Music for The Holy Family — Sunday, December 26, 2021

Messe de Minuit pour Noël — Marc-Antoine Charpentier (c. 1636-1704)


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As the most recorded French composer of the Baroque period in in our time, it would seem that Marc-Antoine Charpentier, overshadowed, private and often silent in life, has had a bit of revenge.


Charpentier’s Midnight Mass for Christmas, our setting of the Mass Ordinary at the Solemn Mass of Midnight in church, was composed in 1694, and is an excellent example of 17th-century musical craftsmanship, while remaining highly accessible. One of eleven masses by Charpentier scored for voice and orchestra, this work is set for four voices, two flutes, strings, organ and continuo. It is written in choral anthem style, primarily homophonic, with several sections of imitative polyphony, and is through composed in nature.


The Messe de Minuit pour Noël is also an excellent example of a parody Mass. Although parody Masses were out of fashion by the 1680s, Charpentier, by using familiar French noël settings as the basis of the work, camouflages the parody aspect of the composition. Charpentier´s use of beloved carols, dynamically developed with structural, harmonic and instrumental finesse, achieved a work accessible and translatable to many strata of musicians and listeners in his day, as well as for us today.


Gerald Harder