Program: Marc-Antoine Charpentier Nativity Pastorale

"A marvel of ease, balance, and brilliance…such ravishing music deserves a like performance, and got one" San Francisco Classical Voice Review of Magnificat's 2005 performance of Charpentier's Nativity Pastorale.

One of Magnificat's most popular and often-revived programs, combines the music Charpentier wrote for the Hôtel de Guise Christmas celebrations from 1684 to 1686 with arrangments of traditional French noëls. A lush alternative to more familiar Christmas season fare, this program requires six singers and eight instrumentalists.

The Nativity Pastorale is one of Charpentier's most brilliant and varied works, containing dialogues, ensembles, instrumental dances, and exquisite choral writing; but the unifying force throughout is the composer's extreme sensitivity to the text and his technical mastery and imagination in setting it.

Listen to an except from a live Magnificat performance of the second scene of Charpentier's Nativity Pastorale:

Charpentier - Regnez


The influence of Carissimi can be heard in the strong characterization given to the old shepherd, and in the dramatic dialogue between the angel and the shepherds. At other moments in the piece Charpentier's inclination toward classical French symetry is clearly felt. The composer's mastery of vocal and instrumental writing is evident throughout; chromaticism and dissonance alternate with the gaiety of dance forms to express the Advent themes of darkness and light, depair and hope.

Listen to an excerpt from a live performance of the final chorus of Charpentier's Nativity Pastorale:

Charpentier - source de Lumiere


Magnificat's program integrates several of Charpentier's arrangements of French noëls into the Nativity Pastorale. Beginning in the mid-sixteenth century, the words for these simple songs were published in inexpensive, sloppily produced editions called bibles de noelz, and were circulated throughout the provinces by colporteurs or itinerant peddlars and booksellers. Contemporary writers describe these Bibles being found on the hearth in every peasant cottage: greasy, yellowed, and dog-eared. The melodies were pre-existing, anonymous, orally-transmitted vaudevilles. Charpentier shared his contemporaries's love for these humble songs; without doubt he, like Frenchmen of all classes, had sung them all his life. It isn't surprising then that the Pastorale is imbued with the same peculiar sense of realism combined with piety that one finds in the noëls, nor that certain images from the noëls find their way into the more refined work - for example, the warming breath of the innocent animals, concern for cold weather, and the sense of rustic festivity. 

Listen to the Noël: Ou s'en vont ces gais bergers? in a live performance by Magnificat:

Noël: Ou s'en vont ces gais bergers?


free music download from Magnificat

free music download from Magnificat

free music download from Magnificat




Download Program with Notes and Translations (PDF)