France has not won Eurovision since 1977 (Marie Myriam), despite Barbara Pravi’s very good second place last year, but it is at the top of the program every year… A literal first place since the credits of the he show, the call sign of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) which organizes the show, is the work of a French Baroque composer: Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
The European Broadcasting Union, created in 1950 to bring together broadcasters from across Western Europe, chose the prelude to its Te Deum (H 146) to identify its programmes. This organization will then give birth to the network… Eurovision, which marks a big blow for its birth with the first event to be broadcast live on a global scale, on June 2, 1953: the coronation of Elizabeth II.
The occasion of a first broadcast, before an event rich in baroque music, for this callsign. Which will soon be resumed when, in the excitement of European construction, the leaders of the European Broadcasting Union imagine a meeting to exalt fraternity between peoples. Inspired by the Italian Festival of San Remo, it will be the Eurovision Song Contest, the first edition of which takes place on May 24, 1956.
This sound credits still frames the other events broadcast by the network today, such as the New Year’s concert in Vienna. This famous prelude to the Te Deum also serves as the anthem of the Six Nations rugby tournament.
Several reasons led to the choice of these eight measures as a sound identity. First Marc-Antoine Charpentier is French, so from one of the founding countries, his music has the advantage of having fallen into the public domain for a long time and it is in tune with the times. Indeed, after having completely disappeared after his death in 1704, the composer benefited in the 1950s from the growing interest in Baroque music.
In January 1953, a brand new French record company, Erato, published the recording of a then totally unknown work, unearthed by the religious and musicologist Carl de Nys with the Orchester de chambre des concerts Pasdeloup under the direction of Louis Martini : Charpentier’s Te Deum.
Triumphant trumpets and dazzling cymbals, the disc is a success and its prelude all in fanfare and splendor will know thanks to television an eternal posterity, eclipsing the work, the life and often the name of its author.
But at this time, another musician of Italian origin reigned supreme on the French artistic scene: Jean-Baptiste Lully, superintendent of music to King Louis XIV and master of music to the royal family. In 1672, he obtained a royal privilege which forbade “to cause any whole piece to be sung in France, whether in French verse or other languages, without the written permission of the said Sieur Lully, under penalty of ten thousand pounds fine, and confiscation theaters, machines, decorations, clothes…” These restrictions caused his falling out with Molière, pushing the playwright to seek a new composer in the person of… Marc-Antoine Charpentier. The two men will collaborate in particular on the musical parts of the Imaginary Invalid.
The death of the royal composer in 1687 allowed Charpentier to consider composing for a wider circle than that of private performances. In 1690, he created an opera: Médée, for the Royal Academy of Music at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, to a libretto by Thomas Corneille (Pierre’s younger brother), but the failure of this lyrical tragedy convinced the composer to devoted to sacred music until his death on February 24, 1704.
A prolific composer with a very wide range of registers, Charpentier composed a considerable body of work, part of which was lost, the fault of a work that was mostly handwritten and little published during his lifetime. It is assumed, for example, that he composed six Te Deums, but we know of only four, including the famous H. 146, which celebrates a victory without knowing precisely the occasion of its composition. Taking the form of a grand motet, it was written between 1688 and 1698, when Charpentier was master of music at the Jesuit church of Saint-Louis.
Since its revival as Eurovision credits, Charpentier’s prelude has undergone various orchestrations and attempts at modernization, some of them rather outrageous. The latest version has returned to more classicism (strings, flutes, oboes, trumpets, timpani), all in solemnity and a little kitsch joy, a perfect image of the competition it frames. On Saturday evening, you are therefore sure to hear at least one musical masterpiece of French Baroque. France, 12 points.
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