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<<  -- 3 --  Wilfrid Mellers    SECOND SIGHT


Why this 'works', in the sense that for the time being it convinces, is revealed in the second work on the disc: the famous Miserere that Lully composed - we don't know why - quite early in his dazzling career, in 1664. The words, in the Latin Vulgate of the Psalms, implore God to have pity on us miserable offenders - a theme apparently at odds with the court's habitual vainglory [listen - track 7, 1:02-2:25]. Lully scored it modestly for double chorus and strings, with no tootling trumpets or bellicose drums; and its harmonic polyphony, sometimes densely contrapuntal for both strings and voices, along with the writing for an ensemble of solo voices that forms an elite within the corporate Whole, makes it Lully's most tragically truthful work.

It deeply moved Mme de Sevigné, who was no fool; and it still moves us today. Of course the familiar, wonderful words imbue it with a measure of universality: which is not to be found in the third piece on the disc, the motet Plaude laetare Gallia, the text of which was written by one of Lully's opera librettists. The motet was designed for performance at Low Mass in the Chapel Royal, in a 'French' style intended to palliate the hegemony of Roman liturgical practice. The cheery charm it disseminates [listen - track 12, 0:00-0:57] may be more typical of routine court church music than either the patent eupepticism of the Te Deum or the latent tragedy of the Miserere. In all three works Le Concert Spirituel, under Hervé Niquet, capture to perfection both the surface grace of Plaude laetara Gallia and, throughout the Miserere and fleetingly in the Te Deum, the innermost heart of the music which exists, as do we in our vastly different but no less power-ridden society, in volatile present moments against a backcloth of history. There's a piquant irony in the fact that Lully, the grand Master of Music, accidentally killed himself by crushing a foot (which went gangrenous) under a truncheon-baton with which he was establishing temporal Order in his Te Deum. One may have too much of a thing, even Order. I suppose that, compared with the pampered denizens of Louis XIV's court, we know very little about either order or hedonism, and have no notion at all of the depths that may underly hedonism - or, for that matter, of the heights that may occasionally crown it.


Copyright © 30 September 2000 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK







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