Composed in 1694, the Midnight Mass for Christmas by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1634-1704) includes tunes from eleven French carols. Conductor John Bawden explains:
In England carols were more often sung than played, but in France noëls figured prominently in the substantial French organ repertoire. The liturgy of Midnight Mass permitted the singing and playing of these Christmas folksongs, and by Charpentier’s time quite complex instrumental arrangements were commonplace. However, Charpentier’s idea of basing a whole mass on these songs was completely original. Altogether there are eleven noëls, most of which are dance-like in character, reflecting the carol’s secular origins. In addition to the carol melodies that he adapted to fit various parts of the mass text, Charpentier also composed new material, such as the slow sections ‘Et in terra pax’ at the beginning of the Gloria and ‘Et incarnatus est’ in the Credo. It says much for the composer’s craftsmanship that these quite different idioms are so seamlessly and convincingly blended together.
The Mass is performed here by Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, conductor.