“That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.” - Albert Einstein
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643 – 24 February 1704) was a French composer of the Baroque era. Exceptionally prolific and versatile, Charpentier produced compositions of the highest quality in several genres. His mastery in writing sacred vocal music, above all, was recognised and hailed by his contemporaries.
His compositions include oratorios, masses, operas, and numerous smaller pieces that are difficult to categorise. Many of his smaller works for one or two voices and instruments resemble the Italian cantata of the time, and share most features except for the name. Charpentier calls them air sérieux or air à boire if they are in French, but cantata if they are in Italian.
The “Missa Assumpta est Maria” is the last of Charpentier’s many mass settings, written about 1700, and is considered his greatest work in the genre. This mass is notable for the warmth of Charpentier’s choral and vocal writing, which often has an intensity and harmonic richness that practically give it a Romantic character, particularly in movements like Et incarnatus, from the Credo. It is performed here by Le Concert Spirituel under Hervé Niquet.
The mass offers further evidence that Charpentier, whose music was virtually unknown except to scholars until the late twentieth century, deserves a spot in the pantheon of the most exceptional Baroque composers. His music was controversial during his lifetime, and he wrote of his discouragement that he had as many vociferous detractors as supporters. What is most striking to modern listeners is probably the transparent emotion expressed in his music, which gives it an extraordinarily modern sensibility. He is best known for his noble and often achingly poignant religious works, but his secular love songs dazzle with their simplicity and unmannered charm, and other works reveal a wicked wit.