Sébastien Daucé, 6.30 pm
France of the 17th century was one of Europe’s most politically and religiously stable countries, so its culture underwent an unprecedented flourishing; it was during that “great century” (Grand Siècle) that French literature and drama as well as opera and sacred music reached their zenith. The figure very much at the forefront in the realm of sacred music was Marc-Antonine Charpentier (1643-1704). “He is our very favourite composer,” says Sébastien Daucé, the artistic director of the Ensemble Correspondances. “He was born in Paris, but he departed for Rome when he was 21, and he spent five years there. During that time, he got to know the music of the master composers there – Giacomo Carissimi, Alessandro Melani, and many others. And it is from there that we have drawn the programme of our very first Prague concert”, he adds.
In Rome, the young composer became the pupil of the choirmaster at the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare, Giacomo Carissimi, who is regarded as the father of the oratorio. Charpentier was able to absorb the best of Italian sacred music into his compositional style, and in particular its exceptional lyrical quality, which gives his otherwise typically French compositions a specifically Italian tenderness. The unique enchantment of his music rests upon this noteworthy combination.
From 1672, Charpentier worked with Moliére at the Comedie française, and his talent for drama shines through in his preserved stage works, but he did not get enough opportunities to advance in that direction – he was overshadowed in the realm of music for theatre by the dominant figure, Jean Baptiste Lully, the music director of the royal court. Charpentier enjoyed more success in the field of sacred music, where he was able to develop his compositional artistry further in the services of Parisian ecclesiastical institutions. Towards the end of his life, he held the position of choirmaster at the royal Sainte-Chapelle, making him in essence the highest ranking court musician in the area of sacred music.
He composed more than 200 sacred works in all genres – masses, oratorios, sacred instrumental music, and motets in the peculiar French manner (examples of the grand and petit motet). Undoubtedly, Charpentier’s best-known composition is his Te Deum, probably composed to celebrate the French victory at the Battle of Steinkerque. Today, the work’s instrumental introduction symbolises ceremonial baroque music. It would be unjust, however, to reduce all of Charpentier’s music to just a single work. Among his other musical gems are his Leçons de ténèbre for Holy Week before Easter, and we will be hearing a part of that work on this concert. Other compositions being performed today are by Italian composers whose music was certainly performed during Charpentier’s five-year stay in Rome, influencing the French composer’s further artistic development.
The Ensemble Correspondances was founded in 2009 by the harpsichordist and organist Sébastien Daucé. Originally an ensemble of students at the Lyon Conservatoire, the group specialises in little-known sacred music of France’s “Grand Siècle”. It has quickly assumed its place alongside the world’s elite ensembles, and it makes regular appearances in Europe, Japan, Columbia, and the United States. It has already released twelve CD recordings on the prestigious Harmonia Mundi label, for which it has earned numerous French, German, and British awards (Diapason d’Or, Editor’s Choice from the journal Gramophone, Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik).