Le Guerre des Te Deum

Esprit-Joseph-Antoine Blanchard & Francois Colin de Blamont
Le Guerre des Te Deum
Chœur Marguerite Louise, Ensemble Stradivaria, Daniel Cuiller
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS007. 66’38

This recording reflects an extraordinary incident that took place in Paris on 12 May 1745. Following the victory of Louis XV at the Battle of Fontenoy, part of the War of the Austrian Succession the day before, a ceremonial Te Deum was to be sung at the Queen’s Mass in the Royal Chapel in Versailles. The composer Esprit-Joseph-Antoine Blanchard, assistant Master of the Royal Chapel, had one that had been performed the year before. He rededicated it as the Cantique d’action de grâces pour les conquêtes de Louis XV and issued the scores to the musicians. Just as the Queen took her place in the Chapel, the composer Francois Colin came rushing in and tried to replace the scores with a Te Deum of his own. He was the Superintendant de la Musique de la Chambre and Maître de la Chapelle Royale and according to tradition, the Te Deum should have been his responsibility. Too late to stop the performance of Blanchard’s version, Blamont enlisted help from the battlefield where the Duc de Richelieu, who wrote on behalf of the King, expressing his strong disapproval. Shortly afterwards, Blamont’s Te Deum was performed at another Mass, officially in a ‘King’s Mass, although the Louis XV was still on the battlefield. Blanchard’s Te Deum was officially withdrawn from Court celebrations. 

Only some of this information is included in the sparse programme notes for the CD, which gives a brief (and badly translated) background to the War of the Te Deums, but no other information about the music itself or the composers. They do include promotional material for Versailles, and its opera house, promotors of the CD and some rather inappropriate praise from the CD note-writer for the performers on the recording. François Colin was the older of the two by six years (1690-1760) and five years later was ennobled as Colin de Blamont. He was born in Versailles and was a pupil of the famed organist and composer Delalande, his predecessor as Maître de la Chapelle Royale. Blanchard was born in the south of France (1696-1770). The CD gives his Te Deum first. It is in 12 sections, with Colin’s following.

Highlights of the Blanchard version are the Pleni sunt cæli et terra with some excellent singing from one of the two haute-contre singers, including some proper trills. The following section has some agile singing from two sopranos. The penultimate Dignare Domine includes passages for two flutes before the final In Te Domine speravi, in the form of a short Introduction and Fugue. Blamont’s has 14 sections and is rather more dramatic with several sequences of grand choruses. There is a fine trio at Te gloriosus Apostolorum with the better of the two haute-contres, dessus and basse-taille and a flute solo in the Tu Rex gloriae. Both pieces use the ‘non‘ in the concluding non confundar to emphatic effect.

By its very nature, the music is inevitably rather bombastic in style, but nonetheless reflects the style of French music of the period. You can play through tiny extracts here. It is a live recording from the Chapel in Versailles, but that is not evident in the recording. I would imagine that the original performances would have used the organ of the chapel, although for the recording a rather ineffectual chamber organ is used, with the musicians on the floor of the chapel, rather than arranged around the organ on its gallery, as would probably have been the case. The singing and playing are fine, with the director Daniel Cuiller balancing the bombast with the more intimate moments well.