Performance / Sound 'This is beautifully crafted, often poignantly affecting music which is performed with gracefulness and sensibility by artists who are ever alert to the subtlest of inflective nuances.' BBC Music Magazine
'The whole is perfectly chiseled, mixing the warm sonorities of the viols with the vocal and textual rigor of the singers, restoring in a serene atmosphere the style appropriate to each of the composers (delicately archaic for the one, soberly modern for the other).' Diapason
'The members of Ensemble Dumont blended together the traditions of exceptional English singing and outstanding European awareness of performance practice. And this in a way which the term ‘exquisite' barely begins to describe.' Gmünder Tagespost
'Five voices, each with its own character - but such blend ... and an unbelievable expressiveness. Feeling and thought were
absolutely united, all with absolute purity of sound...' Mitteldeutsche Zeitung
La Messe Du Roi booklet notes
On 11th November 1664 Sebastian Locatelli, a priest from Bologna, was visiting the Louvre Palace in Paris, intent on catching a glimpse of Louis XIV.
‘Seeing the guards line up, I guessed - and rightly - that the King was about to go and hear Mass at a fine church in the neighbourhood, St.Germain-l’Auxerrois ... Soon the whole court arrived. The Princes of the blood royal, the King’s brother, the Duchesse d’Orléans, and the Queen Mother entered first. Then came the King, dressed in black velvet, the order of the Saint-Esprit and the cross of the Knights of Malta on his cloak, a short stick in his hand, and with a small hat pinned up on one side with a diamond rose.’
The 1660s, when Locatelli was visiting France, were years of transition for the young Louis. In 1660 Gaston d’Orleans, his rebellious uncle, died, and Louis married the Spanish infanta Marie-Thérèse. On the death of Mazarin (Richelieu’s successor as first minister) in 1661, Louis emerged from both his mother’s and Mazarin’s influence to embark upon his reign as absolute and sole ruler of France. As part of the reorganisation which followed, in 1663 he augmented the musical forces of the Chapelle-Royale (the body of musicians charged with providing music for religious ceremonies involving the King), appointing, among others, two more sous-maîtres to be responsible for providing new compositions and directing the singers and players. He also began a massive programme of building works at the Louvre, engaging many of the most famous architects of the day to propose plans for the enlargement of the palace. (It was only in 1682 that Versailles became the official seat of the court: until then the Louvre was Louis’ principal residence.) Despite this expansion, the Louvre still had no chapel, nor any room suitable or large enough for the whole court to use; St.Germain-l’Auxerrois, the parish church of the Louvre which was situated facing the east wing of the palace, acted as the Chapelle-Royale. The parish was designated as ‘Royal’, and (according to Locatelli) the clergy lived in the palace itself. Indeed, it was so much a part of the life of the Louvre that some of the plans for the palace’s expansion included the addition of two wings connecting the church to the east facade, incorporating it into the Louvre itself.
Locatelli, as a priest, was allowed to enter the church for the Mass, all members of the public having been ejected by the sergeants at arms. Having described the appearance of the King in minute detail, he then went on to mention the music: ‘The mass was sung in full choir by the musicians of His Majesty accompanied by bass viols’.
In other words, it was a High Mass in the polyphonic style (common in France at this time and used at solemn occasions) with bass viols used either as continuo instruments or to strengthen or substitute for voice parts. For such occasions a work such as the mass ‘Jubilate Deo’ by Frémart could well have been performed. Henri Frémart (b. late 16th century, d. after 1646) was born in Picardy and was maître-des-enfants at Rouen cathedral from 1611 to 1625 (at the same time as the great organist and composer Titelouze) but moved to Paris when he was appointed maître-de-chapelle at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in 1625. (St.Germain was a dependent parish of Notre-Dame so it is not unreasonable to imagine a work of his being performed there.) At Notre-Dame he composed eight mass settings which were published between 1642 and 1646. Such polyphonic settings, although old fashioned by the standards of the time, remained in the repertoire of all important churches and cathedrals until the middle of the 18th century. To contemporaries, such an ‘old fashioned’ style denoted solemnity and dignity, in contrast to the more ‘secular’ style that would later become prevalent under composers such as Dumont, Lully and Lalande.
The mass ‘Jubilate Deo’ in 6 parts follows the pattern of most of the mass settings of the time - apparently contrapuntal in the stile antico of Palestrina. On closer listening much of the music actually consists of melody and accompaniment in accordance with the decrees of the Council of Trent which stipulated that text should be clearly audible. Although no continuo part is provided in the original source, it seems likely that one would have been added for this and other occasions. Writers throughout the second half of the 17th century describe how earlier contrapuntal music was always performed with continuo in the more modern style, and it would have been entirely in keeping with the general aesthetic of 17th-century performers to substitute viols for some voices in the 6-part texture.
Although the polyphonic mass was used at particularly solemn occasions, the other form of musical ‘setting’ of the mass which was coming into use at this time, and which would eventually come to dominate music at Versailles, was the Low Mass. While the priest would say the rite to himself and alone take communion, music would be played and sung, the congregation taking no active part. Such a mass is described by Perrin, the librettist of many of the grands motets composed for the Chapelle-Royale of the 1670s and 80s, in the preface to his Cantica pro Capella Regis of 1665: ‘..for the Messe du Roy.. one usually sings three motets: a grand, a petit for the elevation, and a Domine Salvum fac Regem.’
In 1664 Henri Dumont had recently been appointed a sous-maître of the Chapelle- Royale and would have been expected to provide such music for the King. Born near Liège in 1610, he came to Paris as a young man to be organist at the church of St.Paul in the Marais district, but soon began his rise through royal employment. In 1652 he served the King’s brother, in 1660 his queen Marie-Thérèse, and in 1663 he was appointed to serve the King himself as a sous-maître in the newly reorganised Chapelle-Royale. He remained there until 1683 as one of the most influential and respected composers in France. Although it is generally thought that the grand motet was born at this moment and that it was a product of the new ‘classical’ spirit of the age, it seems likely that Dumont had been composing in such forms before he was appointed. Although we do not know exactly the date of composition of the grand motet ‘Benedicam Dominum’, both it and the petit motet ‘Unde Tibi’ were probably relatively early compositions, and that at another, less solemn occasion than the one mentioned above, this music would also have been performed at St.Germain. As well as its early date, when compared with the music from the Dumont Melanges of 1657 there are many stylistic and scoring similarities. For these reasons it seems appropriate to perform such music with the smaller forces of viols and solo voices rather than with the choir and orchestra that later became available to Dumont. (Although this music is often described as being for ‘double choir’ it is never written in 10 real parts; it should more accurately be described as being for 5 solo voices which may be doubled, if desired, by chorus). Indeed Sébastien de Brossard writing in his famous Catalogue in 1725 agrees that a performance using such forces is perfectly practical. Referring specifically to the grands motets of Dumont he states: They should be performed with 5 soloists or a semi-chorus of 5 voices, a choir in 5 parts, and 5 instruments viz. 2 violins, haute contre violin, taille violin, basse violin and basse continue. Thus one needs a group of musicians as big as that of the King to perform this music, although strictly speaking the 5 solo parts, 2 violins and basse de violin and continuo will suffice.