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From the Renaissance and pre-rhetorical period the Ordinary of the Mass was hardly ever used in France tor the composition of polyphony and works for particular occasions. During the Grand Siecle Marc-Antoine Charpentier was one of the few composers who set this text to music on several occasions and for a variety of formations (from the Mess a quatrere voix and continuo H. 7 to the Messe a quatre chaeurr H. 4). His example was followed, but within the almost unique framework of a Requiem, by the two schoolfellows of Saint Sauveur in Aix-en-Provence, Jean Gilles (1668-1705) and Andre Campra (1660 -1744).
For the Liturgy for the Dead the French called upon the De Profundis, the Miserere and other texts of a funereal nature, with an even greater preference for the literary material of the Psalms, rich in imagery and in rhetorical and expressive potential, and even in the context of death, one might say, especially there, the sense of show, of allegory and of the Divertissement (as Pascal would have said), remained king. One wept at the Funeral Ceremony as one wept at the Opera. Does not Madame de Sevigne tell us that she shed tears at the Miserere as she did at Alceste's Lamentation funehre by Lully ? And were not this Requiem and parodied excerpts (in Latin) from Castor et Pollux performed at the funeral service for Rameau in the Oratory of the Louvre in 1764. Gilles's Requiem (or Messe des Moris) still leaves certain doubts as to its precise date and destination. Various elements lead us to believe however, that it was written in the last years of his life, after his appointment to Saim-Elienne in Toulouse in 1697, in succession to Campra and Michel Farinel (an obscure composer who does not seem to have gained enough votes). Certain evidence (John Ilawkins. 1776. reported by John Hajdu in the preface to his edition of the work) hints at a performance during which Gilles is said to have "sung himself, and in Sentiments d'un Harmonophile by Morambert or Laugier. 1756. it is reported that Gilles was commissioned to write a Requiem Mass fur the funeral commemoration of two counsellors of the City Parliament, which is said to have been either badly performed or cancelled by the family. "Gilles was so neuled by this that he exclaimed. Very well! It will not be played by anyone, and I want to be the
first one to have it." If indeed it was only performed on die occasion of Gillcs's funeral in 1705, this Requiem nonetheless became one of the most frequently played works (with the Diligam te) at the Concert Spirituei which carried it in its programme with unfailing regularity and success until 1770 (15 performances of the Requiem. 49 of the Diligam te, according to the reports of Constant Pierre and Michel Prada). Pierrc-Louis d'Aquin (Lettres sur les hommes celebres sous le Regne de Louis XV, 1752) hears witness to this fact: "The victim of death in the bloom of his years, he has caused us to mourn our loss, by the pieces he left us. Gifted with the most fluent genius, he might have replaced the famous Lalande. The Diligam te and his Messe des Morts are two masterpieces".
In close observance of the Versailles rules of elocution, this Requiem Mass tends towards a theatrical form of expression : in contrast to that of Campra's Messe des Morts (with which Gilles's was always being compared and even associated by means of alternating extracts from the two works during one and the same concert), Gilles's Inroit rears up in full, profound gravity, based on the Gregorian motif of the Requiem aeternam, expressed in a march with a dotted rhythm (which can be supported by drums and labors, as witnessed by certain Provencal traditions and the late Parisian edition - 1764 -by Michel Corrette;, and introducing a tenor recit (solo). The entire work alternates soli (predominance of the hasse-taille, or baritone, solo), ensembles and choruses : solos in the operatic mode, often supple in their rhythm and cast (the second Kyrie Benedictus). blocks of homophonic passages (second Kyrie, Exaudi orationem meam, etc.), and fugal passages, like the magnificent quartet, Donine Jesu Christe and the Offertory or the fugue for chorus in the Post Communion, remarkable in its polyphonic treatment. Numerous passages in triple time show the courtly and profane influence of the dance, endowing an extremely well-wrought and controlled discourse with a much broader expressive potential, and obtained without "prostituting his music to profane subjects"? to use the expression of Pere Bougerel (Memoires pour servir a l'hisioire de plusieurs homme illusrres de Provence, 1752).
The history of French musical genres distinguishes the Petit Mold for soloists, continue and sometimes a few instruments, from the Grand Motet written for much larger forces with soloists, chorus and orchestra (or, in the historical terminology, "symphonic"). The Versailles form of this highly prized genre was introduced by Henry Du Mont and Pierre Robert to the Chapelle Royale, before being established by the superintendant Lully, who decidedly triumphed in all the genres. At this stage the motet was written for two "choruses", one of which was composed of soloists (petit choeur) and the other of a five-part vocal group for a larger chorus (grand choeur). In Du Mont and then Lully the petit choeur sometimes sang together and sometimes colla parte with the chorus, hut the solo parts gradually became more independant until they became the protagonists of the recits, imitating the manner of the opera and intended to lend even greater individuality to the verses of the psalm. The motets of Gilles, Campra, Lalande, Mondonville and Rameau, among others, are constructed according to this model, with even more objective theatrical incursions with some of the composers (let us remind ourselves yet once more of the "warlike sounds', "slumbers" and other "Ouvertures a la francaise" in the Versailles motets of Campra).
Gilles's Diligam te contrives distinct contrasts between the ensembles. It should be pointed out that this work, which was one of the great successes of (he Concert Spiriluel, is included in a manuscript in the Bibliotheque Nationale (Ms Vmel 1345) dated 1731, completed by the no less famous Requiem, from which it takes over, as incipit, the melodic profile of the Et tibi redetur. The extraordinary favour this motet enjoyed with the audiences of the Concert Spirituel may be explained by the brilliance of its components : soaring recits (introductory verse), symphonies in dance form (symphonic laudans invocabo), spectacular effects, such as the repealed notes in Dolores inferni and in the earthquake suggested by Commota est et contremuit terra. But it would be unfair to reduce the Diligam te to these mere superficial qualities: a passage like the inclinavit coelos is a model of gentleness, tenderness and gracefulness.
The posthumous lame of these masterpieces conceived far from Versailles, but according to its glorious model, is today being given an undeniable and well-deserved - second breath : it is true that rarely have the theatrical and the spiritual been combined in this way. in the mode of an ideally united Being and Seeming.