Servants and Singers

Deep inside the Hôtel de Guise and its three chapels were a host of valets and chambermaids to serve the needs of their aristocratic protector. The Hôtel was different, however, because a select group of these domestic servants were also expected to perform music. An elite section was given, along with food and accommodation, music lessons at the expense of Mlle de Guise. They then became part of the “Great Guise Music”, performing concerts and music for the Hôtel’s chapel services along with their daily duties.

 

We know all this because in lots of his compositions from the time, Charpentier wrote the names of the performers. Comparison with the household records shows us who they were. For example, there was Elisabeth Thorin, a chambermaid and “soprano, occasionally treble”. She’s listed as the soprano in the Litanies de la Vierge that we’re performing on 29.09. Charpentier also performed this piece himself; shown by the marking “Charp” on the haute contre line. It’s not often modern performers can have such a direct link back to the very first time the piece was performed.