Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Louis XIII Update: Further Thoughts on the Exaudiat te Dominus

by Peter Bennett

In my Spring 2016 JAMS article, “Hearing King David in Early Modern France: Politics, Prayer, and Louis XIII’s Musique de la Chambre,” I considered the role that psalms and the psalter played at the court of Louis XIII (r.1610-43), and explored the way in which composers and clerics associated with the court created musical settings of selected and centonized psalm verses as a means of representing the French monarch as a king musician and successor to David. Prompted by my own earlier work on the repertoire of the Musique de la Chambre, and encouraged by Thierry Favier’s observations on Louis XIV (that the psalm-based grand motet repertoire performed at the Chapelle Royale adopted a more nuanced representational strategy than we might expect[1]), I suggested that such representations operated in a number of different modes and took the form of a number of different archetypes – specifically, the successful warrior king (a representation which seemed to find “public” expression), the penitent king (much more “private”), and a third, less clear archetype (which occupied terrain somewhere between private and public), manifest through the widely performed Psalm 19, Exaudiat te Dominus.


In the first two modes (as warrior or penitent), I was able to account for these public/private characterizations, to my own satisfaction at least. French paraphrases of the psalms celebrating, for example, Louis’s victory at La Rochelle in 1628, were common and widely disseminated, although such texts seem to have been sung to simple popular melodies by urban, non-court, populations, and did not feature in the “official” Chapelle Royale repertoire. On the other hand, centonizations of Latin psalm texts reflecting the perspective of a penitent, supplicatory monarch appeared in the repertoire of the musique de la chambre (whose primary role was to perform sacred music), and in my article I argued that such texts would have been entirely appropriate given the military, political, and personal circumstances in which Louis found himself (civil/religious wars, the Concini affair, his mother Marie de Médici’s treachery, etc.). But the role of Psalm 19, Exaudiat te Dominus, and of its final verse Domine salvum fac regem – the first composed settings of which began to appear at this time in the repertoire of the Musique de la Chambre, and which would remain central to the French liturgy for the next two centuries – remained unclear. In Music Discipline and Arms (a study to which I am greatly indebted) Kate van Orden eloquently argued that the Exaudiat, when performed as part of the Te Deum ceremony, represented a kind of “mini-coronation,” and that its performance in such very public circumstances was therefore an expression of power.[2] In my article I focused on the performance of the Exaudiat in the more private context of the Musique de la Chambre, and instead argued that the psalm (which begins “May the Lord hear you in the day of tribulation”) belonged with the penitential, private repertories, at the same time acknowledging that a paradox remained – could the same psalm stand in for power and military success in one context, and supplication and penitence in another?

During 2015/16 I was fortunate enough to hold a Le STUDIUM fellowship at the Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance in Tours, France, where I worked on a project exploring the music and liturgy associated with Louis XIII’s ceremonial entrées across France in the years 1615-33. Since the entrée and Te Deum ceremonies were effectively two sides of the same coin (the Te Deum ceremony was, in broad liturgical terms, an entrée without the King – both were based around a Te Deum and a psalm) I was curious to see what the study might mean for the Exaudiat.

Louis XIII Crowned by Victory (Siege of La Rochelle, 1628).  Philippe de Champaigne, Musée du Louvre.
In the first instance, almost without exception, the contemporary psalm paraphrases, translations, and commentaries that I found in provincial libraries and archives read Psalm 19 as a prayer for the safety of the king as he went into battle or as he faced other dangers: in 1622 the chapter of Aix cathedral, for example, asked that it be sung because of a dangerous “maladie du Roi,” and the Bishop of Paris ordained that it be sung as Louis set off on the hazardous journey to Bordeaux for his wedding to Anne of Austria in 1615. In the context of the more formalized ceremonies such as the Te Deum, however, it was still not clear exactly how the Exaudiat would have been heard, and for the entrée I could find no sources that even specified the psalm sung. But in the final months of my fellowship I located a detailed printed account, together with archival evidence, of the entrée into Troyes in 1629, during which the Exaudiat was sung in a context which seemed to confirm its reading as a reflection on the vulnerability of the King rather than his military prowess – about to lead his army across the Alps in an expedition characterized by contemporary historians such as Charles Bernard as one of the most dangerous and daring of his reign, the liturgy at the heart of the entrée (which I had earlier identified in the Roman Pontifical and which adopted a similarly prayerful tone) asked for God’s help in times of trouble. At the same time the earliest surviving musical settings of the Exaudiat (the most important of which turned out to be part of the Howard Mayer Brown collection at the Newberry Library, Chicago) also pointed to the same conclusion, either through their printed prefaces, or, for the Chicago manuscript, through textual interpolations, suggesting that in the context of the entrée the Exaudiat reflected an unexpectedly “public” expression of a sentiment that we might assume would be kept “private.”

At the end of my year in France many questions still remained, but as part of my fellowship, I organized a conference at the CESR, Tours (Sacred-Secular Intersections in Early Modern European Ceremonial: Text, Music, Image, and Power), where I was able to present my preliminary findings to colleagues from across the disciplines, and where I forged many new and productive relationships. My detailed conclusions on the entrée and the contributions of these colleagues will appear in the actes du colloque to be published by Classiques Garnier: in the meantime I continue to work on both the entrée and wider issues for my ongoing book project, David’s Harp, Apollo’s Lyre: Music, Liturgy, and Power at the Court of Louis XIII.

Peter Bennett is Associate Professor of Musicology at Case Western Reserve University, and is also Head of Harpsichord and Teacher of Historical Keyboard Instruments at Cleveland Institute of Music.  He specializes in early-modern France, focusing in particular on the intersection of music, religion, and politics in Louis XIII’s Paris.  He has also long been active as a harpsichordist and organist, in Europe (where he studied) and the USA.

[1] Thierry Favier, Le motet à grand choeur, 1660–1792: Gloria in Gallia Deo (Paris: Fayard, 2009).
[2] Kate Van Orden, Music, Discipline, and Arms in Early Modern France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

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