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Clément JANEQUIN & Claude LE JEUNE: Chansons

[I] Claude LE JEUNE (1528/30 - 1600): "Le Printemps"
Ensemble Gilles Binchois
Dir: Dominique Vellard
rec: Sept 10 - 13, 2019, Hattestatt, Église Sainte-Colombe
Evidence - EVCD069 (© 2020) (64'14")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Amour, quand fus-ne né? (XXXIX); Brunelette, joliette (IX); Ces amoureus n'ont que douleur et tourment (XXXIV); Francine, Rôzine (XI); Je l'ay, je l'ay la belle fleur (XIV); La béle gloire, le bél honeur doner (XXXVIII); Le bel' aronde (III); Mes yeus ne cesseront i' point (XV); O Rôze, reyne des fleurs (X); Perdre le sens devant vous (XIX); Première fantaisie à 4; Quiconq' l'amour noma l'amour (XXV); Voicy le verd et beau may (VIII); Clément JANEQUIN (1485-1558) / Claude LE JEUNE: Le chant de Rossignol (XII)

Lisa Magrini, Anne-Marie Lablaude, soprano; Dina König, contralto; Vincent Lievre-Picard, Dominique Vellard, Giacomo Schiavo, tenor; Cyril Costanzo, bass; Claire Piganiol, harp; Julian Behr, lute; Catalina Vicens, spinet

[II] "Amours et Mars - Claude le Jeune & Clément Janequin"
Dir: Jean-Christophe Groffe
rec: Feb 2002, Neustadt-Mandelsloh, Kirche St. Osdag
Coviello Classics - COV 91908 (© 2019) (58'33")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

anon: Pavane La Bataille; Pierre ATTAINGNANT (1494-1552): Prélude; Pierre GUÉDRON (1570-1620): Puisque les ans n'ont qu'un printemps; Clément JANEQUIN: Au joly jeu de pousse avant; J'ay dict, j'ay faict; Ô mal d'aymer; Clément JANEQUIN / Claude LE JEUNE: Le chant de l'Alouette; Le chant de Rossignol; Claude LE JEUNE: Arm', arm' - La guerre; Fuyons tous d'amour le jeu; Ô voix, ô de nos voix; Première Fantaisie; Nicolas VALLET (1583-1642): Est-ce Mars - Courante de Mars

Anne Dufresne, soprano; Julien Freimuth, Lior Leibovici, haute-contre; Breno Quinderé, tenor; Ivo Haun, tenor, lute, percussion; Jean-Christophe Groffe, bass; Alexandra Polin, Elizabeth Rumsey, Tore Eketorp, viola da gamba; Ziv Braha, Ryosuke Sakamoto, viola da gamba, lute

scores Clément Janequin
scores Claude Le Jeune

French music of the 16th century is not badly represented on disc, but seems to be a little overshadowed by what was written at the other side of the Alps. If I look at the number of discs that have crossed my path over the last forty years or so, those with Italian repertoire outnumber by far those which include French music of the same period. The two composers who take central stage on the discs under review here - Clément Janequin and Claude Le Jeune - are the best-known of that period. The former has become especially famous for his chansons, in which he vividly illustrates the text, such as La guerre, La chasse and Le chant des oiseaux. Le Jeune's most famous compositions are the chansons which were published posthumously under the title of Le Printems. The 20th-century French composer Olivier Messiaen considered this collection one of the greatest masterpieces in the whole history of music, Dominique Vellard and Anne-Marie Lablaude write in their liner-notes to the recording of the Ensemble Gilles Binchois.

Claude Le Jeune was one of the most prominent composers in France in the second half of the 16th century. He was born in Valenciennes, then part of the Imperial Low Countries, where he also may have received his first musical education. Otherwise nothing is known about his formative years. In 1552 four chansons from his pen were included in anthologies which were published in Leuven. 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.

There have been speculations that Le Jeune may have travelled to Italy in the early stages of his career, but there is no documentary evidence of this. Even so, he must have been well aware of what was written in Italy at the time. The Ensemble Gilles Binchois interestingly closes its programme with Le Jeune's arrangement of a madrigal in the form of a dialogue by Willaert: Amour, quand fus-tu né?. It is notable that this piece is scored for seven voices, whereas most chansons of this collection are for 3 and 5 or 4 and 6 voices respectively.

And with that we are at two of the special features of Le Printems. First, strictly speaking the word 'chanson' does not apply to most of the pieces in this collection. Most of them - 33 of the 39, to be precise - are so-called airs mesurés. This refers to a style of poetry, known as vers mesurés, firstly written by Jean-Antoine de Baïf, member of a group of poets known as the Pléiade. "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. With the aim of avoiding any monotony, Le Jeune differentiates the scoring from three to five or from four to six voices. That happens, for instance, with the refrains in a number of pieces. Voicy le verd et beau may is a good example. It is scored for four voices, and every stanza is followed by a refrain (rechant) which is performed twice: first by four voices, and then by six. Something comparable happens in La bèle gloire, le bél honeur donner. The chant comprises two lines for four voices; some are followed by a rechant for four voices, others by a reprise (on the same text) for six voices.

Le chant du Rossignol is different from all the other pieces. It has no refrain, and comprises six stanzas. The first three are by Clément Janequin, scored for four voices, to which Le Jeune has added a fifth of his own. He also added three further stanzas, again for five voices. The performance adds some variety to that which Le Jeune himself realized. Some pieces are performed a cappella, others with the participation of instruments. In some the stanzas are performed by a solo voice, and the refrains by the entire ensemble. This way the performers underline the connection with the air de cour of the 17th century, as is pointed out in the liner-notes: "Not only did Claude Le Jeune ennoble the air mesuré but he opened the way to this new musical genre in which Guédron and Boësset were to excel: this is witnessed in the stability of the highest and lowest voices - dessu and bassus - in the different adjustments that Le Jeune made to his own compositions. In fact, when accompanied by a lute - or any other plucked instrument - his airs mesurés sound just like airs de cour."

For those who are not familiar with the music of Le Jeune, this disc offers an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with his oeuvre. Those who have one or more recordings in their collection should add this one, as it has something special about it, as I have tried to explain. The singing is excellent, and the way the music is performed, offers a maximum of variety. The blending of the voices is immaculate, and the text is always clearly intelligible. The booklet includes the lyrics with an English translation, which makes it possible to understand how the ideals of Baïf and his followers work out in musical settings. The instruments add some extra colour, but never obscure the vocal lines. They also play one of the few instrumental works that Le Jeune has left.

The ensemble thélème brings Le Jeune and Janequin together in one programme. Le chant du Rossignol is not the only chanson by Janequin which Le Jeune arranged. In Le chant de l'Alouette he applies the same procedure: the original chanson (L'alouette or Or sus vous dormés trop) is for four voices, to which Le Jeune adds a fifth, and he then adds his own settings on texts by Guillaume Sallustre du Bartas. Janequin has become famous for his graphic illustration of the text, using onomatopoeias frequently. In this chanson Le Jeune shows to be his equal in this department. He is more modest in Le chant du Rossignol. However, in his stanzas he gives the various voices a short solo passage when the text refers to their voice type: "The taille, the haute-contre, the lovely soprano, the low bass". Very much alike Janequin is the long chanson Arm', arm' - la guerre, which is not about war in the literal sense of the word, but - as so often in music - about the 'war of love', as is revealed right at the start: "Take your arms, loyal knights. Come at once to protect my heart". It is fitting that this piece is followed by Puisque les ans n'ont qu'un printemps by Pierre Guédron, which closes with the lines: "The days will pass and will not return, immerse yourselves in delightful love". This piece also closes the programme.

Although there is a clear difference between the style of Le Jeune and his contemporaries who followed the ideals of Baïf on the one hand, and that of the Italian madrigal composers of their time on the other, Le Jeune was not immune for Italian influences. The previous disc included his arrangement of a madrigal by Willaert. In thélème's programme we find Ô voix, ô de nos voix which makes use of the echo technique. In the booklet, Jean-Christophe Groffe and Philippe Bringel explain that it is one of several pieces Le Jeune has dedicated to the nymph Echo. This chanson is "a new and rather entertaining picture of Echo as a literary figure". This is clearly inspired by antiquity, but we cannot overlook that it was particularly popular among Italian composers as well. From that angle we may see here another token of Italian influence in Le Jeune's oeuvre.

As I wrote, a piece by Pierre Guédron closes the programme. He was one of the main composers of the air de cour, the most important genre of secular vocal music in 17th-century France. This way, the performers point in the direction of the future, just as the Ensemble Gilles Binchois did by performing some airs mesurés partly with one voice and lute. In thélème's recording this practice is also applied now and then.

This disc and the previous one are nice complements. In thélème's programme the confrontation of Janequin and Le Jeune is particularly interesting. Also nice is the inclusion of some instrumental pieces by Le Jeune himself and by some of his contemporaries. The singing and playing is excellent. Le chant du Rossignol offers the possibility of a direct comparison between the two ensembles. thélème's realisation of the onomatopoeias is more graphic, also due to a slightly faster tempo. I think this does more justice to the character of this piece. That said, we should be happy that two fine discs have been released which shed light on a part of renaissance music that is probably not as well known as it should be.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Gilles Binchois

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