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17.6.15

Recreating the Funeral Ceremony of Louis XIV

Louis XIV died 300 years ago, in 1715, and the Festival de Saint-Denis in the basilique des rois, where he and the other members of the French royal family were buried, marked the anniversary with a concert on June 8. This being France, where most people still hate the Bourbons, the royal funeral ceremony was recalled in a sort of theatrical way. One satirical epitaph from around the time of Louis XIV's death reads, "Ci-gît au milieu de l’église/Celui qui nous mit en chemise/Et s’il eût plus longtemps vécu/Il nous eût fait montrer le cul" (Here lies, in the middle of the church, / The one who took the shirt off our backs / And if he had lived any longer / He would have stripped our ass). Marie-Aude Roux has a review (De nouvelles funérailles pour le Roi-Soleil, June 17) for Le Monde (my translation):
No fewer than three organizations collaborated to produced this spectacle, in the form of a musico-theatrical cenotaph: the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, the Festival de Saint-Denis, and the Théâtre Gérard Philipe from Saint-Denis, with its new music-loving director, Jean Bellorini. Something like a pseudo-ritual, the theatrical presentation, elaborated with the help of Mathieu Coblentz, stuffed the music with royal funeral addresses taken from the funeral oration for Louis XIV, hagiography, and epitaphs, but also Biblical and philosophical texts from Job and Bossuet. Actors Sophie Botte and Samuel Glaumé, perched on a sort of funeral bier-stage, pedaled around on a bike trailer, shared a family meal, or lay down face up, like sarcophagus sculptures, on a bed draped with funeral shrouds. [...]

The unusual arrangement of the seats, lengthwise along the nave in two blocs facing each other, somewhat disoriented the audience. A long procession of men (the vocal ensemble Vox Cantoris) entered singing a plainchant responsory in use in the French court. Time came to a halt. Amassed on a riser at the entrance of the church, the musicians of the Chœur de chambre de Namur, La Cappella Mediterranea, and the Orchestre Millenium waited their turn: the magnificent funeral march from Lully's Alceste, conducted flamboyantly by Leonardo Garcia Alarcon.
Other musical selections included the Missa pro defunctis by Charles d’Helfer (1598-1661), music often performed in the Chapelle Royale and required for royal funerals at Saint-Denis until the end of the Ancien Régime, and some appropriate grands motets by Lully. Hopefully, a video or audio stream will become available.

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