A Day at the Royal Abbey of Montmartre
Pourrez vous Anonymous, La Philomèle Seraphique
Prise aujourd’huy Anonymous, La Philomèle Seraphique
Ceremony of the Vesture of Novices
Veni Creator Spiritus Antoine Boesset (1586–1643)
Quam pulchra es Boesset
O Crux ave Boesset
Regnum mundi Boesset
Te Deum Boesset
Ecce quam bonum Boesset
Grand Dieu Anonymous, La Philomèle Seraphique
Pour mieux Anonymous, La Philomèle Seraphique
Regina coeli Boesset
Vespers for Saint Denis
Dixit Dominus Boesset
Beatus Vir Boesset
Laudate Pueri Boesset
In exitu Israel Chant,
O beate Dionisi Chant,
Dionysii martyris Boesset
Ave Regina caelorum Boesset
Domine salvum fac Regem Boesset
Shannon Canavin, Claire Raphaelson, Julia Steinbok & Shari Alise Wilson, soprano
Pamela Dellal, mezzo-soprano
Carrie Cheron, chant choir
Catherine Liddell, lute
Sarah Mead, viola da gamba
Vivian Montgomery, organ
Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 8pm
University Lutheran Church, 66 Winthrop Street, Cambridge
Sunday, March 4, 2012 at 3pm
First Lutheran Church of Boston, 299 Berkeley Street, Boston
Notes on the Program
We are indebted to musicologist Peter Bennett of Case Western Reserve University, whose recently published editions of this music by A-R Editions provided the inspiration and source material for our concerts.
The study of Latin sacred music composed in France during the reign of Louis XIII (1610-43) has long been hampered by the scarcity of surviving musical sources from the period. In part due to the unusual circumstances in which music publishing developed in France, and possibly in part due to the destruction of church property during the Revolution nearly two centuries later, only a handful of printed and manuscript sources testify to the musical activity in the churches and chapels of Paris during the first half of the seventeenth century. As a result, historians have generally characterized the reign of Louis XIII as a period in which little music of any value was composed, and in which composers slavishly continued the practices of the sixteenth century or composed music little more sophisticated than fauxbourdon, a form of parallel harmony from the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance and sometimes described as monotonous. Sources by composers such as Eustache du Caurroy, Jean de Bournonville, Charles d’Ambleville, and Nicolas Formé preserve a strictly functional, often fauxbourdon-inspired repertory intended for practical use among moderately proficient provincial or parish choirs.
The works presented on this program are found in the so-called Deslauriers manuscript, previously believed to date from 1660–1680 during the reign of Louis XIV, were until recently attributed at lest in part to Jean-Baptiste Boesset, who lived from 1614 to 1685. It is now thought that they were composed several decades earlier by Jean-Baptiste’s father Antoine, born in 1586 and the most prominent composer of the day, serving as surintendant de la musique de la chambre in Louis XIII’s court. This newly identified repertoire was likely composed primarily for the nuns of the Royal Abbey of Montmartre and consists of over seventy liturgical works scored for multiple high voices, bass voice, and basse continue, representing by far the largest repertory of sacred music from the reign of Louis XIII.
One reason the manuscript was thought to have dated from the mid- to late-seventeenth century is its inclusion of basse continue, previously believed to have been introduced in France on a wide scale with the publication of Henri Dumont’s Cantica sacra of 1652. While not showing the influence of the newest Italian practices, this music nevertheless anticipates several of the musical techniques previously associated with Dumont’s use of basse continue in his 1652 publication. Antoine Boesset’s music for Montmartre thus fills a significant gap in our understanding of musical developments in seventeenth-century France and demonstrates that sacred music of the highest quality emerged during a period that scholars have long dismissed as being of little interest.
The Royal Abbey of Montmartre was one of the most symbolically important religious houses in France until its destruction during the French Revolution. In Roman times, the hill just outside Paris on which the abbey was later located was home to a number of temples to Mercury and Mars, but by the eighth century a church with a wooden nave, dedicated to Saint Denis (in Latin, Dionysius), had been built there. According to Abbott Hilduin (writing in 836), the church commemorated the martyrdom of Saint Denis, who, together with his companions Rusticus and Eleutherius, had been decapitated on the hill in the third century, and it was their martyrdom that led to the new name for the hill “Montmartre” (the Mount of Martyrs).
In 1133 (during the reign of Louis VI) the church was refounded as a royal Benedictine convent under the leadership of Abbess Adelaide. In 1147 a new abbey church was consecrated with the west end dedicated to Saint Denis and the Virgin Mary, the east end to Saint Peter; shortly afterwards, the altar of the martyrium (a smaller church lower down on the hill) was dedicated to Denis, Rusticus, and Eleutherius. From then on the Abbey of Montmartre became an important focus of religious life in Paris, both in its own right as a site of pilgrimage to Saint Denis, patron saint of the French royal house, and as a counterpart to the Abbey of Saint Denis (located a few miles further outside Paris). Music written for Saint Denis was therefore an important part of any sacred repertory at Montmartre, such as the hymn “Dionysii martyris”, which depicts the martyrdom of Denis, Rusticus, and Eleutherius in an alternatim fashion, with polyphony alternating with plainchant. In 1559 much of the abbey was destroyed by fire, remaining in virtual ruin during the Wars of Religion, which consumed France at the end of the sixteenth century; but with the return of peace on the accession of Henri IV, and with the appointment of Marie de Beauvilliers as abbess in 1598, work on the restoration of the abbey signaled a new era of influence and prosperity.
It is during the rule of Beauvilliers—the period in which the music of this program originated—that the first information concerning music at the convent becomes available. More specifically, we learn that substantial developments in the chant repertory took place around this time. In her obituary of the abbess, who died in 1657, Jacqueline Bouette de Blémur revealed that the chant at Montmartre had been either newly composed or modified at the beginning of the century, “substitut[ing] psalmody [accentuated chant] for plain chant [equal note chant] because of the appalling discord that resulted during the offices.” This account is partly confirmed in the chant books that subsequently appeared. The Antiphonier Bénédictin pour les réligieuses du Royal et célèbre monastère de Montmartre of 1646 contains some of the earliest examples in France of newly composed plain-chant musical, a type of chant that reflects word stress more closely than medieval chant and which dispenses with melisma almost entirely. Otherwise, little information on the abbey during this period survives. Indeed, one of the only clues we have is Antoine Boesset’s presence at the abbey and the music he composed for it, both of which suggest that, during the first half of the sixteenth century, the nuns attained significant musical skills and integrated music widely into the liturgy.
Antoine Boesset was born in Blois in 1586. During the sixteenth century the French royal family used the château there, and Boesset may well have become an enfant de choeur in the royal chapel, where he would have come into contact with composers of musique mesurée and airs de cour such as Du Carroy, Claude Le Jeune, Guillaume Costeley, and Jacques Mauduit. In 1613 he married Jeanne Guédron, daughter of the celebrated singer and composer of airs de cour Pierre Guédron. After serving as a singer in the royal chapel under Henri IV and as maître des chanteurs de la chambre, Guédron had become maître des enfants in 1603, and it was this position that formed part of the dowry given to Boesset on his marriage in 1613. As the son-in-law of one of the most important composers at court, Boesset’s career flourished, and from 1614 his airs appeared in the publications of the influential Ballard house, both in their original polyphonic versions for 4 to 5 voices (and probably lute) as well as solos with lute accompaniment. In 1620 Boesset became secretaire de la chambre du Roy, and records indicate that by 1623 he was surintendant de la musique du Roy, a position he occupied in conjunction with all the others until his death in 1643.
Although Boesset is today known principally for his secular works, the music on this program shows him to have been an important composer of sacred music for the court: as musique de la chambre, the duties of which are described in the Etat de la France almost entirely in terms of liturgical and paraliturgical feasts, and as composer for the Royal Abbey of Montmartre, he clearly would have had to produce a significant amount of sacred music. Yet none of his sacred music was published in his lifetime, and no sources unequivocally attribute any sacred music to him.
The works presented on this program are preserved in the manuscript Paris, Bibliotèque nationale de France, MS Vma rés. 571 (hereafter referred to as Rés. 571 and previously referred to as the Deslauriers manuscript), a bound volume of 239 folios containing some three hundred sacred Latin works in score. First documented as part of Sébastien de Brossard’s collection and described in great detail in his Catalogue, Rés. 571 is the largest and one of the most significant single collections of sacred music from the seventeenth century. While the vast majority of the works in Rés. 571 were transmitted anonymously, the manuscript contains eight pieces attributed simply to “Boesset,” with no further clarification. Given the fame of Antoine’s son Jean-Baptiste (who later inherited his father’s posts and who is known to have also composed sacred music) and the widely accepted date of the source as originating from around 1660–1680, the identity of this “Boesset” has posed a problem for scholars since the eighteenth century. Brossard attributed the works to the son, and with the presence of basse continue in the source—until now generally believed to have been introduced to France around 1650—the general consensus was that Jean-Baptiste composed these works. However, a detailed study of the manuscript points to a different conclusion.
Through watermark analysis, paleographic evidence, and contemporary testimony, musicologist Peter Bennett has deduced that the composer André Pechon copied the manuscript in at least three distinct stages separated by considerable periods of time. Pechon was a singer and then maître des enfants at the royal parish church of Saint Germain l’Auxerrois (adjacent to the Louvre) from the 1620s to the 1640s, after which he took a post at Meaux Cathedral just outside Paris, where he remained until his death in the mid-1680s. He copied his collection (in score) from exemplars (presumably mostly in partbooks) he obtained from Saint Germain and, through the connection of this church to the royal court, from the repertoire of Montmartre and the musique de la chambre. There was also a direct connection between Montmartre and Saint Germain, with one of the chapels in the abbey church being used for the regular celebration of mass by the clergy of Saint Germain. The earliest sections were copied in Paris, and the final section (from which much of the music for this program was taken) was copied in the early 1680s in Meaux, though the partbook exemplars Pechon used dated from much earlier.
Three of the works explicitly attributed to “Boesset” appear in the earliest part of the collection, likely copied in the 1620s and certainly no later than 1632. Because Jean-Baptiste was born in 1614 and occupied no official post in the 1620s, it seems inconceivable that he could have composed the music in the early part of this collection. Given that Antoine was at Montmartre during this period and since these works are scored for multiple high voices, it seems reasonable to propose that the high-voice settings were composed by Antoine for Montmartre, with Boesset himself quite possibly singing the bass part; although it might seem unusual for a man to participate in the convent’s music making, the royal status of the abbey allowed exceptions to be made to the usual rules governing contact with men, and evidence from later in the century certainly points to men performing in the church. Additionally, Boesset’s close relationship to the nuns at Montmartre is made clear in Henri Sauval’s Histoire et recherches des antiquités de la ville Paris of 1724, recording that “Antoine Boesset, genius of sweet music, who was so esteemed by Louis XIII that he made him intendant de la musique de la chambre and that of the queen, was also interred there, to the great regret of the nuns whom he had taught to sing and who sprinkled his tomb with their tears.”
The next part of the collection was copied around 1638 to 1641 and contains the motet “Anna mater matris” (again for high voices), whose text relates the story of Saint Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary and patron saint of childbirth. In 1638 Louis XIII’s queen and namesake of the saint, Anne of Austria, had finally given birth to the future Louis XIV, and it seems clear that this piece was intended to celebrate the event. Since Antoine Boesset was by now maître de musique to the queen, and since Montmartre also fell under her patronage, this work too can almost certainly be attributed to Antoine.
While the works from this part of the collection were certainly appropriate for performance at Montmartre, little about them locates them definitely at that particular abbey. By contrast, a stylistically unified group of works copied in the final episode around 1682 shows clear and unambiguous connections to the abbey and undoubtedly served as its liturgical repertory. This connection is illustrated first in the martyrology of some of these works, such as the “Dionysii martyris.” Additionally, a number of pieces are provided for celebrating the important feasts relating to St. Benedict, as one would expect from a repertory composed for a Benedictine abbey.
The presence of alternatim fragments of chant corresponding to the unique chants composed for Montmartre in the early years of the seventeenth century also link these works to the abbey. Additionally, parallel versions of pieces contained in the latter section of the manuscript, scored for high voices, are found in the earlier section of the manuscript for mixed voices, presumably intended for use in the musique de la chambre and thus dated to the 1620s.
The works in Rés. 571 indicate a widespread use of music throughout the liturgy at Montmartre and include three complete mass ordinary settings along with a number of individual mass ordinary and requiem movements. In addition, the manuscript contains several through-composed and alternatim Magnificats (three of them based on the unique Montmartre chant repertory), settings of other canticles and psalms for the divine offices, and alternatim hymns, most of them based on the unique melodies preserved in the Antiphonier...de Montmartre and also recorded in a section devoted to chant in the source, as seen in this slide. Following the rhythmic pattern of the polyphonic settings, the hymn melodies are also given a corresponding rhythm: triple-meter polyphonic settings are provided with triple-meter chant melodies, resulting in works of a unique hybrid character.
For more specific liturgical celebrations, Boesset composed a number of works for services such as the Ceremony of the Vesture of Novices, performed on the first half of our program. While no order for the ceremony of the vesture of novices local to Montmartre survives, a contemporary Benedictine ceremonial sets out an order which is likely to be as close as we can get. Boesset set six items from this service: “Veni Creator Spiritus” would have been sung at the end of mass immediately preceding the ceremony during which prospective nuns were admitted into the convent, and is set by Boesset as an alternatim hymn based on the chant provided in the Antiphonier...de Montmartre. The processional hymn “O gloriosa domina” was set using “Quam pulchra es” as a refrain, a feature often found in processional hymns. A setting of the hymn verse “O crux ave” would have been performed as the procession turned to face the cross, while the responsory “Regnum mundi” quotes the Montmartre chant in its opening solo, surely intended to be sung by the novice herself. The “Te Deum” would have been sung when the celebrant reached the grill dividing the public part of the church from the nuns, and the psalm “Ecce quam bonum,” set in the responsorial manner specified in the Antiphonier...de Montmartre closed the ceremony. The second half of our program offers a loosely reconstructed Vespers service for the Feast of Saint Denis, which would have been celebrated in October of each year.
We have no information as to whether this music was performed by a small ensemble or by large numbers of nuns singing together. As mentioned earlier, the opening phrase of “Regnum mundi” would surely have been sung by a solo novice, and several other pieces imply the use of a soloist reinforced by the choir in the full sections. The chant portions of the alternatim works would probably have been performed by all the nuns. The chant notation as found in Antiphonier...de Montmartre poses questions for the modern performer, and again, Peter Bennet’s research has led to the conclusion that there was a 2 to 1 relationship between the rectangular notes and the diamond shaped notes, with the rectangular notes sung in a relatively equal fashion, but taking into account word stress. For the instrumental ensemble, it is likely that the bass continue would have been realized by organ alone or by organ and bass viol at Montmartre. However, the basse continue of the musique de la chambre ensemble consisted of bass viol, harpsichord, and lute. Since it is entirely possible and in some cases probable that this music would have been performed in both settings, we have chosen to offer a fuller complement of basse continue to give a more complete realization of the repertoire.
To round out our program, we have included some sacred airs de cour from the 1640 publication La Philomele Seraphique. Originally published in 1632, Adrien Quinque compiled this four-volume collection offering sacred contrafacta of hundreds of airs de cour, part of an avalanche of similar collections intended for singing in the French-speaking Catholic home during the early seventeenth century. This outburst of chaste chansons represented much more than a late reaction to the earlier, prolific production of Protestant chansons spirituelles between 1555 and 1597, as it was also a musical reflection of the development of devotional poetry in the vernacular, a movement literary historians place between 1570 and 1630. This combination of text and music was well suited to the desire for music in the salon of the devout bourgeois or aristocratic home.
Each piece in La Philomele Seraphique begins with the name of the original air, then includes a cantus (melody) and a bass in parts. As described earlier, airs de cour were often published in polyphonic and solo versions, so presumably Quinque included the top and bottom lines of polyphonic airs. Following the music there is an introduction to the nature of the text and the verses; the sacred text often reflected the spirit of the original secular air. There are airs for many occasions and on a variety of topics, from devotional pieces to the tale of Solomon and the Passion. Our program opens with “Pourrez vous,” an air from the perspective of someone close to a novice, asking why she would give up her comfortable courtly life for the solitude of the convent, which is answered by “Prise aujourd’huy” in which the novice describes her passion for her God prior to the Ceremony of the Vesture of the Novices.
In her obituary of the abbess mentioned earlier, Jacqueline Bouette de Blémur described a novice who arrived in 1607 “who sang like an angel” and “having received this gift, [de Beauvilliers] taught the young nuns to imitate [the novice]...perfect[ing] singing to its current state.” With such talent in their ranks and given the important role of music in the liturgy, it can easily be imagined that these sacred airs would have been sung at Montmartre during the time of Abbess de Beauvilliers, under whom music flourished so greatly.
Notes by Shannon Canavin