Digital resources for French Romantic music

Mass for Napoleon’s coronation (Giovanni Paisiello)




Kyrie – Gloria – Credo – Sanctus – Agnus Dei – Domine salvum


Bonaparte had brought back from his Mediterranean conquests a particular fondness for Italian music, so it is not surprising that he entrusted the direction of his musical chapel to the Neapolitan Giovanni Paisiello, from whom he also commissioned the music for his coronation, scheduled for 2 December 1804. The work (supplemented with a Te Deum also by Paisiello) takes the form of a solemn mass in B flat major that avoids thunderous pomp in favour of acrobatic arabesques for the many soloists, imparting a festive, serene mood to the ceremony. Paisiello even nods at the Empress Josephine in the Credo’s Et incarnatus est: the dialogue between the concertante harp and the orchestra’s first horn alludes to the instruments that the new Empress liked to hear in the intimacy of her salons. However, Paisiello did not attend the coronation: at the end of August 1804, he left the direction of the First Consul's Chapel to move to Naples and gave up his position to Jean-François Le Sueur. Le Sueur was therefore in charge of the musical direction of the sumptuous ceremony at Notre-Dame of Paris, which brought together more than three hundred musicians. Although the work was composed for one chorus and one orchestra, the huge number of musicians led Paisiello to divide the musicians into two choruses and two orchestras, distributed in the transepts. Some ten soloists, grouped on either side of the nave, shared the vocal lines written by the composer. The greatest artists of the time were present, including Mesdames Branchu, Armand, Pelet, and Lelong, the tenor Lays and the bass Nourrit.

    Person - 1
  • PAISIELLO, Giovanni (1740-1816)
  • Themes - 2
  • Genre – La musique sacrée au XIXe siècle
  • Napoleon and music