Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Notes and Commentary

“Neglected for centuries, Marc-Antoine Charpentier has emerged as one of the greatest French composers of sacred music in the 17th century, arguably superior to his more successful contemporary, Jean-Baptiste Lully. His music shows more diversity than Lully’s ranging—often within the same work—from the stately to the intimate. The key to this achievement was his adoption of a style based on the new Italian concerto, which employed dramatically telling contrasts between different groupings of voices throughout a work. Moreover, Charpentier softened the predominantky formal and grandiose style of French music, intoducing a more Italianate sensuousness and a greater sensitivity to word-setting.”—The Rough Guide to Classical Music (2001, 3rd ed.) 

Charpentier was exceptionally prolific and versatile, producing compositions of the highest quality in several genres. His mastery in writing sacred vocal music, above all, was recognized and hailed by his contemporaries. His compositions include oratorios, masses, operas, and 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 or air à boire if they are in French, but cantata if they are in Italian.

In addition to his compositions, Charpentier was a music theorist who wrote several treatises on composition, including one called Règles de Composition par Monsieur Charpentier and Augmentations tirées de l’original de Mr le duc de Chartres. He lived from 1643 to February 24, 1704.—Excerpted from Wikipedia

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