(diocese of Paris, 1643
Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, 24 February 1704) was a French composer of
An engraving from the 1682 Almanach Royal
thought to be
He was a prolific and versatile composer, producing music of the
highest quality in several genres. His mastery in the composition
of sacred vocal music was recognized and acknowledged by his
Charpentier was born in or near Paris, the son of
a master scribe who had very good connections to influential
families in the Parlement of
Marc-Antoine received a very good education,
perhaps with the help of the Jesuits, and registered for law school
in Paris when he was eighteen. He withdrew after one semester.
"two or three years" in Rome, probably
between 1667 and 1669, and studied with Giacomo Carissimi.
He is also known
to have been in contact with poet-musician Charles Coypeau d'Assoucy
, who was
composing for the French Embassy in Rome. A legend claims that
Charpentier initially traveled to Rome to study painting before he
was discovered by Carissimi. This story is undocumented and
possibly untrue. (At any rate, although his 28 volumes of autograph
manuscripts reveal considerable skill at tracing the arabesques
used by professional scribes, they contain not a single drawing,
not even a rudimentary sketch.) Regardless, he acquired a solid
knowledge of contemporary Italian musical practice and brought it
back to France.
Immediately on his return to France, Charpentier probably began
working as house composer to Marie de Lorraine, duchesse
, who was known familiarly as "Mlle de Guise." She gave
him an "apartment" in the recently renovated Hôtel de Guise —
strong evidence that Charpentier was not a paid domestic who slept
in a small room in the vast residence, but was instead a courtier
who occupied one of the new apartments in the stable wing.
For the next seventeen years, Charpentier composed a considerable
quantity of vocal works for her, among them Psalm settings,
, motets, a Magnificat
setting, a mass
and a Dies Irae
for the funeral of her nephew Louis Joseph, Duke of Guise
a succession of Italianate oratorios set to non-liturgical Latin
texts. (Charpentier preferred the Latin canticum
Italian term, oratorio
). Throughout the 1670s, the bulk of
these works were for trios. The usual trio was two women and a
singing bass, plus two treble instruments and continuo; but when
performance in the chapel of a male monastic community required
male voices, he would write for a counter-tenor (himself?), a tenor
and a bass, plus the same instruments.
Then, circa 1680, Mlle de Guise increased the size of the ensemble,
until it included 13 performers and a singing teacher. (Étienne Loulié
, the senior
instrumentalist, probably was entrusted with coaching the newer
instrumentalists.) Despite what is often asserted, during his
seventeen years in the service of Mlle de Guise, Charpentier was
not the "director" of the Guise ensemble. The director was a
gentleman of Mlle de Guise's court, an amateur musician,
Italianophile, and Latinist named Philippe Goibaut
, familiarly called
Monsieur Du Bois.
Owing to Mlle de Guise's love for
Italian music (a passion she shared with Du Bois), and her frequent
entertaining of Italians passing through Paris, there was little
reason for Charpentier to conceal the Italianisms he had learned in
Rome. (Did Du Bois write the Latin libretti for all those
During his years of service to Mlle de Guise, he also composed for
, Louis XIV's first cousin. It was in large part owing to
Mme de Guise's protection that the Guise musicians were allowed to
perform Charpentier's chamber operas in defiance of the monopoly
held by Jean Baptiste Lully
Most of the operas and pastorales
in French, which date
from 1684-1687, appear to have been commissioned by Mme de Guise
for performance at court entertainments during the winter season;
but Mlle de Guise doubtlessly included them in the entertainments
she sponsored several times a week in her palatial Parisian
A recently discovered portrait,
presumed to be Charpentier, but dates circa 1750.
By late 1687, Mlle de Guise was dying. At that time, Charpentier
entered the employ of the Jesuits
names of the Guise musicians appear as marginalia in Charpentier's
manuscripts, 1684-late 1687, but the composer is not named in the
princess's will of March 1688, nor in the papers of her estate,
which is strong evidence that she had already rewarded her loyal
servant and approved of his departure.)
During his seventeen-odd years at the Hôtel de Guise, Charpentier
had written almost as many pages of music for outside commissions
as he had for Mlle de Guise. (He routinely copied these outside
commissions in notebooks with roman numerals.) For example, after
's falling out with Jean-Baptiste Lully
in 1672, Charpentier
had begun writing incidental music for the spoken theater of
Molière. It probably was owing to pressure on Molière exerted by
Mlle de Guise
and by young Mme de Guise
that the playwright took the
commission for incidental music for Le Malade imaginaire
away from Dassoucy
and gave it to
Charpentier. After Molière's death in 1673, Charpentier continued
to write for the playwright's successors, Thomas Corneille
and Jean Donneau de Visé
. Play after
play, he would compose pieces that demanded more musicians than the
number authorized by Lully's monopoly over theatrical music. By
1685, the troop ceased flouting these restrictions. Their
capitulation ended Charpentier's career as a composer for the
In 1679, Charpentier had been singled out to compose for Louis
XIV's son, the Dauphin
Writing primarily for the prince's private chapel, he composed
devotional pieces for a small ensemble composed of royal musicians:
the two Pièche sisters singing with a bass named Frizon, and
instruments played by the two Pièche brothers. In short, an
ensemble that, with Mlle de Guise's permission, could perform works
he had earlier composed for the Guises. By early 1683, when he was
awarded a royal pension, Charpentier was being commissioned to
write for court events such as the annual Corpus Christi
procession. In April
of that year, he became so ill that he had to withdraw from the
competition for the sub-mastership of the royal chapel.
Speculations that he withdrew because he knew he would not win seem
disproved by his autograph notebooks: he wrote nothing at all from
April through mid-August of that year, strong evidence that he was
too ill to work.
1687 to early 1698, Charpentier served as maître de
musique to the Jesuits, working first for their
collège of Louis-le-Grand (for which he wrote David et Jonathas) and then for the
church of Saint-Louis adjacent to the order's professed house on
the rue Saint-Antoine.
Once he moved to Saint-Louis,
Charpentier virtually ceased writing oratorios and instead
primarily wrote musical settings of psalms and other liturgical
texts such as the Litanies of Loreto. During his years at
Saint-Louis, his works tended to be for large ensembles that
included paid singers from the Royal Opera. In addition, during
these years Charpentier succeeded Étienne Loulié
as music teacher to
Philippe, Duke of
Charpentier was appointed maître de
musique at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris in 1698, a royal post he held until his
death in 1704.
One of his most famous compositions during
his tenure was the Mass Assumpta Est Maria
this work survived suggests that it was written for another entity,
an entity that was entitled to call upon the musicians of the
Chapel and reward them for their efforts. Indeed, virtually none of
Charpentier's compositions from 1690-1704 have survived, because
when the maître de musique
died, the royal administration
routinely confiscated everything he had written for the Chapel.
Charpentier was buried in the little walled-in cemetery just behind
the choir of the Chapel (the cemetery no longer exists).
Charpentier's heirs sold his autograph manuscripts (28 folio
volumes) to the Royal Library (today, the Bibliothèque
nationale de France).
Divided into two series of notebooks — one
bearing arabic numbers and the other roman numbers, and each
notebook numbered chronologically — these manuscripts (and their
watermarks) have permitted scholars not only to date his
compositions but also to determine the events for which many of
these works were written.
Music, style and influence
His compositions include oratorios
numerous smaller pieces that are difficult to categorize. Many of
his smaller works for one or two voices and instruments resemble
the Italian cantata of the time, and share most features except for
the name: Charpentier calls them air sérieux
air à boire
if they are in
French, but cantata
if they are in Italian.
to his Te Deum
, H. 146, a rondeau, is well-known as the signature tune
for the European Broadcasting Union, heard in the opening credits of the Vienna New Year's Concert, the
Eurovision Song Contest and
other Eurovision events.
This theme was also the intro to "The Olympiad" films of Bud Greenspan
Charpentier's compositions were catalogued by Hugh Wiley Hitchcock
in his Les
œuvres de Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Catalogue Raisonné,
(Paris: Picard, 1982); references to works are often accompanied by
(for Hitchcock) number.
- Celse Martyr, Music lost; P. Bretonneau's libretto
published in 1687.
- David et Jonathas, H.
490, 1688. (Libretto by P. Bretonneau.)
- Petite Pastorale Eglogue de Bergers, H. 479; October
- Actéon, H. 481; 1684
- Il faut rire et chanter: Dispute de Bergers, H. 484;
- La Fête de Ruel, H. 485; 1685
- La Couronne de Fleurs, H. 486; 1685
- Le Retour de Printemps, Lost.
- Cupido perfido dentr'al mio cor
- Amor Vince Ogni Cosa, H. 492
Incidental Theater Music
- Les Fâcheux, 1672. Music lost (if indeed Charpentier
did more than simply conduct the play a few times, as the records
of the Comédie Française suggest), comedy by Molière.
- La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas, H. 494; 1672 (comedy by
- Le Médecin
malgré lui, four airs survive, date uncertain. (comedy by
- L'Inconnu, music lost; 1675 ("galant play" by Donneau de Visé and Thomas Corneille)
- Circé, H. 496; 1675. (tragedy with machines by
Thomas Corneille; divertissements
by Donneau de Visé)
- Ouverture du prologue de l'Inconnu, H. 499; a
reworking of the prologue d'Acis et Galathée, an opera
written for M. de Riants in 1679
- Andromède, H. 504; 1682
(tragedy with machines by Pierre
- Vénus et Adonis, H. 507; 1685 (a play with machines,
by Donneau de Visé)
- Polyeucte, H. 498 (music for a performance of Pierre Corneille's play at the Collège
- Le Triomphe des dames (1676)
- La Pierre philosophale (1681)
- Endymion (1681)
- Dialogues d'Angélique et de Médor (1685)
- Messe, (H. 1)
- Extremum Dei Judicium (H. 401)
- Messe de Minuit pour Noël (H. 9, c. 1690)
- Missa Assumpta est Maria (H. 11, 1698-1702)
- Litanies de la vierge (H. 83, 1683-1685)
- Te Deum
- Dixit Dominus (H. 204)
- In nativitatem Domini canticum (H. 416)
- Noëls (3) (H. 531 c. 1680)
- Noëls pour les instruments (H. 534, c. 1690)
- Precatio pro filio regis (Offertory) (H. 166)
- Panis quem ego dabo (Elevation) (H. 275)
- Cessac, Catherine. Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
Translated from the French ed. (Paris 1988) by E. Thomas Glasow.
Portland (Oregon): Amadeus Press, 1995.
- Ranum, Patricia. Portraits Around Marc-Antoine
Charpentier  Baltimore: Dux Femina Facti, 2004. ISBN
- Cessac, Catherine, ed., Marc-Antoine Charpentier, un
musicien retrouvé (Sprimont: Mardaga, 2005), a collection of
pioneering works originally disseminated in the Bulletin
Charpentier, 1989-2003. The bulk of the articles deal with his
life and works: his family and its origins, Italy and Italianism at
the Hôtel de Guise, his work for the Jesuits, the sale of his
manuscripts, plus background information about specific works.
- Cessac, Catherine, ed., Les Manuscrits autographes de
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Wavre: Mardaga, n.d.), papers
presented at the conference held at Versailles, 2004. The articles
in this volume focus primarily on what scholars can deduce from the
28 autograph volumes that contain his compositions.
- Patricia M. Ranum, "Lully Plays Deaf: Rereading the Evidence on
his Privilege," in John Hajdu Heyer, ed., Lully Studies
(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 15–31, which
focuses on Charpentier's powerful contacts.
- Patricia M. Ranum, "A Sweet Servitude: A musician's life at the
court of Mlle de Guise," Early Music, 15 (1987), pp.
Music History and Theory
- Anthony, James R. French Baroque Music: From Beaujoyeulx to
Rameau. Revised and expanded edition. Portland (Oregon):
Amadeus Press, 1997.
- Hitchcock, H.W. Les Œuvres de Marc-Antoine Charpentier:
Catalogue Raisonné. Paris: Picard, 1982.
- Thomas, Downing A. Aesthetics of Opera in the Ancien
Régime, 1647-1785. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press,
- Tunley, David. The Eighteenth-Century French Cantata.
2nd edition. Oxford (UK): Clarendon Press Oxford University Press,