The motet Le reniement de St Pierre
is a dramatic account of Peter’s denial of Christ, its text skilfully incorporating material from accounts of the Passion in all four Gospels. Sébastien de Brossard, composer, theorist and bibliophile, described it as ‘an oratorio in the Italian style’. Charpentier’s forces are relatively modest, involving only voices and continuo. Nevertheless, he takes every opportunity to intensify the text. Just before the cock crows, for instance, there is a quartet in which Peter vehemently denies knowing Jesus. Charpentier’s agitated music perfectly captures both Peter’s adamance and the persistent questions and accusations of the other three characters. Perhaps the most memorable passage in the work, though, is the final section. Over thirty bars long, this is built entirely on a setting of the words ‘flevit amare’ (‘wept bitterly’). Here the vocal lines weave a dense web of counterpoint, full of suspensions and other expressive dissonances. This powerful evocation of Peter’s remorse is reminiscent of the final chorus of lament in Carissimi’s Jephte
; Charpentier clearly knew this work very well, since he himself made a copy of his teacher’s masterpiece.
from notes by Shirley Thompson © 2004