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Music for "les Dames Religieuses"

[I] Antoine BOESSET (1586 - 1643): "L'archange & le lys - Messe & motets d'Antoine Boesset"
Ensemble Correspondances
Dir: Sébastien Daucé

rec: March 1 - 5, 2011, Labeaume, Église Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens
ZigZag Territoires - ZZT110801 (© 2011) (68'40")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

anon: Visitat Maria Elisabeth; Antoine BOESSET: Anna mater matris redemptoris nostri; Ave mater pia (attr); Dixit Dominus (attr); Domine salvum fac regem; Magnificat (attr); Messe du 11e mode; Quam pulchra es (attr); Salve Regina; Sancta Maria (attr); Giuseppe GIAMBERTI (c1600-1662/64): Similabo eum viro sapienti [2]; Veni electa mea [2]; Henry DU MONT (1610-1684): Allemanda gravis [3]; Prélude [4]; Symphonia a 4 viol. [3]; Etienne MOULINIÉ (c1600-after 1669): Beata Dei genitrix [5]; Dum esset rex [5]; plainchant: Ave Maria gratia plena [1]; Ecce ancilla Domini [1]; Gabriel angelus [1]; Missus est Gabriel Angelus [1]

Caroline Bardot, Juliette Perret, dessus; Marie Pouchelon, Lucile Richardot, bas-dessus; Lucile Perret, recorder; Matthieu Bertaud, bass recorder; Myriam Rignol, Pau Marcos, descant viol; Laurent Dublanchet, tenor viol; Victor Aragon, bass viol; Diego Salamanca, theorbo; Sébastien Daucé, virginals, organ

[II] Henry DU MONT (1610 - 1684): "Pour les Dames Religieuses"
Choeur de Chambre de Namur - Les Solistes; Instrumental ensemble
Dir: Bruno Boterf

rec: Jan 2010, Beaufays, Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste
Ricercar - RIC 305 (© 2010) (68'30")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Bernardus doctor [3]; Domine salvum fac regem [3]; Laudibus cives [3]; Litaniae Beatae Mariae Virginis [3]; Magnificat [3]; Messe du 6e ton [6]; O panis angelorum [3]; Prélude à 2 [4]; Prélude à 3a [4]; Symphonia à 3a [3]; Symphonia à 4 [3]; Veni creator spiritus [3]; Vide homo [3]; Vulnerasti cor meum [3]

[(*) solo] Caroline Weynants*, Amélie Renglet*, Mathilde Sevrin*, Marie Jennes Lieve Van Lancker, soprano; Els Janssens*, Anne Maugard, mezzo-soprano; Corinne Bahuaud*, Vinciane Soille, contralto; Stéphanie de Failly, violin; Françoise Enock, bass viol; Freddy Eichelberger, organ [solo a]

Sources: [1] plainchant, Antiphonier de Montmartre, 1643; [2] Giuseppe Giamberti, Antiphonae, 1650; Henry Du Mont, [3] Cantica sacra, 1652; [4] Meslanges, livre second, 1657; [5] Etienne Moulinié, Meslanges, 1658; [6] Henry Du Mont, Cinq messes en plain-chant, 1669

The repertoire which is presented at these two discs was all written for women's voices. Whereas Henry Du Mont is generally considered one of the most prominent composers of religious music in 17th-century France, Antoine Boesset is mainly known for his airs de cour who were treated as models of its kind. The fact that he has composed sacred music as well is hardly known. In the work-list in New Grove no sacred works are included. Such music is mentioned in the article about his son, Jean-Baptiste, though. That is understandable: the pieces which the Ensemble Correspondances has selected are preserved with just the name of 'Boesset' as the composer, leaving us in the dark as to which of the two is meant. In his liner-notes Thomas Leconte mentions that for some time the son has been considered the most likely composer, but that more recent research points into the direction of the father.

These pieces are part of a manuscript which is known as the Recueil Deslauriers which comprises 296 compositions, most of which are anonymous. It was once owned by Sébastien de Brossard, composer and one of the most prolific collectors of music of his time. It is his remarks about the date of composition - around 1650 - which have given food for the assumption that Jean-Baptiste was the composer. The attribution to Antoine instead is supported by the fact that the theorist Marin Mersenne, in his Harmonie Universelle (1636), paid tribute to him as a composer of religious music. Boesset was an important figure in French musical life. In 1613 he was appointed Maître des enfants de la musique de la chambre du roy, in 1617 Maître de la musique de la reine, in 1620 Sécretaire de la chambre du roy, in 1623 Surintendant de la musique de la chambre du roy and in 1634 Conseiller et maître d’hotel ordinaire du roy. He held most of these positions simultaneously until his death. Between 1617 and 1642 nine books with airs de cour were printed, many of them were later also published as lute intabulations.

The pieces by Boesset in the above-mentioned manuscript are all scored for one to four high voices. This is an indication that they were written for women's convents, and it seems very likely that they were specifically intended for the nuns of the Royal Abbey of Montmartre. Probably around 1630 the nuns asked Boesset to teach them the art of good singing. They were mostly of high birth and had been given a good education before they entered the convent. They were soon renowned for the beauty of their singing as contemporary writers report. The nuns also played instruments, in particular the organ and the viol.

Antoine Boesset wasn't the only composer to write music for les Dames religieuses. Henry Du Mont also composed music for women's convents, as the second disc shows. The motets which Bruno Boterf has selected from Du Mont's collection Cantica Sacra were scored for high voices as well. The composer indicated that he wished to serve the "Ladies of Religion who prefer motets for few voices, works that are easy to sing with a part for organ or for bass viol". Whereas some pieces are specifically scored for high voices Du Mont suggests to adapt other pieces for women's voices by singing the bass line one octave higher or by omitting it, as it usually follows the basso continuo line.

The Ensemble Correspondances performs four of the five motets and one of the three masses in the Recueil Deslauriers which specifically mention Boesset as the composer. In addition anonymous pieces are recorded which could be by Boesset as well, and compositions by some of his contemporaries, among them Étienne Moulinié and again Henry Du Mont. The pieces are linked together by the common subject of Marian devotion. The disc devoted to Du Mont is divided into three sections: music for Vespers (Magnificat and Vulnerasti cor meum), a mass and music for various feasts through the year.

The performance practice has much in common: all music is basically performed with one voice per part, and the French pronunciation of the Latin texts is used. There are also differences which are partly due to the requirements or suggestions of the composers. The Ensemble Correspondances makes use of a consort of viols and a couple of recorders, whereas Bruno Boterf mostly uses the organ, with a few string instruments in some pieces. Particularly noteworthy in the Du Mont disc is the use of a large organ for the basso continuo, which also plays the mass. The Messe du 6e ton is performed here as part of an alternatim mass, under the title of Messe pour les couvents, in which verses for the organ are alternating with verses sung in plainchant. Although Du Mont doesn't specify for which convents his music for high voices was written, it is known that Du Mont's Messes en Plain-Chant were sung by the young girls of the Maison de Saint-Cyr, an institution for girls from the impoverished aristocracy. Moreover, as Du Mont uses the word omnes in verses for four voices Bruno Boterf has decided to add ripienists to his solo singers.

Stylistically the music on these two discs show many similarities. Boesset's music is probably a little less declamatory than Du Mont's, but that is only marginal. The programmes of both discs contain enough variation due to the differences in scoring and subject matter. The music on these discs is of first-class quality, and often outright exciting. Both ensembles deliver exquisite performances of great beauty and intensity. With these two releases our knowledge of French sacred music of the first half of the 17th century is greatly increased. The booklets provide us with extensive information about the music and its context.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Choeur de Chambre de Namur
Ensemble Correspondances

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