- Nicolas Bernier Motet
The work of the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles (CMBV) has, in recent years, led to an important expansion and improvement in the availability of reliable editions of the works produced by the grand motet composers. The grand motet, the most important sacred form in France from the beginning of the reign of Louis XIV until the time of the French Revolution, has seen relatively few performances in the United States in the last half century, but an increasing number of performances and recordings, centered mostly in Europe, are leading to increased awareness of the importance and beauty of these works. Grands motets survive from about eighty composers of those who contributed to the genre over its 130-year history, and of those composers about two dozen can be listed as the leading figures, including most of the composers who served in the Royal Chapel as did Nicolas Bernier. The catalog of the CMBV now includes grands motets in full score by most of these leading figures, including Jean Veillot, Michel-Richard de Lalande, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, André Campra, and others. Bernier was recognized more than a half-century ago as an important historical figure when Philip Francis Nelson prepared a dissertation on the composer in the 1950s ("Nicolas Bernier, 1665–1734: A Study of the Composer and His Sacred Works" [Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, 1958]). Nevertheless, despite Bernier's importance, until recently there were virtually no good [End Page 417] editions of his grands motets available. Performers and scholars will be pleased to find that the catalog of the CMBV now includes three works, including the most recent addition, Bernier's Benedic anima mea Domino.
Nicolas Bernier (1665–1734) distinguished himself as a composer, clavecinist, theoretician, and pedagogue. He held great respect as a musician, and became perhaps the most distinguished teacher identified with the second generation of grand motet composers. Bernier is thought to have received his training in his hometown of Mantes-la-Jolie, about thirty miles downstream from Paris, and at the cathedral of Évreux, after which he studied in Rome with Caldara. He then successively served as maître de musique at the cathedral of Chartres (1694–98), and at Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois (1698–1704) before accepting a post at Ste Chapelle in Paris (1704–26), where he succeeded Marc-Antoine Charpentier. In 1723 he was appointed to serve the Royal Chapel at Versailles, a post he held for the rest of his life. Bernier may be viewed as a progressive force in French music, one that forged a good balance of French and Italian elements in his works. He probably became most famous for his secular cantatas and petits motets that became available in print, but eleven grands motets survive. At least nine others have been lost.
The score available for purchase from the CMBV for i17 is a study score not suited for performance. The page measures 24 cm x 19 cm, and as a result the musical notation is too small for use in performance; indeed, reading this score at the keyboard also poses a challenge. Performance materials are available from the CMBV, but to learn this one must go to the CMBV Web site ("http://www.cmbv.fr"). Conductor score, instrumental parts, and choir scores with continuo are available for hire.
We do not know when Bernier composed his Benedic anima mea Domino. It is among the shortest of his grand motets; there are five numbered movements, one of which, the fourth, appears in the original manuscript in a different copying hand along with the notation "Récit adjoutté que l'on peut dire si l'on veut" (Récit added that may be performed if one wants). Evidently this motet was performed at times with just four movements...