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Gaspard CORRETTE (1671 - 1733): "Messe à l'usage d'une abbaye royale"

Régis Allard, organ; Ensemble vocal Ad Limina

rec: July 19 - 23, 2008, Bolbec, Église Saint-Michel
Hortus - 961 (© 2009) (62'03")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Sources: Guillaume Gabriel Nivers, Graduale romano-monasticum ... in usum et gratiam monialium sub regula S.P.N. Benedicti, Augustini, Francisci militantium, 1658; Gaspard Corrette, Messe du 8e ton pour l’orgue à l'usage des dames réligieuses, 1703; anon, Processional de l'abbaye royale de Chelles, c1726

The name of Corrette is mostly associated with Michel, one of the most prolific French composers of the 18th century. This disc is devoted to organ music by his father Gaspard. He was born and educated in Rouen, where one of France's most famous organists of his time, Jacques Boivin, was the organist at the cathedral. On the title page of his organ mass, printed in 1703, Corrette called himself organist of the cathedral. He probably acted as substitute for Boyvin who died in 1706. Corrette attempted to be appointed as his successor, but failed: François Dagincour was chosen instead. Corrette then played in several other churches before moving to Paris where he may have worked as a dancing master. However, little is known about him from his years in Paris.

Gaspard was a far less productive composer than his son was going to be. The organ mass recorded here is his only extant composition. Whether he has written more is not known. Most French organ music was written for liturgical use. That is also the case here: this mass is comparable with the two organ masses by François Couperin. It comprises a number of verses which are to be played during mass. The other verses need to be sung, but composers of organ masses didn't include the vocal items in their collections. This means that for a performance of the music as it was meant the sung verses have to be taken from another source.

I don't know why the booklet gives the title of this mass as Messe à l'usage d'une abbaye royale. The original title is Messe du 8e ton pour l'orgue à l'usage des Dames Religieuses. During the 17th century the number of women's convents greatly increased and this resulted in new repertoire to be sung during liturgy. This was something between the traditional plainchant and the music written by composers of the time. One of the main sources of such chants is a collection by Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, organist of Saint-Sulpice in Paris since the early 1650s and considered the founder of the classical French organ school. In 1658 he published a Gradual, with chants for the Proper of the Mass. As Nivers' liturgical chants were widespread among women's convents in Corrette's time this is also used as the main source in this recording.

The booklet mentions another important source, a Processional from the Royal Abbey at Chelles, part of which was printed in 1726. It includes plain-chant masses which mention the use of an organ. More importantly it provides some interesting information in regard to the ornamentation of plain-chant. The programme notes don't make it very clear how exactly this source was incorporated into the performances, but I assume that the singers have used some of the ornamentation in their performance of the plain-chant verses.

This disc also makes clear that a performance of an organ mass which includes the sung verses isn't just a matter of adding plain-chant from a specific source. Nivers' collection offers seven verses for the Gloria, whereas Corrette's organ mass has nine. One option is to simply omit one of the latter, but the purpose of this recording was to play Corrette's mass complete. Therefore the plain-chant has been adapted. Again, this is not specified, but I suppose one of Nivers' chants has been split into two. This is only feasible because Corrette doesn't connect his versets with specific verses of the Gloria.

The title page indicates that this mass was intended for liturgical use but also for "those who play the organ". This seems to indicate that the versets can also be played out of a liturgical context. This could explain the inclusion of two versets for the Gradual, which is not part of the Ordinary. It has been decided to play one of these versets and add chants from another source by Nivers.

This also means that there is no objection to a performance of this mass without plain-chant. However, presenting the mass within the liturgical context for which it was written in the first place makes much sense. It gives an indication as to how music like this was mostly used. Moreover, it gives the opportunity to perform plain-chant with ornamentation as it was commonly sung around 1700. The result is a fascinating document of liturgical practice in France under the ancien régime. Régis Allard uses a historical organ with an eventful history which is described at length in the booklet. It is a specimen of a classical French organ which is perfectly suited to this repertoire. Its tuning results in regular "false" relations which were quite common at the time. It creates a quite spicy sound which one sorely misses in recordings on organs with a modern temperament. Obviously the chants are sung by a women's schola as this mass was written for women's convents.

All participants deliver outstanding performances. This is a well thought-out project which has been realised in a most convincing way. Gaspard Corrette may have left us just one piece, but it is fine music he has written, well worth being performed and recorded.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Ad Limina

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