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ClassicsOnline Home » LULLY: Grand Motets, Vol. 1
By Geoffrey Norris
The Daily Telegraph (Australia)
Grands Motets, Vol. 1
In 1661, Lully became Superintendent of the King's Music and Composer of
His Majesty's Chamber. His task was to organize the King's musical diversions,
notably the great Court entertainments which culminated in Les Plaisirs de
l'Isle enchantée in May 1664. He composed music for ballets (at a rate of
over one a year during this period) and began his collaboration with Molière.
He received his naturalization papers and married the daughter of Michel Lambert,
master of music of the King's Chamber.
What then, during the winter of 1664, inspired this theatrically
inclined man of action to write a Miserere for the Chapel Royal, a full
motet for soloists, choir and orchestra, when such a task was not part of his
duties? The mystery remains unsolved. The work was probably the first example
of a style which enjoyed popular esteem until the Revolution. It is as though
Lully, versatile creator of so many new musical forms, sought here also to make
his mark and point the way towards new architectural possibilities. German
cantatas, Italian psalms and English anthems were all inspired by Lully's great
The religious context in which Lully wrote this first motet was quite
particular. The issue of the "liberties of the Gallican church" (i.e.
the place of the spiritual and temporal authorities) was once again prominent
in the 1660s. The debate on the question led to a parliamentary declaration in
1663 whose six articles are the precursors of the famous "four articles"
of 1682 which marked the French bishops' allegiance to the King. At the same
time Louis XIV reorganized his Chapel, appointing two composers, Henry Du Mont
and Pierre Robert, in 1663. More than any other work Lully's Miserere, performed
before the entire Court, seems to stand as a manifesto for what was expected of
a composer at the Chapel Royal: an utterly new form, an innovative design, fit
for the King.
The work, whose text is drawn from Psalm 51, one of the penitential
psalms, was first performed in late 1664. Mme de Sévigné is known to have wept
on hearing it and she was doubtless not alone. Although the motet already shows
a clear distinction between airs (called récits), solo ensembles,
choruses and symphonies, the Miserere belongs to the first period of
full motets (before 1683). Its double chorus effects owe much to the composers
of the first half of the seventeenth century: the soloists are part of a
"small chorus" which is set against the "full chorus".
During choral passages, the soloists systematically double the equivalent
voices. Treated this way, the full motet resembles a continuous chorus
interspersed with more muted passages, or an organ piece in which subtle stops
on the positive provide a contrast with the full organ. Textual expression is
given light and shade in a harmonious architectural construct. Listen to
Lully's counterpoint, the lines of the strings in the symphony, the
low-register thirds. The music sings and the violins, shattering the full
harmony on the occasion of a cadence, break into a toccata motif that echoes
the composer's Italian past.
Observe Lully's mastery of colour. Listen to how choral and orchestral
textures, now in five, now in ten parts, change with the rhythm of the text;
note how subtle touches of orchestral colour highlight the meaning of a verb or
the sweetness of a modulation. The sublime text of the psalm inspires Lully to
paint a whole sweep of emotions, at once melancholy, plaintive, sweet, tragic,
suffering, noble and victorious.
Plaude lœtare Gallia,
The Te Deum is Lully's best-known sacred work, first performed at
Fontainebleau on 9th September, 1677. It was while directing 150 musicians in
another performance of the piece on 8th January, 1687 that Lully inflicted on
himself the wound which, turning gangrenous, was to prove fatal. The origins of
the Te Deum were quite different to those of the other works on this
recording. Lully was at the pinnacle of his career, the immensely successful
composer of lyric tragedies like Atys and Isis. The Te Deum calls
for high pomp and considerable resources. Contemporary reports speak of the
large forces (as many as 300 musicians, including chorus, orchestra, trumpets
and drums) assembled to perform the work, even at the beginning of the
eighteenth century. The success of the Te Deum is almost unique in the
history of seventeenth century sacred music.
Translation: Adrian Shaw
Te Deum laudamus
Te Dominum confitemur
Te Æternum Patrem.
Omnis terra veneratur
Tibi omnes angeli,
Tibi cœli et universre potestates
Tibi cherubim et seraphim,
incessabili voce proclamant:
Sanctus, sanctus Dominus Deus Sabbaoth.
Pleni sunt cœli et terra
majestatis gloriœ tuœ.
Te gloriosus Apostolorum chorus,
Te Prophetarum laudabilis numerus,
Te Martirum candidatus laudat exercitus.
Te per orbem terrarum
Sancta confitetur Ecclesia
We praise thee, O
we acknowledge thee
to be the Lord.
All the earth doth
To thee all Angels
the Heavens, and all
the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubin and
continually do cry,
Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are
of the Majesty of
The glorious company
of the Apostles praise thee.
fellowship of the Prophets praise thee.
The noble army of
Martyrs praise thee.
The holy Church
throughout all the world
Patrem immensœ majestatis
Venerandum tuum verum
et unicum Filium,
Sanctum quoque Paraclitum Spiritum.
Tu Rex gloriœ.
sempiternus est filius.
Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem
non horruisti Virginis uterum.
Tu devicto mortis aculeo,
aperuisti credentibus regna cœlorum.
The Father of an infinite
and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost:
Thou art the King of
Thou art the
of the Father.
When thou tookest
upon thee to deliver man,
thou didst not abhor
the Virgin's womb.
When thou hadst
overcome the sharpness of death,
thou didst open the
Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Tu ad dexteram Dei sedes,
in gloria Patris
Te ergo quœ sumus, famulis tuis subveni,
quos pretioso sanguine redemisti.
Æterna fac cum sanctis tuis
In gloria numerari.
Thou sittest at the
right hand of God
in the Glory of the
We believe that thou
to be our Judge.
We therefore pray
thee, help thy servants
whom thou hast
redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be
numbered with thy Saints
Salvum fac populum tuum Domine
et benedic hœreditati tuœ
Et rege eos,
et extolle illos usque in œternum.
Per singulos dies, benedicimus Te,
Et laudamus nomen tuum
in sœculum sœculi.
O Lord, save thy
and bless thine
and lift them up for
Day by day we
And we worship thy
ever world without
Dignare, Domine, die isto
sine peccato nos custodire.
Miserere nostri, Domine,
Fiat misericordia tua, Domine super nos
quemadmodum speravimus in Te.
Vouchsafe, O Lord
to keep us this day
O Lord, have mercy
have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let they
mercy lighten upon us:
as our trust is in thee.
In Te, Domine, speravi,
non confundar in œternum!
O Lord, in thee have
let me never be
Miserere mei, Deus
Miserere mei, Deus,
secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.
Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum,
dele iniquitatem meam.
et peccatum meum contra me est semper.
Have mercy upon me,
O God, after thy
according to the
multitude of thy mercies
do away mine
And my sin is ever
Ut justificeris in sermonibus tuis,
et vincas cum judicaris.
Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti:
incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi.
That thou mightest
be justified in thy saying,
and clear when thou
But lo, thou
requirest truth in the inward parts
and shalt make me to
understand wisdom secretly.
Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis:
et omnes iniquitates meas dele.
Turn thy face from
and put out all my
Docebo iniquos vias tuas:
et impii ad te convertentur.
Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium,
holocaustis non delectaberis.
Then shall I teach
they ways unto the wicked
and sinners shall be
converted unto thee.
For thou desirest no
else would I give it
but thou delightest
not in burnt-offerings.
Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion:
ut aedificentur muri Jerusalem.
Tunc acceptabis sacrificium justitiae,
oblationes et holocausta:
tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.
O be favourable and
gracious unto Sion.
build thou the walls
Then shalt thou be
pleased with the sacrifice of
the burnt-offerings and oblations,
then shall they
offer young bullocks upon thine altar.
Plaude laetare Gallia
Rore caelesti rigantur lilia,
Sacro delphinus fonte lavatur
Et christianus christo dicatur.
O Gaul, rejoice and
Heavenly dew bathes
The Dauphin is
washed in the sacred spring
And the Christian is
consecrated to Christ.
O Jesu vita precantium
O Jesu vita credentium
Exaudi vota precantium
O Jesu, life to
those who pray,
O Jesu, life to
those who believe,
Hear the prayer of
Vivat regnet princeps fidelis
Semper justus, semper victor, semper augustus
Triumphet in caelis
Et sempiterna luceat corona.
Long may the loyal
Prince live and reign,
Ever just, ever
victorious, ever royal,
May he triumph in
And may his crown
shine for ever.
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LULLY: Grand Motets, Vol. 1