1. Part One

  2. Part Two

  3. Part Three


Part One

Invention of a grandiose musical genre


What is a motet exactly?

It is a piece of religious music lasting between 15 and 30 minutes written for vocal soloists, a choir and small orchestra (called a symphonie). It is usually based on a psalm or hymn like the Magnificat or Te Deum.

The creators of the grand motet


Henry du Mont

Born near Liege in 1610, Henry du Mont was trained at Maastricht Basilica choir school. After several years teaching composition he became Queen Marie-Thérèse’s organist in 1660, the year of the royal wedding. Three years later he held one of the four music master posts at the Royal Chapel. With his colleague Pierre Robert he directed the court’s religious music till 1683. He died the following year.


“I like this gentleman Monsieur Du Mont – he is without affectation.”

Jean-Baptiste Lully

The Superintendent clearly appreciated his colleague’s music and personality

Pierre Robert

Pierre Robert’s date of birth remains uncertain (circa 1618, probably 1622). He studied at the Notre-Dame choir school in Paris and became the cathedral’s master of music in 1653. Ten years later Louis XIV appointed him and Henry Du Mont as music masters for the Royal Chapel. He died in 1699.

Pierre Robert directing the Pages choir

Pierre Robert directing the Pages choir

the only officially recognised portrait of the musician

Lully style motets as source of inspiration

The grand motet owes much to the foremost musician during the reign of Louis XIV, namely Jean-Baptiste Lully. Although he was never music master for the Royal Chapel he left twelve grands motets written for grand occasions (weddings, baptisms, military victories, etc.) whose magnificence and sense of grandeur made a profound impression on both King and court.

Françoise de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné

Françoise de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné


”Everyone’s eyes brimmed with tears. I cannot believe that there is any other music in Heaven.”

La Marquise de Sévigné

on hearing Lully’s Miserere at court in 1664

Find out more

Composing music for a children’s choir and baroque instruments is not a forgotten art, as proven by composer Philippe Hersant who wrote his mysterious "Cantique des trois enfants dans la fournaise" in 2015.


Part Two

Recipe to glorify the King


The new David

The grand motet was seen as an instrument of power, the musical symbol of a very devout King. In the rooms at Versailles, paintings and sculptures likened Louis XIV to Apollo, God of the Sun, or even Jupiter, King of the Gods. In the Royal Chapel he is equated with the biblical King David – the great warrior devoted to music.

Louis XIV praying

Louis XIV praying

“Louis XIV so loved church ceremonies that he was delighted to see them regularly performed in his chapel at all the year’s major liturgical events.”

Find out more

The ‘very pious’ King of France had a special relationship with God. For Louis XIV religion was a political instrument. Interview with Alexandre Maral, head curator at the Palace of Versailles.


Part Three

The five-voice choir


Olivier Schneebeli

A King-sized choir

The five-voice choir was typically French and made for the King’s grands motets. It was admired by visitors and officials from abroad when they visited Versailles. Presentations with choirmaster Olivier Schneebeli, music director of the CMBV choir Les Pages & Les Chantres.

The Chorists

The Chorists

"Pages" (choirboys), followed by "Chantres" (adult male singers)

The distinctive qualities of this typically French choir lie in the variety and richness of the voices, notably in the upper parts.

Find out more

The Royal Chapel choir included castrati. Louis XIV prohibited the operation in France, considering it barbaric, although he readily had castrati recruited from Italy for his music and, notably, for the Royal Chapel. These male voices were greatly sought after and extremely popular at court across Europe.