Jesuits arrived in Peking in 1589. Surprisingly quite a lot
is known about the form of services and music used during the
17th and 18th centuries at the Jesuit
mission. Like many of the Catholic Church's foreign missions,
an attempt was made to include music using the words and musical
styles of the local population.
1779 Father Joseph-Marie Amiot sent four books of manuscript
music to the French King's Librarian. Amiot had probably had
the books written by a Chinese scholar. The music is notated
twice, once in Western musical notation and the other in Chinese.
The first three books contain pieces written for the entertainment
of the Manchu court but the fourth book comprises thirteen canticles
set to Chinese music. Amiot wrote that these prayers were sung
by the Neophytes during the office on days of great solemnity.
is these canticles which form the back-bone of this reconstruction
of a Jesuit mass from Peking. The mass setting used is by the
Jesuit Charles d'Ambleville, taken from a pair of substantial
books published in the 17th century. These contained
all the psalms, hymns and antiphons required by the liturgy
and each finished with a mass. The music is relatively straightforward,
much of it suitable for amateurs. Probably the Jesuits financed
the publication so that the music could be used in their Missions.
Chinese music of these canticles is reminiscent of Kungqu classical
opera and so the performers have used this as the inspiration
for the instrumentation on the disc. The canticles are sung
in Chinese with some of the Latin words transcribed.
performance on this disc is based around the ensemble XVII-21
Musique des Lumières directed by Jean-Christophe Frisch. The
ensemble includes four singers: Bruno Boterf (tenor), Pierre
Sciama (counter-tenor), Christophe Einhorn (tenor), Philippe
Cantor (baritone) all of whom sing in the Latin pieces on the
Chinese pieces are sung by the choir of the Chinese Catholic
Centre in Paris and accompanied by the Ensemble Meihua Fleur
de Prunus. The result is convincing and fascinating as it mixes
Western and Eastern styles and orchestrations. The Western music
is attractive but not overly complex and, having no really strong
personality of its own, works well as a foil for the Chinese
to the performances I was aware that in the Chinese sections
the choir sounds a little underpowered with the balance favouring
the instruments. This may be deliberate but I would have preferred
the voices to predominate. At times the high voices from the
Chinese choir sound a little weak and I wished that a stronger
group of performers could have been found.
performance of the mass and the Latin motets is idiomatic and
well presented; the four male voices have strong personalities
and sometimes individual voices can dominate, but the results
are always musical.
overall effect of this disc is fascinating. It reveals to us
the extent to which the Catholic Missions would incorporate
the music of the local population in a bid to getting them involved.
This also entailed much liturgy and music in the vernacular
at a time when this would have been frowned upon in Europe.
disc is not strictly a mass reconstruction, but intersperses
Chinese canticles within the structure of the sung ordinary
of the mass. A pair of sonatas by the Lazarist missionary Teodorico
Pedrini are also included as surviving written sources talk
about instrumental sonatas being played during the services.
CD booklet contains excellent articles on the music performed
and the performance decisions made by the ensembles. There are
no sung texts.
disc is not perfect, but it mixes scholarship with charm and
intelligence in a way which illuminates a forgotten corner of
Sino-European musical cross-fertilization.