Nicolas Bernier

Little is known of the early life of Nicolas Bernier (1665 - 1734); at some time he studied in Italy, and was a pupil of Caldara. Returning to France, he established a reputation quite soon, for although he was unsuccessful in his bid for the post of maître de musique at Rouen cathedral in 1693, he won that position at Chartres the next year. In 1698 he was appointed to the prestigious Parisian position of maître at St Germain l'Auxerrois, the parish church of the Louvre. His big break came in 1704 when he succeeded Charpentier as maître at the Sainte-Chapelle, the chapel of the old royal palace in the Cité. This was the second most important musical post after that of sous-maître at the Chapelle Royale at Versailles. Then in 1724 the post at Versailles, where Lalande had reigned supreme for 9 years, was divided once more between four musicians; Lalande himself and three others, to wit Bernier and his friends Campra and Gervais. As well as the French cantatas, Bernier wrote many motets for small ensembles of voices and instruments, as well as Grands Motets for the larger resources of Versailles, as Lalande had done before him.

Bernier was among the first to write French cantatas, together with Morin, Stuck ("Batistin") and Campra. Bernier's earliest published cantatas appeared in Paris in or soon after 1703, and may have been the first to appear in print.


Ber 1

Diane et Endimion

Cantata for soprano (c'-a''), bass (G-e'),and continuo

Price: £ 7.90

This work is in the second of four volumes, which is entitled Cantates Françoises / ou / Musique de Chambre/ A Voix Seule/ Et a deux /Avec/ Symphonie et sans Symphonie/ Avec la Basse Continue.

The text is by Louis Fuzelier. He was later to become famous as the author of a large number of plays (opéras comiques), many of them parodies of well known operas. He wrote the libretto for Rameau's opéra-ballet Les Indes Galantes.

Diane et Endimion is, as we might expect therefore, a tongue-in-cheek account of the well-known Greek myth. Endymion, a mortal, became the secret lover of the moon-goddess. He complains that she is only with him at night and he is jealous of the other gods; she upbraids him for ingratitude, considering how devoted she is (she bore him 40 daughters). He concedes that true love admits of no suspicions, and they conclude with an invocation to the goddess of love. The text may be lightweight, but the music is worthy of a composer of whom David Tunley says "Bernier holds an important place among those who wrote cantatas in France in the eighteenth century. He was one of the first and most successful in this field".

Cover image: download
Sample page: download
Ber 2

Motet pour La Sainte Vierge

for bass (F-e'),and continuo 

Price: £ 5.90

In 1703, Bernier published his first book of motets for 1, 2, and 3 voices, and in 1713 his second book. A collection of motets was published posthumously in 1741. Some motets also survive in manuscript, in collections by several composers. The present work is taken from such a collection in a manuscript volume (Music Library, University of California, Berkeley, Manuscript MS 773), containing 19 motets ascribed to Bernier.

Alma redemptoris mater is one of the four antiphons of the Blessed Virgin Mary, sung at the end of Compline. Its origin is unknown, but the plainsong melody associated with it has formed the basis for numerous compositions in the medieval and renaissance periods. By the time of Bernier, settings of the Alma redemptoris mater were commonly performed as separate motets.

Cover image: download
Sample page: download
Ber 3

Medée

Cantata

Edited by Derek Harrison

for soprano (d'-g''#), violin/flute & bc

Price: £ 8.70

The cantata draws on the legend of Jason (who led the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece) who was married to the sorceress Medea (Medée) - the couple had two children. However, Jason subsequently planned to marry the princess Glauce (though here, the name of Creusa is used which appeared in the Latin forms of the story).  Creusa was the daughter of King Creon. 

The words love and vengeance appear many times in this text as the essence is about Medea’s feelings for Jason.  In the middle of the story, Medea appears to apologise to Jason for her outrage and asks their children to take two wedding presents to Creusa.  However, the robe is poisoned and as a result both Creusa and King Creon are killed.  Medea then kills the children as a further way to hurt Jason.

Cover image: download
Sample page: download
Ber 4

Le Caffé

Edited by Cedric Lee

cantata for soprano, violin/flute, and continuo

Price: £ 8.90

Le Caffé is taken from the third volume of cantatas, whose texts are by Louis Fuzelier, a writer who became famous as the author of many works for the theatre

This work shares with J S Bach's "Coffee cantata" the distinction of being the only such works on the comtemporary craze for coffee.

However, whereas Bach's grumpy old Schlendrian strongly disapproves of coffee, Bernier's singer extols its virtues with passion.

Cover image: download
Sample page: download