Now that the Charpentier revival has brought him into the early music mainstream it is baffling to consider just how soon this master composer’s music and reputation was consigned to oblivion. Yet, despite decades of rehabilitation and research, so many details of Charpentier’s life remains sketchy.

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We know of his early study in Rome with Carissimi whose oratorio and cantata style is most evident in his Histoire Sacrée but the young composer could hardly fail to be impressed by the Italian polychoral style then in full swing. Sung masses were out of fashion at Louis XIV’s court yet Charpentier eventually composed 11 masses of startling variety and originality.

Written soon after his return from Rome, the 16-voice Messe à Quatre Chœurs is a...