Home > 2011-2012 Season > Examiner.com: Magnificat presents ‘household entertainment’ from Marc-Antoine Charpentier

Examiner.com: Magnificat presents ‘household entertainment’ from Marc-Antoine Charpentier

Stephen Smoliar posted this preview of Magnificat’s upcoming concerts at Examiner.com.

The first concert of Magnificat’s twentieth season will consist of a single composition, La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. The circumstances under which this work was composed throw an interesting light on how music was practiced in the late seventeenth century, particularly with regard to the Hôtel de Guise. This was the household of Marie de Lorraine, called Mademoiselle de Guise and a princess in rank. She chose to live in Paris away from the court of Louis XIV, and her residence was known as the Hôtel de Guise.

Her household included an ensemble of musicians, described by Susan Harvey (in notes for an earlier Magnificat performance now available on their Web site ) as “less opulent than that to be found at court, but highly admired by the Parisian connoisseurs of the time.” Harvey continues her description as follows:

The ensemble was made up for the most part of young people from families long under the protection of the Guise who, having come to live with Marie de Lorraine first as chambermaids or companions, demonstrated some talent or interest for music. They were given lessons and eventually granted the status of musicians-in-ordinary, taking part in the devotional services at the private chapel and in the frequent private concerts at the Hôtel de Guise. The ensemble, although it included some salaried male singers and one member of a famous musical family (Ann Nanon Jacquet, sister of the remarkable Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre), was fundamentally amateur and it is extraordinary that it should have developed to the extent that in 1688 the journal Mercure Galant wrote that the music of Mlle. de Guise was “so excellent that the music of many of the greatest sovereigns could not approach it.”

Charpentier joined the household of the Hôtel de Guise in 1670, and it was for this setting that he composed La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers , probably in late 1686 or early 1687. In 1683 he had composed a small chamber cantata, Orphée descendant aux enfers for three male singers and a small chamber orchestra. The later work is more extensive. It is scored for seven vocalists, recorder, violin, two viols (used for “special effects” in the depiction of the underworld), and continuo (harpsichord in the Magnificat performance). This composition is actually the longest of Charpentier’s dramatic chamber works; but, given the setting for the performance, it was probably not staged. There is also some question as to whether it may be incomplete. It is in only two acts; and the second act ends with Orphée and Euridice leaving the underworld, leaving no account of the tragic turn of events about to ensue.

The San Francisco performance of La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers will take place at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell Street (just west of the corner of Franklin Street) on Sunday afternoon, October 16, at 4 PM. General admission is $35 with special rates for seniors aged 62 and over ($28) and students with proper identification ($12). Magnificat has provided a Web page for ordering both individual and subscription tickets. There are two subscription options, one of which does not include the Christmas co-production with the San Francisco Early Music Society (for the benefit of those already subscribed to this organization). Tickets may also be ordered by telephone at 800-595-4849.

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