First of all, I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to the true instigators of this wonderful project - Philippe Beaussant and Vincent Bertier de Lioncourt, who in those ground-breaking years were responsible for bringing the “new Baroque music” to Versailles and organizing the first series of Journées devoted to the great composers of French music. In fact, it was their request for us to prepare a programme on the religious music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier to be performed at the Royal Chapel at Versailles that inspired us to undertake this project.
It was 1988, and at that time the vast majority of Charpentier’s works were still accessible only via the original sources, so we had to rely on microfilms of the composer’s complete works collected in the twenty-eight manuscript volumes known as “Meslanges”. Poring over the manuscript pages on the screen of our microfilm reader, I studied and selected the works for the programme on the basis of the original texts. I was immediately amazed by the beauty, modernity, expression and richness of Charpentier’s music, and Montserrat and I turned our minds to putting together the best possible team of singers and musicians to start work on this new and fascinating repertory. It was in the last warm days of spring that we started to rehearse the programme of Charpentier’s Canticum ad Beatam Virginem Mariam at our country house in Begues, a small village 700 metres above sea level, overlooking the coastal town of Sitges in Catalonia.
15 years later, in October 2004, we had the opportunity once more to offer a similar programme at the Royal Chapel, including Missa Assumpta est Maria, this time performed by the singers of La Capella Reial and the instruments of the Concert des Nations. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the foundation of Le Concert des Nations by Montserrat Figueras and myself in 1989, we are now delighted to be able to release on the Alia Vox label an SACD version of Charpentier’s Canticum ad Beatam Virginem Mariam in what was the ensemble’s first recording. This re-release is accompanied by a DVD of the recording of the concert given on 9th October, 2004, at the Royal Chapel at Versailles, and a second SACD featuring the live recording of Missa Assumpta est Maria at that concert, as well as the instrumental interlude Nuit taken from the Pastorale In nativitatem Domini canticum and the new recording of the Concert pour quatre parties de Violes at the collegiate church of Cardona on 7th May, 2013.
This is also an opportunity for us to pay homage to one of the greatest musicians of his generation on the occasion of the 310th anniversary of his death. Let us not forget that, together with Purcell in England, he brought about the transition from modality to tonality, enriching his works with poignant chromaticism, false relations and dissonances, which more often than not arose from that very conflict between tonality and modality. Thus, the genius of Charpentier retains its relevance and eloquence today, thanks to his highly individual way of incorporating certain transalpine influences into the French tradition; all this, together with his profound spirituality, makes his music a perfect example of the “goûts réunis.”
Seoul, 29th April, 2014
Translated by Jacqueline Minett