Feste de ruel



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MARC-ANTOINE CHARPENTIER AND THE “FESTE DE RUEL” (1685)

During the course of the month of August 1685, Armand-Jean du Plessis de Vignerot, duc de Richelieu, brought especial attention to his chateau and gardens at Rueil. All had been recently embellished. The Duke followed closely the preparations of his gardeners, his cooks, his poet friends, the sculpteur Sieur Gobert, and Sieur Charpentier, composer of divertissements. A “feste” was announced to inaugurate the model of an equestrian statue of the Sun King. To receive the King at one’s home, toward the end of the Ancien Regime, was an “honneur”, a “generosite”, that several great lords craved—such as the Chatelain de Rueil, or the rich financiers and ministers such as Nicolas Foucquet. During the summer of 1685, the great lords competed in fact with the ministers, each trying to honor the monarch:

Depuis que Mess. De Louvois et de Seignelay ont régalé le Roy et toute la Maison Royale de France, toute la cour a este toutes les semaines en divertissements. Chacun en veut avoir cet honneur, M. le Duc d’Orléans fit dimanche un grand Régal à St. Cloud, où il donna l’opéra, l’on dit que M. le Duc de Richelieu doit aussi faire un superbe Régal à Ruel, et M. le Cardinal de Bouillon à Pontoise.

Like the fete, the statue of the King was incorporated into a climate of emulation, even of rivalry. Each of the grand provincial cities tried to erect a statue of the King. That of Caen would soon be inaugurated. A private individual also made this generous gesture: the Duc de la Feuillade offered Louis XIV a grandiose statue, as well as its surroundings—the new Place des Victoires in Paris—for which the inauguration was set for February 1686. Everything happened as if the Duc de Richelieu wished to pre-empt la Feuillade, in order to be the first private individual sing Armand Cardinal de Richelieu to offer a statue to his King. By a happy coincidence, the centenary of the birth of the Cardinal was to take place in September 1685. Thus the Duc decided to honor his King with a statue and a reception, and to evoke the shadow of his illustrious great-uncle, whose anniversary would serve to forget his preventions for his rival La Feuillade.

The Chatelain de Rueil has however, to attain his goal, to overcome several great obstacles. This being done at the last minute, he could only offer the monarch a plaster model, put up in the gardens of Rueil—while his rival had already erected in the Parisian locale a marble statue, that he had just offered Louis XIV for Versailles and that he replaced by a pedestrian statue in bronze. Moreover, the Duc found himself without liquid funds. Whereas he has inherited the Chateau de Rueil, he also inherited the debts of his great-uncle, whose estate was still not settled. To these vast summer was added the considerable gambling debts accumulated by the Duc himself. The Chatelain de Rueil seems in effect to have taken a gamble toward the end of 1684 when he decided himself to erect an effigy of the monarch, and to offer it to the King BEFORE the fete of the Place des Victoires, and to give a “superbe regale” to the King and his court. Thanks to this largesse, he would have every chance to be overwhelmed with gratifications by a thankful King, and protected by this monarch from his creditors, who were becoming increasingly impatient. The expenses for this statue, for the embellishment of the chateau and the park, and for the fete itself seem to have compelled him, in February 1685, to sell for 350,000 livres the post of Chevalier de la Dauphine, that Louis XIV had offered him in 1680. If this is indeed the case, the Duc returned to the King this gift, in the form of a fete!

Richelieu could only offer the Sun King a plaster model, but he had a large trump to which his rival could not call on: history. When it was a matter of presenting a statue to the King, the Aubusson de la Feuillade’s were neophytes. On the other hand, in 1639 Cardinal Richelieu offered Louis XIII the equestrian statue of the Place Royale. A century after the birth of the Cardinal, the Duc de Richelieu will therefore stress the ties between his family and the monarchy. The names of the three Louis’s and the two Armands will appear in the inscription on the pedestal of the statue:

[inscription] . . . .

To remain faithful to the taste of his illustrious forebear, the Duc declared himself in favor of an equestrian statue. The Mercure galant informs us that this work is nevertheless of great originality:

There is […] a thing to mention in this Equestrian Figure, which is of excessive weight; it is that the horse is not resting but on the two back legs and the front legs are in the air, and by a surprising invention of the sculpteur, the balance is so true that with a single finger on can make it move. One cannot see this fine work without giving Mr. Gobert, who is the creator, the praises that he deserves.

This high-society periodical also allows for a glimpse the spirit of rivalry that spurs on the Duc de Richelieu: he wishes to surpass the statue of the Place Royale erected by his grand-uncle:

The King is mounted on a horse, which surpasses in the opinion of the most learned in all its proportions and in its action that of the Pont-Neuf, and that of the Place Royale. Even though it is but a model, one can imagine what it will be when cast in bronze, as Mr. the Duc de Richelieu plans to have done.

The Mercure, which seems to derive information provided by the Duc’s circle, makes a discreet allusion to the critics of the monument that la Feuillade was preparing to inaugurate. Viewed from the side, the pedestrian statue of the Place des Victoires did not lack majesty, said its critics; but from the other side of the place, on sees only the back of la Victoire and the pompous royal cloak of the Sun King. According to the Mercure, Sieur Gobert’s work is the first to have avoided this snag:

Regarding what had not yet been seen but in this Figure, is that from whatever side one views it, one recognizes the grandeur of His Majesty and what he represents.

For the “Fete de Ruel” the Duc asked Marc-Antoine Charpentier, composer to Mlle de Guise, to write a pastorale en musique. In deciding on Charpentier, the Duc was taking into account the old ties of fidelity between Richelieu and the parents of the composer. A connection spun in the course of the 1630s seems to explain the patronage of 1685, which favored this protégé of the House of Guise and Orleans over the composers in favor at Versailles. Thus, a work of Marc-Antoine Charpentier would be performed in the gardens of Rueil, where once stolled the great Armand, the faithful Denis Charpentier, his secretary, the devoted Hubert Charpentier, founder of the calvary of Mont-Valerien and Jacques Charpentier, secretary of Alphonse de Richelieu, Cardinal of Lyon. Now, the family ties connected Hubert and Jacques to the grandfather of Marc-Antoine. Was the Guise composer also a cousin of Denis? Most likely, given that the brother of Marc-Antoine was called Armand-Jean, as the Duc and as the son of Denis Charpentier, secretary of the Cardinal de Richelieu. These two first-names raise the possibility of a “spiritual family connection” between the Richelieus and the family of the composer, a “relationship” through which the youngest son of a modest master writer would have had as godfather either the Duc de Richelieu himself, or the son of his faithful secretary.



The autograph manuscript of the musical divertissement composed by Marc-Antoine Charpentier allows a sketch of the outlines of the grand fete that Armand-Jean du Plessis de Vignerot offered to the King. As many divertissements of the time, it would have been at night. In the light of candles, torches, and oil lamps, the guests would have strolled on the new terrace of black and white marble, or else danced, played, and enjoyed a collation in the different “rooms of hedges” hidden in the gardens that surrounded the chateau.



If this fete was modeled after those invented by Lully and offered to the court by Louis XIV, the illuminations and a musical backdrop would suddenly attract the attention of the guests and entice them to come to the gardens.

In the light of oil lamps discretely hidden in the shrubs, they would pass along the “Cardinals Alley”—an evocation of the great Armand and his brother Alphonse—to come to the grotto, transformed into a theater, above which they would perceive the veiled statue.

When night gave way to dawn, the musicians would emerge from the grotto to present the principal divertissement of this nocturnal fete. The prologue of the pastorale—of which the words were evidently the work of a friend of the Duc—begins with a reference to the sun with rises over the hill. The shepherds then praise the Sun King, who has vanquished the enemies of France and thus gives peace to the French. In truth, the amorous battles preoccupy these shepherds more than the peace enjoyed by the kingdom. The lovely Iris, who loves “de ces jardins l’éternelle verdure, l’orgueil de ces fontaines qui s’élancent vers les cieux et retombent après,” refuses her heart to the handsome shepherd Tircis. This eulogy to the gardens of Rueil finishes, and Pan arrives to speak as a historian:

J’ay veu plus de cinquante Rois, grand Monarque,


Et de leurs exploits je garde la mémoire ;
Mais je n’en vis jamais qui fut autant que toy
Maître de la victoire
Ny plus amoureux de la paix.
Tes exploits sont si glorieux
Qu’Armand auroit peine à le croire.
Son ombre se plaint en ces lieux,
Que la mort ait fermé ses yeux
Sans qu’il ayt joüy de ta gloire.

Pan the historian finishes his eulogy by several allusions to the “aigle rampant” and to the “lion terrassé par la foudre” of Louis XIV—images which connect the monarch of the cardinal while evoking the engraving of Jean Ganière, Allégorie à la gloire de Richelieu, where « the Lion of Spain, and the Eagle of the Empire tremble Under RICHELIEU, who keeps them in chains. » These same images are incorporated in the sonnet of Michel Le Clerc of the Academie francaise, « written in golden letters » on the pedestal of the statue. The divertissement ends with a praise to the « immortal glory of Louis…the god of Peace, and the God of War .»

Charpentier also set to music « La France au Roy, » a poem written by a « person of quality » from the entourage of the Duc.

A Ta haute Valeur quel Heros peut atteindre?


Ta Piété fait voir de grandes actions.
Monarque tout parfait, tu nas plus rien à craindre,
Ny de tes Ennemis, ny de tes passions.

This air, composed on a mode “joful and warlike” and which contrasts strongly with the mode “magnificent and joyous” of the pastorale, was it to be performed at the moment when the rising sun—or its pretence created by fireworks—illuminated the statue inder the admiring gaze of the Sun King?

Louis XIV could scarcely have been unaware of these preparations, for the court, itself, was aware. For example, the Marquis de Dangeau formed part of a group of courtiers who, on 26 August, went “to dine at Rueil where M. le duc de Richelieu showed us the model of an equestrian statue of the King that he was going to have cast in bronze.” Given that the annual stay of the court at Chambord and at Fontainebleau habitually began at the end of September, the Duc would count on a minimum of three weeks to put into place the grand plaster model and to dedicate it to the King during his superb “Feste de Ruel”.

But suddenly, on 3 September, Louis XIV departed for Maintenon to see the work on his aqueduct. From there, he returned to Chambord, without passing by Versailles. The court soon followed, to return only on 14 November. Thus the King was absent before the statue was put in place at Rueil, apparently to not seem to prefer Richelieu to la Feuillade. The Mercure gallant informs us that:

[Le duc de Richelieu] s’attendoit d’avoir l’honneur de recevoir le Roy à Ruel ; mais comme le plus agréable Regale de cette Feste devoit estre la Representation de ce grand Prince , et qu’il falloit du temps pour transporter et mettre en estat une Figure d’un caractère le plus extraordinaire qui ait jamais este, le départ de Sa Majesté pour Chambor, a rompu toutes les mesures de ce Duc.

The Duc seems to have understood the gesture of his sovereign. A great gambler, he knew how to lose without showing his chagrin. The model finally in place, he invited during the month of September “several persons of quality” and offered them on of these dinners for which he was famous, followed perhaps by a “great game” of cards. In other words, he received them during the day, for at the time “dinner” was the meal of mid-day. Charpentier’s divertissement, with its dawn and its sunrise, was it sung before these “persons of quality”? Or else did the unfortunate Duc dismiss the musicians and did not see them address their praises to a plaster sculpture? The description of this day published in the Mercure gallant made no mention of a divertissement en musique and insists on the fact that “all measures” of the Duc had been “broken”, and that this madrigal had been “attached to the door that led to the grotto on which this Sculpture was erected”:

O Vous, qu’un désir curieux
Amène dans ces Lieux
Qui délassoient Armand de ses profondes veilles ;
Apprenez en voyant de si rares merveilles,
Que si LOUIS LE GRAND charme vostre regard
Par son admirable Figure,
Un Chef-d’œuvre de la Nature,
Ne demandoit pas moins qu’un Chef-d’œuvre de l’Art.

This poster, which evokes the shade of Armand and borrows several images from the praises of Pan, di dit replace this sung discourse ? During the dinner who replaced this fete « rompue », the author of the livret had he sung to the health of the King, having first recited the new verses of his invention to which he had incorporated several verses (put here in italics) previously granted to Pan ?

La Nimphe de Ruel au Roy
Ton Esprit qui rien ne limite,
Fait honneur à la Royauté,
Et tu ne vois que ton merite
Au dessus de ta Dignité.
Tes Exploits sont si glorieux
Qu’Armand auroit peine à les croire,
Son Ombre se plaint en ces lieux
Que la mort ait fermé ses yeux
Sans quù’il ait joüy de ta gloire.

Thus the Duc de la Feuillade prevailed over his rival. But his victory of the Place des Victoires on 28 March 1686 was not total: for reasons of health, the King had to be replaced at the last minute by the Dauphin. As for the Duc de Richelieu, he was not entirely the loser in the grand game that was the “Fete de Ruel”. He had engaged great sums, but the money put into play to pay for this superb festival was “found money”, the profit taken from a gift offered by the Kind. And, if he “broke” the fete, Louis XIV did not forget the gesture of the Chatelain de Rueil. Dogged by his creditors, the Duc will be protected by the crown during six years and succeeded to conserve Rueil for the son so long expected, born in 1696. Renouncing the casting of his statue in bronze, the Duc left the plaster model to slowly deteriorate, in his gardens less-and-less maintained. Two years after the failed fete, Nicomède Tessin wrote :



The château is old and of little consequence ; … there is at the back of the grotto a model of an equestrian statue of the king, of bronze plaster; … at the front before the grotto there is a water piece, surrounded by numerous fountains and cascades, which are however a little ruined. The grand cascade at the end of the alley was very good, even though it is no longer in its prime.

Observations on Charpentier’s music:



Charpentier’s score calls for a large instrumental ensemble: 5 part strings, flûtes allemandes (transverse flutes), flûtes douces (recorders), petites flûtes, oboes, bassoons, and harpsichord. There are numerous dances calling for different kinds of bucolic characters (pâtres, paysannes, égyptiennes, shepherds, shepherdesses, satyres) performed by somewhere between 6-12 dancers. The vocal roles consist of Iris (soprano), a pâtre (baritone), an égyptienne (soprano), Tircis (haute-contre), Pan (bass), and a 4-part chorus of dessus (at least 3 singers), haute-contre (at least 2 singers), taille (at least 2 singers), bass (at least 2 singers). Whereas there are specific performance indications throughout the score, there are no proper names that would point to a specific performance. The numerous mistakes in the score, specifically missing accidentals, also suggest that this score was not used in a performance.

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