Youth Motets

Michel-Richard de Lalande


After Lully’s sparkling career at the Court of the Sun King, 1687 marked a major turning point for the music of the French court. Lully had just died, leaving behind him fervent admirers and fascinated disciples: the Florentine monopoly on French music would paralyse musical life, especially opera for many years. Although he was under the spell of Lully’s music, Louis XIV did not totally give in to the monopolistic demands of his composer. Thus, in 1683, the king himself introduced a competition to recruit new musicians for his chapel: the most brilliant composers in the kingdom participated (including Marc-Antoine Charpentier). The king decides: “It is Lalande that I choose”. Thus, the young Michel-Richard Delalande, 26 years old, son of a tailor trained at the mastery of St Germain l’Auxerrois, takes his place in the middle of this musical world of the court, with the blessing of Lully. Over the years, after Lully’s death, he gained even more the esteem of Louis XIV, eventually obtaining all the responsibilities for the court’s music.

During the first years of his career in Versailles, he constituted a repertoire of great motets that would become models for Europe, but also favourite successes of the king and the court: born within the very institutional framework and very richly endowed with the royal chapel, these works would also be a great success with the public, since they would appear on the programme of the Concert spirituel, a private concert organisation in Paris, for many years. Thus born in the royal bosom, these works have known a posterity and success generating a significant economic life for decades after the composer’s death in 1726. After his death, his widow obtained a royal privilege from Louis XV to edit all the motets. Their success also goes beyond borders: they are played and adored throughout Europe.

In parallel with this opulent music born under the gilded gildings of the court, Lalande also distinguished itself in another context, much less known, and much less fortunate: that of the convents. The great aristocrats who protect these religious houses mobilize renowned artists such as Lalande, but also Clérambault and Jean Racine, by asking them for artistic contributions that will give these institutions a special lustre, without necessarily being able to pay them as they do at court. The figure of Madame de Maintenon and her foundation in St Cyr for the education of poor young girls of the nobility is a famous example. The Canticle on the Happiness of the Righteous and the Misfortune of the Wrong is typical of music reserved for these religious houses dedicated to the education of young girls. The simplicity of the music and the means used are in stark contrast to the court’s large motets: thus, without money, without professional performers, but with the simple voices of young girls, the resulting sound image also shows Lalande’s ability to touch souls through a stripping that the court does not know her.

If his great motets quickly became models for the other composers of the kingdom, always anxious to be connected to the tastes of the court, none of them had such means. Only the major Parisian parishes and a few cathedrals offer sufficient resources, often in an exceptional way for such music. Thus Sébastien de Brossard, famous musician of the century of Louis XIV and collector of genius (he was responsible for safeguarding the manuscripts of Charpentier in particular), composed large motets as part of his duties at the cathedral of Strasbourg, largely imitating the Versailles models. However, the number of staff and the resources at his disposal had nothing to do with those of Versailles. The fascination of all these musicians active in the provinces of the kingdom, often led them to push back the limits imposed by the canons to compose and obtain the manpower to play in a very occasional way large motets, bringing the air of the court in the middle of the incense of their provincial cathedral.

If today, the scores are not so visually different (they only rarely note the numbers), they are nevertheless totally different contexts of representation, underpinned by an economy ranging from the most extreme simplicity for convents to the most impressive splendour for the court. Between these two extremes, the passion of some musicians allowed them to create beyond the financial limits imposed by their superiors, making them feel behind each note a desire to surpass themselves and a communicative fervour! Music no longer obeys finance: it transcends it!


Michel-Richard de Lalande

Dies Irae

Veni Creator

Cantique sur le bonheur des Justes et le malheur des réprouvés

5e suite pour les couchers du Roy

Dies Irae 

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Réalisation Yourra!


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