Faà di Bruno, Giovanni Matteo [Horatio, Orazio] 83

France. Country in Europe

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France. Country in Europe.

I. Art music

II. Traditional music



I. Art music

1. The Middle Ages.

2. The 16th century.

3. The 17th and 18th centuries.

4. The 19th century.

5. The 20th century.


France, §I: Art music

1. The Middle Ages.

At the end of the 9th century, after the decline of Gallican chant, France was divided both linguistically and on the question of musical notation: the area in which the langue d’Oc was spoken used Aquitanian notation, while further north the notations of Brittany and Lorraine were employed (see Notation, §III, 1). So a Romanized liturgy was imposed, with the aim of standardizing the heterogeneous usages of Provence, Aquitaine and Burgundy. Based at the cathedrals, clerics and scholares united under the same rule to ensure the provision of singers for the Offices of the church and liturgical chant; choir schools were attached to these centres. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the focal point of the Carolingian renaissance shifted from Tours to Reims, together with the Capetian kings who regarded themselves as heirs to the Empire. Aquitaine resisted this pressure: south of the Loire there was unwillingness to accept Carolingian dominance, the episcopal schools and the merging of spiritual and temporal influences: and something of its regional character, and of the courtly art cultivated there, persisted in this area (see also Troubadours, trouvères). Territorial unity would stem from the Ile-de-France, where the monarchy, the episcopal schools and the University gradually imposed their cultural model on the whole country.

(i) The ecclesiastical maîtrises.

The origin of these choir schools (also known as psallettes) remains rather obscure. Initially young clerics received their training in the episcopal schools, where they were educated not only in chant and the liturgy but also in the liberal arts, including sacred and secular literature. They then took minor orders, eventually becoming priests and canons. During the 11th and 12th centuries groups specifically concerned with the performance of chant became progressively more distinct as the repertory itself grew richer; these groups were the responsibility of the chapters of cathedrals or collegiate churches. The two oldest institutions that seem to have acquired autonomy in this way, with one of two specialist maîtres directing them, are Chartres Cathedral in 1119 (by a papal bull of Calixtus II) and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1127. However, there is some doubt about the exact nature of these foundations, especially as the establishment of maîtrises in France, in the form they were to retain until the Revolution, did not begin before the 14th century. According to recent research, the foundation of maîtrises is shown by the records as follows:

The immediately striking feature of this distribution is the almost total absence of choir schools in the south of the country. The number of choirboys varied from four to eight, depending on the chapter’s resources, and they would live in a community under the control of a master appointed by the chapter. The foundation of a maîtrise was almost always made possible by the allocation or assignment of prebends of canonries by the pope or the king. The appointment of not only a maître de musique but also a maître de grammaire, thus ensuring that the boys received a general education, varied from place to place (as did the organization of the maîtrises and their role in the wider community). At Chartres, for instance, the maître de grammaire was in charge of the maîtrise until the 16th century, when the maître de musique took over responsibility for the management of the school. A group of trained adult choristers, who had often taken minor orders, assisted the choirboys in providing music for the office. Certain benefices were reserved for these choristers, and depending on the area they might be described as clercs de matines (Notre Dame, Paris), petits and grands vicaires (Cambrai), chapelains-chantres (Langres), heuriers-matiniers (Chartres), or cantoreaux (Toulouse). While the maîtres de musique were always clerics at this period, organists enjoyed a more independent position in the maîtrises.

In addition to the cathedral and collegiate churches the saintes-chapelles enjoyed a special standing. They were exempt from ecclesiastical jurisdiction and were under the direct protection of the king or one of the great princes, but their choir schools were organized in exactly the same way as those of the cathedrals or collegiate churches. They comprised the Ste-Chapelle du Palais in Paris, founded by St Louis, which had six choirboys in 1305 and was directed by a cantor from 1319; the Ste-Chapelle of Bourges founded by Jean, Duke of Berry in 1405, also with six choirboys, in which composers such as Grenon, Basiron and Fedé held the post of maître; and the Ste-Chapelle of Dijon founded by Philippe ‘the Good’ (1396–1467) in 1425 with four choirboys.

These maîtrises soon constituted a network extending over the whole country. They not only provided music for the liturgical offices but also encouraged the teaching of plainchant, and subsequently of polyphony and composition. A musician’s compositional talents became a major factor in his appointment as a maître; it was his task to compose original works for solemn feasts and other important occasions. Some maîtrises acquired a special reputation for composition, including Cambrai, with Guillaume Du Fay as master, and Chartres (with Mureau, Antoine Brumel and Fresneau), Orléans (Johannes Tinctoris) and Laon (Grenon). There were many exchanges with the chapels of the princely courts; the best cantors of Philippe ‘the Good’, Duke of Burgundy, came from the Ste-Chapelle and Notre-Dame in Paris as well as Cambrai. The maîtrises also took part in mystery and morality plays (see Medieval drama) and even (outside the liturgical context) in farces, despite repeated prohibitions issued by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In 1465, for instance, the synod of Troyes banned the Feast of Fools, which was actually held inside churches at Epiphany and gave the choirboys a chance to let off steam. However, it continued to be held in many places well beyond the Middle Ages.

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