Composed in the 1690s while Charpentier worked at the Église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis in Paris (above), the Messe minuit de Noël is based on 11 French noëls—popular monophonic songs associated with Christmas—which are used as the structural basis of several sections of the Mass, and are integrated alongside newly composed musical material.
Several of the eleven noëls are themselves derived from secular chansons and are linked to Renaissance and early-Baroque dances, especially the branle, the basse danse, and the menuet. The rhythmic organization of the noël-based sections of the Mass reflects the roots of each noël in dance.
Interestingly, this type of rhythmic organization often conflicts with the metrical organization implied by the time signature. Charpentier’s Mass is fascinating due to the distinction and the interaction between the borrowed non-metrical noëls and his newly composed music, and the competing layers of stress and accent that emerge in performance.
This according to “Dance rhythms in Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Messe minuit de Noël” by Steven Grives (Choral journal XLIX/6 [December 2008] pp. 36–44).
Below, the Deutsch-Französischer Chor Dresden performs the work.
Photograph of the Église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis 2013 by Zinneke.