2012-2013 Season

“Il est temps, Seigneur, que tu paraisses”: Notes on the text of Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale

November 28th, 2012 Comments off

The presence of the shepherds in the evangelist Luke’s Nativity narrative makes the form of the pastorale an eminently logical choice for Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Pastorale sur la naissance de Notre Seigneur Jésus Christ, focusing as it does on the shepherds’ and shepherdesses’ reaction to the news of the Savior’s coming. Evocative of traditional shepherds’ tales, the Pastorale stages the encounter between, on the one hand, humble bergers and bergères, and, on the other, the angels sent to bring the good tidings to earth. Marrying the classical aesthetic to Biblical themes and imagery, Charpentier’s Pastorale proves to be a moving representation of the major themes of the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas, themes that have long illuminated Christian understanding of the spiritual significance of the birth of Jesus.

The text of the Pastorale was most probably written by Phillipe Goibault DuBois, also a member of the Guise household who was actually the director of the musical ensemble and a scholar recognized by the Académie Française for his translations of Cicero and St. Augustine. Written primarily in verses of twelve, ten, eight, and sometimes six or four syllables, the poetry follows the theatrical tradition of seventeenth-century France, which had at its heart a strong emphasis on elegant symmetry and balance. The studied equilibrium of the verse forms is reproduced at the thematic level as well, as DuBois weaves a textual tapestry of contrasting images of good and evil that have informed Christian thought since its inception. (Download the Program Texts) Read more…

Coming Home to Charpentier

November 14th, 2012 Comments off

This year, for the first time in two decades, October passed without a set of Magnificat concerts. It has been very gratifying to hear from so many loyal Magnificat fans asking about the season and I am looking forward to coming home next month to see everyone on the weekend of December 7-9. The program I chose for my homecoming has a special place for me personally and Magnificat as an ensemble and preparing the score and planning the concerts have been a wonderful and meaningful experience. Every elegant gesture and touching poetic conceit and each sweetly painful 9-8 suspension and magnificent cadence is imbued with memories of the friends with whom I have performed the music and the audiences with whom we’ve shared it.

In many ways the program that Susan and I developed in 1993 to frame Charpentier’s Pastorale sur la naissance de Nostre Seigneur with arrangements of traditional French noëls served as the model for many other Magnificat programs. The juxtaposition of sophisticated art music with contemporaneous folk music, the ideal of balance between vocal and instrumental music and each individual musician, all became hallmarks of Magnificat programs. Read more…

Celéste flamme, ardent amour

November 14th, 2012 Comments off

In 1670, upon returning to France from his studies with Carissimi in Rome, Marc-Antoine Charpentier became a member of the household of Marie de Lorraine, called Mademoiselle de Guise.  One of the wealthiest women in Europe, and a princess in rank, Mlle. de Guise chose to live in Paris independent of the intrigues and obligations of court life under Louis XIV. She was a passionate lover of music, and maintained an ensemble of musicians, less opulent than that to be found at court, but highly admired by the Parisian connoisseurs of the time. 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 maids 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 musical family (Ann Nanon Jacquet sister of the famous Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre), was fundamentally amateur and it is extraordinary that it should have developed to the extent that the journalMercure Galant in 1688 wrote that the music of Mlle de Guise was “so excellent that the music of many of the greatest sovereigns could not approach it.”

It was in this intimate and secure setting that Charpentier composed the Pastorale sur la naissance de Notre Seigneur Jésus Christ. He was composing for people with whom he lived, daily took his meals, and worked as a peer, himself singing alto in the choir; these were people with whom, to judge by the designation of parts in the manuscripts -Isabelle, Brion, Carlié, etc. – Charpentier was on a comfortable first name basis. Phillipe Goibault DuBois, another member of the Guise household who was actually the director of the ensemble and a scholar recognized by the Académie Française for his translations of Cicero and St. Augustine, most probably wrote the text of the Pastorale. The possibility that the Pastorale was intended to accompany a traditional Christmas pageant is raised by the list of acteurs on the title page of the manuscript: along with the shepherds and angels are the names of Mary and Joseph, who have no singing parts anywhere in the piece. Charpentier’s biographer Catherine Cessac has suggested that the Pastorale may have been intended for performance at a school for the education of poor girls supported by Mlle de Guise. It is easy to imagine costumed young girls arranged in traditional tableaux vivants during this musical expression of the Christmas story. Read more…

Charpentier’s Noëls

August 17th, 2012 Comments off

While I will miss the joy of sharing a full season of terrific music from the early Baroque with my colleagues and with Magnificat’s loyal audience next season, I am very pleased that I will be in California in December to lead Magnificat in a program that it very dear to me. In addition to my personal emotional connection with Charpentier’s music, his character and the circumstances in which he wrote, this particular program represents a fascinating period of discovery for me personally.

The first music by Charpentier that I had the chance to perform was the Messe de Minuit(Midnight Mass) – a charming work that seamlessly weaves the folk melodies of noëls, already centuries old during the composer’s life with a rigorous contrapuntal ideal. While the Nativity Pastorale does not incorporate noël melodies like the Midnight Mass, there are striking similarities in the poetic imagery of the noëls and their musical character. In Magnificat’s first production of the Nativity Pastorale in 1993, we included several of Charpentier’s instrumental settings of noëls in addition to the Pastorale and I had the chance to learn about these remarkable melodies. I found the noëls especially intriguing because they provided a rare glimpse of the 17th century from a non-aristocratic perspective. Noëls were everyone’s music – nobility and peasants alike shared the joy of these infectious melodies and the often strikingly poignant poetry that these melodies set. Read more…

Magnificat to Perform Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale

August 16th, 2012 Comments off

Magnificat is pleased to announce performances of the Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale on the weekend of Dec. 7-9. The program will feature the Pastorale sur la naissance de Nostre Seigneur, one of Charpentier’s most brilliant and moving works. In this exhilarating blend of dramatic dialogues and ensembles, instrumental dances, and exquisite choral writing, Charpentier’s displays his imagination and technical mastery and his extreme sensitivity to poetic imagery. Magnificat’s program will include Charpentier’s settings of several of traditional French carols, or noëls, that are, by turns, charming, poignant, and amusing. Tickets are available online at magnificatbaroque.tix.com.

On a sabbatical after celebrating Magnificat’s 20th anniversary season, Artistic Director Warren Stewart will return to lead an ensemble featuring singers Catherine Webster, Jennifer Paulino, Clara Rottsolk, Clifton Massey, Paul Elliott, and Peter Becker, together with Vicki Boeckman and Louise Carslake, recorder; Rob Diggins and Jolianne von Einem, violin; John Dornenburg, viola da gamba and Jillon Stoppels Dupree, harpsichord.
Read more…