parts of the text, Charpentier also constructs a dialogue between the vocal and instrumental resources that has a by-product of creating form and structure. Scored for solo haute-contre and continuo group, the instrumental bass line not only has a defined melodic shape but often imitates the haute-contre line or repeats various of its accompanying figurations in order to emphasize individual words and phrases—for example, in the passage ‘conversa est retrorsum’ (‘and turns away her face’) where the repeat of the accompaniment contains more chromatic harmonies.

While Charpentier had his detractors, he also had in equal number supporters for whom both his Italianisms and his technical skill (particularly his colourful harmonic language) were what defined his ingenuity. Perhaps, then, the final word should come from Charpentier’s contemporary and lifelong supporter, the composer and lexicographer Sébastien de Brossard: ‘It is his youthful experience in Italy that a few extreme French purists, or those jealous of the excellence of his music, have seized upon quite inappropriately when criticizing his Italian taste; for it can be said without flattering him that he made use only of the good.’MARC-ANTOINE CHARPENTIER 

Lecons de tenebres, Litanies & Magnificat

Stephane Degout, Samuel Boden, Arcangelo Jonathan Cohen

Litanies de la vierge H83 [16'44] 
1 Kyrie eleison [5'15] 
2 Speculum iustitiae [2'47] 
3 Salus infirmorum [5'01] 
4 Agnus Dei [3'41]
5 Magnificat à 3 H73 [9'26] 

6 Ouverture pour le sacre d’un évêque H536 [4'26]

Première leçon de ténèbres du Mercredi saint H120 [10'40] 
7 Prelude [0'54] 
8 Incipit lamentatio [0'57] 
9 Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo [1'07]
10 Plorans ploravit [2'00] 
11 Migravit Juda [1'26] 
12 Viae Sion lugent [1'53] 
13 Facti sunt hostes [1'06] 
14 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere [1'17]

Seconde leçon de ténèbres du Mercredi saint H138 [13'05] 
15 Vau. Et egressus est a filia [2'54] 
16 Zain. Recordata est Jerusalem [3'09] 
17 Peccatum peccavit Jerusalem [2'43] 
18 Teth. Sordes eius in pedibus eius [2'46] 
19 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere [1'33]

Troisième leçon de ténèbres du Mercredi saint H123 [18'55] 
20 Prelude [1'26] 
21 Jod [0'21] 
22 Manum suam misit [2'32]
23 Omnis populus [1'59] 
24 Lamed [1'01]
25 O vos omnes [2'08]
26 Mem [1'03] 
27 De excelso misit ignem [2'26] 
28 Nun [1'13] 

29 Vigilavit iugum [1'57] 

30 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere [2'49] Lecons de tenebres, Litanies & Magnificat




Composer Info

Michel Lambert (1610-1696), Nicolas Hotman (1613-1663), Ennemond Gaultier (1575-1651), Jean-François Dandrieu, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer, Louis-Claude Daquin, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, Marc-Antoine Charpentier

CD Info

CD HMM 902363.64, CD MAG 358.406, CD CDA68171.