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A Real Golden Oldie

Three hundred years is a long time to wait for a CD release party.   But we recently helped a UW grad student make what is believed to be the first-ever recording of a French baroque masterpiece thought written sometime around 1687.

The Te Deum by the 17th-Century French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier was performed Oct. 26, 2004, by the University of Washington Recital Chorus, under the direction of Jason Allen Anderson.

Anderson, a UW graduate student, restored the neglected work as part of his doctoral thesis in choral conducting. The piece, whose full title is “Te Deum in C Major for Four Voices and Continuo” had languished in manuscript form for more than three centuries.

The performance, as part of an Evensong service at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Issaquah, is believed to be the first performance of the 12-minute work outside France, and the first ever recorded. A Te Deum, the first words of which mean literally, “You, God” is a Latin hymn of praise, traditionally sung at coronations and other occasions for celebration.

Jason Anderson (center) and the UW Recital Chorus

A devotee of French baroque choral music, Anderson wanted to perform something by Charpentier to mark the 300th anniversary of the composer’s death.

“Most musicians know Charpentier's Messe de Minuit (Christmas Eve Mass),” said the conductor. “Fewer know of his large-scale Te Deum for orchestra, soloists, and chorus. Neither of these were particularly suitable for my recital. This led me to see what other settings of the Te Deum Charpentier composed.”

A stroke of luck -- grant funds that allowed the UW Music library to purchase facsimile volumes of all of Charpentier’s work -- led Anderson to the unheralded Te Deum in C, which turned out to be perfect for the 20-member UW Recital Chorus.

Chinook Wind Recording was chosen because of our expertise in live, on-location recording.  The Charpentier recording was engineered by the firm’s owner, Kerry Webster.

“I had four machines running, just in case one failed,” he said. “Afterwards, I had to fight the urge to take the digital tape and lock it away in a vault.”

That, ironically, is where most of Charpentier’s works remain. Once a favorite of the French royalty and musical collaborator with the dramatist Moliére, Marc-Antoine Charpentier wrote over 400 masses, operas, oratorios and other works, but after he died in 1704, the manuscripts were locked up in the Biblotheque National, and only a few works remained in the common repertoire.

The volumes acquired by UW arrived only in August, so Anderson had to work fast.

“The complete works are facsimiles of manuscripts, with irregular clefs and an unrealized figured bass line,” he said. “This necessitated that I complete a modern edition of the work, realize the figured bass, and prepare chorus and continuo parts. I finished this project in late September only one week prior to my first rehearsal.”

The compact disc resulting from the Issaquah performance was produced privately for members of St. Michael and All Angels Church, where Anderson is choir director.