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Louis-Nicolas LE PRINCE (?-1677): Missa Macula non est in te

Le Concert Spirituel
Dir: Hervé Niquet

rec: Oct 2012, Paris, Notre Dame du Liban
Glossa - GCD 921627 (© 2013) (63'48")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704): Domine salvum fac Regem (H 299); Gaudete fideles (H 306); Gratiarum actiones pro restituta Regis christianissimi sanitate (H 341); Magnificat à 3 dessus (H 75); O pretiosum, Elévation (H 245); Ouverture pour le sacre d'un évêque (H 536); Louis LE PRINCE: Missa Macula non est in te; Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687: O dulcissime Domine (LWV 77,ix)

Agathe Boudet, Alice Glaie, Aude Fenoy, Gwenaëlle Clemino, haut-dessus; Julia Beaumier, Lucie Lacoste, Caroline Marçot, Eva Zaicik, dessus; Alice Habellion, Loutchia Nigohossian, bas-dessus; Alice Piérot, Olivier Briand, Alain Pégeot, Benjamin Chénier, Yannis Roger, Marie Rouquié, dessus de violon; Judith Depoutot-Richard, haute-contre de violon; Tormod Dalen, basse de violon; Nicolas André, bassoon; François Saint-Yves, organ

It is very likely that there is hardly a lover of baroque music who has ever heard of Louis-Nicolas Le Prince. He has an entry in New Groves, but this is confined to just four lines. Next to nothing is known about him: the Missa Macula non est in te is the only composition from his pen which has come down to us. It was printed by Ballard in 1663. The fly-leaf indicates that he was maître de la chapelle at Lisieux Cathedral. It is one of many masses of this kind which were written in the 17th century and often printed and reprinted.

One of the notable aspects is that it comprises six vocal parts - dessus 1 & 2, haute-contre, taille, basse-taille and basse - without additional instrumental parts or a basso continuo. This doesn't indicate that it should be sung a cappella, although that may have been practised in churches with very limited possibilities. It was quite common to perform such masses with the forces which were available. This has led Hervé Niquet to the option of including a string ensemble to play colla voce. As much as this seem in line with common practice at the time, I have my doubts about the decision to perform the 'Crucifixus' from the Credo, the Benedictus and the Agnus Dei II with instruments alone.

Niquet has decided to perform this mass in a liturgical context. That immediately leads to the question for which kind of occasion this mass may have been intended. "The title of the Mass invokes the Virgin Mary, in that the Latin, "Macula non est in te", translates as "there is no stain [sin] in thee", an therefore refers to the subject of the Immaculate Conception. Consequently this Mass should be seen as a homage to Mary, to her sanctity and to her piety", Fannie Vernaz states in her liner-notes.

Niquet has chosen mainly motets by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and one by Jean-Baptiste Lully. "While the Virgin Mary clearly remains the principal theme of this Office, other figures also feature prominently in these works by Charpentier: St Bernard, Jesus, the Son of God and Louis XIV, Rex Christianissimus (the Most Christian King), that indispensable personage for sacred music of the grand siècle." I don't know enough about the Roman-Catholic liturgy to assess whether the additional music for this celebration has been chosen with any amount of consistency. I wonder whether the choice for a specific feast would have led to another choice of motets.

The selection of additional music raises at least two questions of a historical nature. Firstly, the music by Charpentier dates from a later period than the year of publication of this mass. Therefore it is highly questionable whether they ever may have been performed in the same context. One of the motets, Gratiarum actiones pro restituta Regis christianissimi sanitate, is dated 1686, and was written for a special occasion: the recovery from illness of Louis XIV. Such a piece cannot be used indiscriminately. Secondly, Charpentier's music was almost exclusively performed in the circle of his employer, Madame de Guise. Little if any of his compositions were printed. That makes it rather implausible that they were performed in a church or convent somewhere in France. The music seems to have been chosen to give some idea of how this particular mass may have been performed, not to create a liturgical event that might actually have taken place.

The title of this Mass in the track-list has the addition "pour voix de femmes" (for women's voices). I can't tell whether this is also on the title page of the edition of 1663, as this is not printed in the booklet and I couldn't find the score on the internet. In New Grove and in the article about the composer in Wikipedia there is no reference to a scoring for women's voices. So it seems this performance with women's voices is the decision of Hervé Niquet. As the number of women's convents greatly increased in France during the 17th century this has some historical plausibility.

The participation of women's voices has consequences for the way the Mass is performed. The motets by Charpentier are scored for women's voices, but the Mass is scored for mixed voices. Like in his recording of the Missa pro defunctis by Pierre Bouteiller Niquet makes use of the instructions for the adaptation of music for female or male voices by Jacques de Gouy in the preface to his Airs à quatre parties sur la paraphrase des pseaumes de Godeau (1650).

Le Concert Spirituel comprises eight voices. Whether they are all involved in the performance of the mass is not indicated. It seems that the motets by Charpentier which are scored for two sopranos, are performed with more than one voice per part. That is questionable as these pieces seem clearly intended for solo voices. Gratiarum actiones pro restituta Regis christianissimi sanitate is a good example as it includes some passages of a recitativic character.

This disc is highly interesting as it sheds light on a little-known aspect of liturgical practice in France during the 17th century. The liturgical context raises several questions and so do some aspects of the performance practice. That doesn't take anything away from the high quality of the performances and the historical importance of this production.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Le Concert Spirituel

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