Movement 1: Kyrie
Movement 2: Gloria
Movement 3: Credo
Movement 4: Sanctus and Benedictus
Movement 5: Agnus Dei
Movement 6: Domine, salvum fac regem
Having four choirs at his disposal gives Charpentier scope for considerable variety of scoring and texture. Not only does he use his choral groups both antiphonally and in combination, but he also incorporates passages for various different ensembles of solo voices. Particularly striking in this respect is the opening of the Gloria. In this highly melismatic setting of the text ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ for four solo sopranos (one from each choir, and therefore physically separated), it is not difficult to imagine that the composer had a choir of heavenly angels in mind. All four choirs then enter together, with a stately, homophonic setting of the text ‘et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis’ before declaiming in turn the word ‘pax’ on long notes, creating an appropriately peaceful setting. The music becomes immediately more lively at ‘Laudamus te’ as the joyous phrases ‘We praise thee. We bless thee. We worship thee. We glorify thee’ are passed between the choirs. Such contrasts of scoring, texture and musical material occur throughout the Mass and not only sustain the musical interest but also clearly serve to enhance the liturgical text.
On a number of occasions in his score, Charpentier indicates that the organist should improvise between sections; indeed, it was common practice at the time to incorporate short organ pieces into the Mass in this way. What is unusual here is that during the improvisations before and after the second Kyrie, Charpentier may have intended his singers to move away from their original positions and back again: two small diagrams on the first page of the score appear to show two different arrangements of the choirs in relation to the altar.
The Mass concludes with a setting of the psalm text ‘Domine, salvum fac regem’ (‘O Lord, save the king’). The convention of ending Mass with this prayer for the king’s health had begun in the early seventeenth century during the reign of Louis XIII. Despite the fact that Charpentier spent his life largely outside court circles, the inclusion of a Domine, salvum setting as an integral part of many of his Masses clearly points to the climate of absolutism in late seventeenth-century France.
from notes by Shirley Thompson © 2004