Coronation gets the royal treatment

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by Paul-James Dwyer

Le Sacre Royal de Louis XIV (the Coronation of Louis XIV). Antoine Boesset, Etienne Mouliné, Jean Veillot, Roland de Lassus, Henry Du Mont, Francesco Cavalli, Charles d’Helfer, Anonymous. Les Pages du Centre de musique baroques de Versailles/Olivier Schneebeli. Ensemble Correspondances/ Sébastien Daucé. Harmonia Mundi CV5017 Total time: 108 minutes.

Ensemble Correspondances seems to move from summit to summit. With the 2018 DVD Ballet Royal de la Nuit release, they vaulted into international stardom, and a subsequent invitation to founder/director Sébastien Daucé to direct the London Early Music Festival in 2018. Such is the finesse that the viewer of this new DVD partakes of the energy, intensity, power and clarity that are all hallmarks of the French Grand Siècle musical tradition. The joyous delivery is not only palpable but seems to transcend the idea of a concert presentation, transporting us to an era when kings were not only rulers but considered fathers of nations, in France in particular, where they were almost worshiped.

Configured as a re-creation of the coronation of Louis XIV at Reims Cathedral on June 6, 1654 the myriad artists (33 musicians and 37 singers) deliver an engrossing performance conveying great passion and drive. The triumphal aspect of a monarchical system is totally lost to our generation and considered anathema by most intellectuals. The enunciation of the texts is nothing short of spectacular, neither rigorous nor forced, but delivered with scintillating power. From the entry Marche of the musicians and singers into the Versailles Chapel to the final strains of Chapter 8, Anonymous, Gaudete et exultate, this is a performance listeners will treasure for years.

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It has to be remembered that Louis’ coronation came on the heels of a civil war, called The Fronde, where many of the leading nobles tried to overthrow the absolute monarchy. The English next door also had a Civil War, and King Charles I lost not only the struggle, but his head, in 1649. The glory, pomp and joy of these magnificent compositions express in no small measure a celebration of victory over chaos and discord. It would take another 140 years to sweep away both the monarchy and the aristocratic world with the French Revolution of 1789. The fact that Louis XIV’s “Sacre” music has laid on library shelves to date, is a clear indication of the power the French Revolution still holds even today when it comes to kings and their culture. The French have an ambivalence towards these royal personalities and milieu as a nation. The Sacre of Louis XVI by court composer François Giroust is still all but ignored, and the ceremonies of the accession and death of Louis XV are still awaiting revival. It is interesting that the younger generation of French early music conductors have taken up the challenge. Recently, the Ensemble Pygmalion directed by Raphaël Pichon released a DVD on The Funeral of Louis XIV (Harmonia Mundi, 2018)

This DVD reveals one of the lost high points of French civilization. Kudos to Daucé and his prodigious team of artists for inspired research in uncovering these musical treasures that for the most part have laid hidden for over 350 years. Daucé’s intensity and commitment to these works is written all over his shining gaze in the film. The excitement generated by this video verges on euphoria, something rare in this anxious and jaded time. Daucé transmits this passion to the artists clearly. The project harkens back to a time of hope of new beginnings, in a young king starting his reign, in what would be a long and rich cultural time for the nation of the Franks.


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