Three Women

Histoires Sacrées


Staging Vincent Huguet


Charpentier’s sacred stories comprise a set of works that stands apart from the rest of this output. Although the strikingly beautiful scores have been preserved, it is unclear where and how they were performed. They can be regarded as brief sacred operas, or as offshoots of medieval mystery plays insofar as they tell a story. Judith, Mary Magdalene, Caecilia: their names evoke biblical episodes and mythical realms. Their exemplary tales and remote existences are distilled in Charpentier’s music to express a range of sentiments that still seem intact. At a time when society has witnessed the martyr-figure brutally and durably returning to the forefront in face of widespread incomprehension, at a time when passions and tensions have been intensifying for the sake of religion, Judith the heroic widow, Mary Magdalene the penitent, and Cecilia the convert can step down from their alcoves and altarpieces in order to let us see and hear the force of their experience.

The sacred stories constitute an exception in the landscape of baroque music: inspired by Roman music, they resemble mini-operas in how they enact edifying stories culled from the bible or from the lives of the saints. Seeing as these works were meant to take place outside of church services, were they ever actually performed? Several clues lead us to deduce that they were, although no formal context has yet been identified. The aim of these sacred stories was to spiritually enlighten those who had the rare opportunity of being present: it was therefore necessary to select figures whose history resonated with the audience. Everything about the music conjures the theater: the use of characters and a narrator, the tensions that arise among them, the opposition of the group. Far from seeking to create a historical reconstruction, Charpentier’s Histoires Sacrées are ultimately about the representation of the sacred.

Concert available in scenic version – staging Vincent Huguet

To be released for Harmonia Mundi in November 2018


Marc-Antoine Charpentier
O Sacramentum H.274
Judith sive Bethulia H.391
In Odorem Unguentorum H.51
Magdalena Lugens H.343
Caecilia Virgo et Martyr H.397
Sub tuum Praesidium H.28

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