Music for the Fourth Sunday in Easter, May 8 2022

Messe à trois voix – André Caplet (1878-1925) (Kyrie) (Sanctus) (Agnus Dei)

Although remembered mainly as an orchestrator and editor of unfinished works by his close friend Claude Debussy, André Caplet was a solid composer in his own right, working in the Impressionist style of his time and place. Growing up in a poor family pushed Caplet into music early; by age 12 he was working as a rehearsal pianist at the Folies-Bergères in his hometown of Le Havre. This helped him develop sight-reading and improvisation skills and a sense of harmony very quickly, and in 1896 he entered the Paris Conservatory, winning a string of prizes during his time there and simultaneously working as a conductor around Paris. In 1901 he won the Prix de Rome; unlike many other composers, he obtained this on his first try.

Caplet’s own music revolved mainly around the voice. Within Debussy’s Impressionistic harmonic manner he developed a personal style, marked especially by wide-ranging, improvisatory-sounding melodies. His music is distinguished from Debussy’s by his taste for plainchant and a general interest in archaic music. All of this is manifested strongly in the Messe à trois voix, this Sunday’s setting of the Mass ordinary in church. Composed in 1919-20, the Mass had its first performance in June 1922 at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, under the direction of the composer.

Gerald Harder