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Claude LE JEUNE (c1530 - 1600): "Airs et psaumes"

Claudine Ansermet, sopranoa; Paolo Cherici, lute

rec: Feb 2000, Pugnano (Pisa)
Glossa - GCD C80012 (R) (© 2014) (68'06")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list
Scores Le Jeune

Emanuel ADRIAENSSEN (c1554-1604): Passomezo; Praeludium 3. toni; Praeludium 9. toni; Praeludium 10. toni; Jacques EDINTHON (16th C): Fantasia; Claude LE JEUNEa: Doucette, doux sucre fin [4]; Enten de mes plaints [2]; Las! Je me pleing [4]; Mon coeur que d'ennuis [4]; O doux et beaux yeux [4]; O que je peusse à mon gré [3]; Puisque ne veus me guerir [3]; Qu'est devenu ce bel oeil [4]; Rendons graces à Dieu [2]; Une puce j'ay [3]; Vers toy, Seigneur dous [2]; Vien belle vien [3]; Voicy le verd et beau May [1]; Vous qu'amour tou-bon favorize - Tel se plaint d'amour [3]; Joachim VAN DEN HOVE (1567-1620): Courante [5]; Fantasia quinta; Pavana; Preludium [5]; Elias MERTEL (c1560-1626): Praeludium 4 [6]; Praeludium 161 [6] Julien PERRICHON (1566-c1600) Courante

Sources: Claude Le Jeune, [1] Le Printans, 1603 [2] Pseaumes en vers mesurez, 1606 [3] Airs, 1608 [4] Second livre des airs, 1608 [5] Joachim van den Hove, Delitiae musicae, 1612 [6] Elias Mertel, Hortus musicalis novus, 1615

The air de cour was one of the main genres of secular vocal music in France in the 17th century. It was usually scored for one voice and lute, sometimes a couple of voices. This disc presents songs from the early stage in the history of the genre, written by one of France's main composers around 1600. However, he didn't compose them as they are performed here but rather as ensemble pieces. That doesn't mean that they can't be performed as songs for voice and lute.

Le Jeune is not an unknown quantity but it would be exaggerating to say that he is a household name. His name is probably better-known than his music as he is not that well represented on disc. His Missa ad placitum is one of his best-known works and sometimes chansons from the collection Le Printans of 1603 are performed. Most of his oeuvre is little-known and that goes for his secular works as well as for his sacred music.

Le Jeune 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 helped him survive the many trials and tribulations of his time, caused by the 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.

Chansons were a very common genre in France in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Several composers contributed to this genre, and Le Jeune was one of the most productive. In 1585 a collection was published under the title of Livre de meslanges with more than sixty pieces. Five more collections were published in the ensuing decades, and a considerable number were included in various anthologies. All these chansons are - as was common at the time - written in polyphonic style for three to eight voices, without instrumental support.

There is one special thing about these chansons, and that concerns the texts. Although a staunch Protestant he worked closely with the Catholic Jean-Antoine de Baïf, who in 1570 founded an Academy of poetry and music under the protection of Charles IX. The King had political motives: he believed that music "could pacify the country, subdue the unrest, and conciliate the different factions", as Isabelle His writes in her liner-notes. Baïf was a propagandist of the vers mesurés à l'Antique, verses "measured in the ancient style", which means that they follow certain prose schemes as in Greek and Roman poetry. These chansons were performed during public concerts organised by the Academy. At such occasions Pseaumes en vers mezurez (Psalmes in measured verses) were probably also sung. The texts were written by Baïf and set by Le Jeune. A collection of 26 of such settings was published in 1606.

The texts of the chansons were originally only measured, but later they were adapted to become also rhymed. This recording includes some of these adaptations which are attributed to Odet de La Noue, friend and pupil of Le Jeune. However, in some cases the interpreters have turned to the original unrhymed versions. The texts are mostly amorous in nature. It is also notable that there is strong Italian influence in Baïf's texts. From a musical point of view Qu'est devenu ce bel oeil which closes the programme is especially remarkable as it is dominated by chromaticism.

Returning to the issue of the performances on this disc: Isabelle His states that the performance of polyphonic vocal works by voice and lute was a widespread practice at the time. The singer performs the upper voice whereas the lute takes care of the remaining voices, which - especially in the case of six-part pieces - have to be reduced to fit the lute. That is the way Le Jeune's chansons and the three psalms are performed here. Every vocal item is preceded by a lute piece which takes the role of an introduction to the chanson or psalm. The composers are contemporaries of Le Jeune. Joachim van den Hove and Emanuel Adriaenssens were from the Southern Netherlands while Elias Mertel was of German birth but later worked in Strasbourg where he also died. Julien Perrichon was lute player to Henri IV, and Jacques Edinthon was also associated with the court.

Claudine Ansermet is a specialist in French vocal music of the 17th century and her interpretations show that she is completely at home in this repertoire. She has studied the practice of ornamentation of the time and applies it to the chansons and psalmes in these performances. She also makes use of historical pronunciation. This repertoire is not often recorded and historical pronunciation is not widely applied. That makes this a most interesting release which first appeared on the Italian label Symphonia. It is a shame that her singing is compromised by a slight but incessant vibrato, sounding like a kind of tremolo. It isn't all that disturbing but it is not nice and is historically untenable. This is a minor blot on a production which otherwise is admirable and enjoyable, also thanks to Paolo Cherici's fine lute playing. Considering that this repertoire is largely unknown, especially outside France, the omission of translations is regrettable as that hardly helps in allowing a real appreciation of these chansons.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Paolo Cherici

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