A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Maîtrise
MAÎTRISE, a term formerly applied in France both to the quarters assigned in cathedrals and collegiate churches to the choristers and their master, and to the institution itself, which originally included a complete education, lay and ecclesiastical. These schools turned out many great men, several rising to be bishops and popes; among the latter Pope Urban IV, a cobbler's son, whose early years were passed in the 'Psallette' at Troyes. Some centuries later, when the Maîtrises had undergone great changes, they were still the only establishments in which even secular musicians could obtain their training. From the Maîtrises the Church obtained choristers, organists, and maîtres de chapelle, and the world its favourite composers. Here also, although instrumental music was neglected, and dramatic music positively forbidden, the regimental bands found their bassoon-players, and the lyric theatres their 'clavecinistes-accompagnateurs,' cellists, and singers.
A complete account of the Maîtrises would involve a review of the whole history of music anterior to the French Revolution, so we must be content with specifying a few of the masters, composers, choristers, and organists who have reflected honour on these ancient institutions. They were real schools of music, the pupils being maintained at the cost of the chapters. Indeed they much resembled the Conservatories of Italy, both in their mode of administration, and in the course of instruction given. They were not however all organised alike, but varied with local circumstances. Thus in some the boys, the master, and the priests, lived in common, in others separately; in some the maintenance of the children was in the hands of the master, in others there was a regular purveyor. But in all the main end was the study of music. Before the Revolution there were in France 400 Maîtrises and choirs, with as many maîtres de chapelle, maintained either by the chapters of cathedrals and collegiate churches, the curés, or the monasteries. Each Maîtrise contained on an average from 25 to 30 persons, and the musicians thus diffused throughout the country numbered in all about 10,000, of whom 4,000 were pupils or choristers. There was naturally much rivalry among the different establishments, which was of great benefit to music. To show how great and widely spread was their influence we may name a few of the principal musicians and composers who owed their education and their very varied styles to this one capacious source, before the establishment of opera in France:—Eustache du Caurroy, Intermet, and Claudin (Claude de Sermisy), who flourished under Henri IV; Veillot, maître of Notre Dame; Hautcousteau, maître of the Sainte Chapelle; Péchon, maítre of St. Germain; Frémart, Cosset, Gobert, Boesset, Moulinier, and Michel Lambert, all contemporaries of Chanoine Annibal Gantez, whose 'Entretien des musiciens' (Auxerre, 1643, small 12mo. very scarce) contains curious, and not very edifying details of the lives of the maîtres de chapelle of his day. Then, with the use of opera, came Cambert, Campra, and Gilles, a pupil of Poitevin, and composer of a celebrated 'messe des morts' performed at the funeral of Rameau, Bernier, a learned contrapuntist, Rameau himself, Gauzargues, and others of less note. Among organists—Marchand, the Couperins, Daquin, who threatened to be a formidable rival to Handel and Rameau, Balbâtre, Charpentier, Séjan, and Boëly. Among composers—Lalande, Montéclair, Blanchard, Mondonville, Floquet, Philidor, Gossec, Grétry, Champein, Méhul, Lesueur, Gaveaux, Boieldieu, and Felicien David. Among singers, Jélyotte, Legros, Larrivée, Lays, and Rousseau, whose voices were first heard in the service of the Church, afterwards delighted the habitués of the opera.The Maîtrises, though suppressed in 1791, were afterwards reconstituted, on a different footing. The Conservatoire national de musique is now the great nursery of French musicians, but many a church has still its Maîtrise, where the choristers—boys and men—are trained by a maître de chapelle in everything necessary to insure a good execution of plain-song and sacred music. We have already spoken of Choron's school of music (Choron), still in existence as the 'Ecole Niedermeyer.' Niedermeyer and D'Ortigue also founded a periodical called 'La Maîtrise' specially devoted to sacred music. It survived only four years, but to it we refer the reader for further details. Besides work already mentioned, another book, also published in 1643 by Jean de Bordenave, a Canon of Béarn, 'L'Estat des églises collégiales et cathédrales,' contains much information, though impaired by its want of method and arrangement.
[ G. C. ]