Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed six Te Deums, although only four of them have survived. Largely because of the great popularity of its prelude, the best known is the Te Deum in D major, H. 146, written as a grand motet for soloists, choir, and instrumental accompaniment probably between 1688 and 1698, during Charpentier's stay at the Jesuit Church of Saint-Louis in Paris, where he held the position of musical director.
It is thought that the composition was performed to mark the victory celebrations and the Battle of Steinkirk in August, 1692.
The composition consists of the following parts:
Charpentier considered the key D-major as "bright and very warlike"; indeed D-major was regarded as the "key of glory" in Baroque music. The instrumental introduction, composed in the form of rondo, precedes the first verset, led by the bass soloist. The choir and other soloists join gradually. Charpentier apparently intended to orchestrate the work according to the traditional exegesis of the Latin text. The choir thus predominates in the first part (verset 1-10, praise of God, heavenly dimension), and individual soloists in the second part (verset 11-20, Christological section, secular dimension). In subsequent versets, nos. 21-25, both soloists and choir alternate, and the final verset is a large-scale fugue written for choir, with a short trio for soloists in the middle.
The composition is scored for five soloists (SSATB) and choir (SATB), accompanied with an instrumental ensemble of 2 nonspecified recorders or flutes, 2 oboes, trumpet, low trumpet and timpani (playing the same part), 2 violins, 2 violas ("haute-contres de violon" and "tailles de violon") and basso continuo.
Typical continuo instruments used in French baroque music are "basses de violon" (a cello-like, large scaled instrument often replaced by cellos in modern performances), organ, harpsichord, theorbo, bass viol and bassoon. Furthermore, serpents were frequently used to double the bass line of vocal choirs in 17th century France.
The orchestral tutti is mostly constricted to 4 parts (all high wind instruments and violins playing the same line), while the vocal soloist sections make use of a lighter three-part instrumental texture including 2 flutes and basso continuo as well as 2 violins and basso continuo.
After the work's rediscovery in 1953 by French musicologist Carl de Nys, the instrumental prelude, Marche en rondeau, was chosen in 1954 as the theme music preceding the broadcasts of the European Broadcasting Union. After over sixty years of use notably before EBU programs such as the popular Eurovision Song Contest and Jeux Sans Frontières, the prelude, as arranged by Guy Lambert and directed by Louis Martini, has become Charpentier's best-known work.
The prelude was used for the introduction of the Olympiad films by Bud Greenspan.
The prelude was briefly played during King Richard's coronation in the 1995 film Richard III.