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Claude LE JEUNE (c1530 - 1600): "Motets pour le culte catholique et Psaumes protestants"

Les Pages et les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles
Dir: Olivier Schneebeli

rec: Feb & March 2002, Paris, Hôpital Notre-Dame de Bon Secours
Alpha - 616 (R) (© 2002/2020) (58'47")
Liner-notes: E/F; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Adjuro vos filiae Hierusalem; Deum celebrate vocantes; Dieu, nous te loüons; Louë tous ce Dieu qui est dous; Magnificat; Muze honorons; O seigneur, j'espars; Quant pour Egipte éloigner; Tristitia obsedit me

[solo] Claire Lefilliâtre, dessus; Damien Guillon, Bruno Le Levreur, bas-dessus; Jean-François Lombard, haute-contre; Bernard Arrieta, bass
Jean Tubéry, cornett; Bernard Fourtet, serpent; Serge Guillou, sackbut; Sylvia Abramowicz, viola da gamba; Manuel de Grange, lute; Benjamin Perrot, archlute; Frédéric Desenclos, organ; Jean Chamboux, percussion

Claude Le Jeune was one of the most prominent composers in France in the second half of the 16th century. He enjoyed the protection of aristocrats and of King Henri IV which made him survive the many trials and tribulations of his time, which were caused by the religious conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism. Le Jeune was a Huguenot by conviction and probably wrote a 'confession of faith' in which he rejected the doctrines of the Catholic Church. In September 1600 he was buried in the Protestant cemetery of La Trinité in Paris.

His oeuvre is typical of the time: like several composers in Germany, which was divided between Luther and the church of Rome, Lejeune composed music for both confessions. It includes a mass (a second mass is of doubtful authenticity) and a number of motets for the Catholic liturgy. The texts are not of a specific Catholic content, and that made it easier for Lejeune to write them, without compomising his religious convictions. The programme recorded by Olivier Schneebeli, comprises several psalm settings and some pieces in Latin, which may have been intended for special occasions.

The programme opens with such a piece, but in this case not with a Latin text, but in French. Muze honorons was published in 1594 and may have been written at the occasion of the coronation of Henri IV. The Magnificat was probably written for the same occasion: it is known that the day after Henri's coronation a Magnificat was performed, and that may well have been this work. It is an alternatim setting, in which the verses are alternately performed in plainchant and in polyphony; the latter varies from four to seven parts.

The motet Adjuro vos filiæ Hierusalem is notable for its scoring for eight voices, which was rather rare at the time in France. However, Lejeune does not strictly follow the rules of the cori spezzati technique, as now and then one or two voices from one choir move to the other side. The text is from the Song of Songs and has the character of a dialogue. This work may have been intended for a wedding. Very different, both in content and in structure, is Tristitia obsedit me, in which Lejeune uses the setting of the words "In te Domine speravi" from a motet by the Flemish composer Lupus Hellinck, and uses it as a cantus firmus. The text of the other voices is a meditation on Psalm 30, which open with the text "In Domine speravi", and was written by Savonarola, the Dominican monk who was executed in 1498.

The remaining works are psalm settings on French texts. These are not based on the Genevan psalter, as many of Lejeune's settings. They are rather connected to another genre in Lejeune's oeuvre, known as vers mesurés. This refers to a style of poetry, firstly written by Jean-Antoine de Baïf, member of a group of poets known as the Pléiade, and the founder of the Académie de Poésie et de Musique. "Baïf attempted to apply the quantitative principles of Greek and Latin poetry to the French language, by its nature accentual, and worked out an accentual version of classical metres – hexameters, Sapphic strophes, and so on – by equating long with accented syllables and short with unaccented syllables." (New Grove) Several composers followed his ideals, and Le Jeune was one of them. In his settings of poems he strictly follows the metre of the verse, sets long syllables to a minim and short syllables to a crotchet. In order to ensure that the text is intelligible the settings are syllabic and mostly homophonic. The four psalms included here are perfect specimens of this style. Three of them - Quand pour Egipte éloigner, Louë tous ce Dieu qui est dous and Deum celebrate vocantes (which has a French text, despite its Latin title) - are on texts by De Baïf. The second is another piece for double choir. The fourth, O seigneur, j'espars, is a setting of a text by the protestant poet and friend of Lejeune, Agrippa d'Aubigné, who also wrote the text of Dieu, nous te loüons, the French version of the Te Deum.

This is a most interesting disc which sheds light on the oeuvre of a composer who was quite important in his time, but in our time does not receive the attention he deserves. The French psalm settings are particularly notable as they connect sacred music to the ideals of the Pléiade. They may have been written for the above-mentioned Académie, "which leads us to believe that the meetings of the Académie could also take a religious turn", according to the liner-notes. The performances are very good, but raise some questions. One may wonder why instruments are used. Were these involved in performances in the Académie? One would rather expect such performances to have a more intimate character, probably closer to domestic than public performances. In some items even percussion is used. Moreover, if the ideal of the Pléiade was that the text was clearly intelligible, one may wonder whether the participation of a cornett - adding diminutions to the melodic lines to boot - and sackbuts would not compromise that ideal. I am also not sure whether a pretty large ensemble is the most appropriate in those pieces.

That said, I am very happy that this disc, which was recorded twenty years ago and escaped my attention when it was first released, is available again. As is so often the case with reissues, the lyrics are omitted, and that is very regrettable. I don't know if they were included in the original release. That seems very likely, and that would be a good argument to look for that edition.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Les Pages et les Chantres de CMBV

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