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CD reviews

French Psalms of Huguenots and Catholics

[I] "'Vous qui la terre habitez' - Psaumes de la Renaissance"
Le Concert des planètes consort
rec: Feb 25 - 28, 2013, Paris, Temple de Passy-Annonciation
Psalmus - PSAL 019 (© 2013) (57'55")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Jean CAULERY (fl mid-16th C): Père de nous, qui es là haut ès Cieux à 4 (Oraison dominicale); Claude GOUDIMEL (1514/20-1572): Chantez à Dieu chanson nouvelle à 4 (Psalm 96); Donnez au Seigneur gloire à 4 (Psalm 107); La terre au Seigneur appartient à 4 (Psalm 24); Miséricorde au pauvre vicieux à 4-5 (Psalm 51); Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, pourquoi m'as-tu laissé à 4 (Psalm 22); Ô nostre Dieu et Siegneur amiable à 4 (Psalm 8); Réveillez-vous, chacun fidèle à 4 (Psalm 33); Sus, sus, mon âme, il te faut dire bien à 3-6 (Psalm 104); Vous tous qui la terre habitez à 4 (Psalm 100); Paschal DE L'ESTOCART (1539?-after 1584): Bienheureux est quiconques à 4 (Psalm 128); Donnez au Seigneur gloire à 4 (Psalm 107); Estans assis aux rives aquatiques à 4 (Psalm 137); On a beau sa maison bastir à 5 (Psalm 127); Claude LE JEUNE (1528/30-1600): Du fond de ma pensée à 3 (Psalm 130); La terre au Seigneur appartient à 3 (Psalm 24); O bienheureux qui juge sagement à 3 (Psalm 41); Jean SERVIN (c1530-after 1595): O Seigneur Dieu, regarde et nous réponds à 4 (Psalm 13); Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621): Chantez à Dieu chanson nouvelle à 4

Anne-Marie Beaudette, superius; Lucile Richardot, contratenor; Martial Pauliat, tenor; Jan Jeroen Bredewold, bassus; Alice Cota, Naomi Inoué, Marie-Suzanne de Loye, Aude-Marie Piloz, viola da gamba; Ghislain Dibie, organ

[II] "French Psalms of Catholics & Huguenots"
Dir: Michel Laplénie
rec: Nov 1998, Bordeaux, Temple du Hâ
Et'cetera - KTC 1509 (© 2014) (55'45")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Denis CAIGNET (?-1625): D'un heur vraiment parfait (Psalm 1); Venez et nous éjouissons (Psalm 94); Eustache DU CAURROY (1549-1609): Juge ma cause (Psalm 26); Si le Tout Puissant (Psalm 126); Guillaume DE CHASTILLON DE LA TOUR (1550-1610): Assis le long des eaux (Psalm 136); Sieur DE COURBES (fl 1622): Louez Dieu grand en puissance (Psalm 150); Claude GOUDIMEL (1514/20-1572): Sus, sus mon âme (Psalm 54); Vous tous princes et seigneurs (Psalm 29); Paschal DE L'ESTOCART (1539?-after 1584): Réveillez-vous chacun fidèle (Psalm 33); O combien est plaisant (Psalm 133); O Pasteur d'Israël (Psalm 80); Claude LE JEUNE (1528/30-1600): Hélas mon Dieu ton ire, chanson spirituelle; Hélas Seigneur je te prie (Psalm 69); Miséricorde au povre vicieux (Psalm 51); Seigneur, j'espars jour et nuit (Psalm 6); Tourne ailleurs ta rigueur (Psalm 6); Samuel MARESCHAL (1554-1640): Psalm 42a; Psalm 47a; Jacques MAUDUIT (1557-1627): En son temple sacré (Psalm 150); Pardon et Justice il me plait de chanter (Psalm 100); Jean PLANSON (c1559-after 1611): Le cerf si fort ne désire (Psalm 41)

Emmanuelle Gal, Françoise Masset, soprano; Pierre Sciama, alto; Patrick Aubailly, tenor; Michel Laplénie, baritone; Marcos Loureiro de Sà, bass; Emmanuel Mandrin, organ (soloa)

[III] Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562 - 1621): "The Complete Psalms"
Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam; Lee Santana, lutea; Bernard Winsemius, organb
Dir: Harry van der Kamp
rec: Nov 2006 - March 2009, Renswoude, NH Kerk; [n.d.], Amsterdam, Oude Kerkb
Glossa - GCD 922407 (12 CDs) (© 2012) (12.26'40")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

50 pseaumes de David, mis en musique/Premier livre des pseaumes de David, mis en musique ... seconde edition, 1604; Livre second des pseaumes de David, nouvellement mis en musique, 1613; Livre troisieme des pseaumes de David, nouvellement mis en musique, 1614; Livre quatriesme et conclusionnal des pseaumes de David, nouvellement mis en musique, 1621
Canon in unisono, quatuor vocum (Miserere mei Domine) (SwWV 195); D'où vient cela, Seigneur, je te suppli (Psalm 10) (SwWV 10a) [1]; O Seigneur que de gents à 6 (Psalm 3) (SwWV 3/i/a) [1]
[lute arrangements]a Psalm 5 (SwWV 332); Psalm 23 (1) (SwWV 333); Psalm 23 (2) (SwWV 334)
[organ works]b Canon über O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß in der Quint oben nach einem gantzen Tact (SwWV 196) [2]; Die 10 Gebott Gottes, variations (SwWV 314a); Psalm 23, variations (SwWV 310); Psalm 36, variations (SwWV 311); Psalm 60, variations (SwWV 312); Psalm 116, variations (SwWV 313); Psalm 140, variations (SwWV 314)
Bernard WINSEMIUS (1954): Fantasy on Psalm 11; Fantasy on Psalm 12; Fantasy on Psalm 16; Fantasy on Psalm 19; Fantasy on Psalm 28; Fantasy on Psalm 55

Sources: [1] div, Cinquante pseaumes de David avec la musique à 5 parties d'Orlande de Lassus; Vingt autres pseaumes à 5 et 6 parties par divers excellents musiciens de nostre temps, 1597; [2] Composition Regeln Herrn M. Johann Peterssen Sweling, Gewesenen Vornehmen Organisten on Ambsterdam, 1640

The Book of Psalms has been at the heart of the liturgy of the Christian Church since early times. Psalms have been sung or recited on a daily basis in churches, chapels and monasteries. Part of their importance stems from the fact that they include the whole range of human emotions and are an expression of the relationship between God and his people. The importance of the Book of Psalms was eloquently expressed by Martin Luther who called it "a Little Bible, wherein everything contained in the entire Bible is beautifully and briefly comprehended, and compacted into an enchiridion or Manual."

That same Luther was one of those who were responsible for a revolution in the way Psalms were sung. "Up to that point the western church had chanted the psalms in Latin according to the method ascribed to Pope Gregory I the Great (c. 540-604). The chanting of Psalms in course over a specified period of time had developed in the monasteries under the influence of the Rule of St. Benedict, shaping into what is known as the Daily Office or Liturgy of the Hours. Rooted in ancient Jewish usage (...), the Liturgy of the Hours consists of regular prayer offices said or sung throughout the day at approximately three-hour intervals (...)."(*) But Luther wanted the congregation to sing, and to that end he himself adapted ancient chants which he translated in German and versified. Sometimes he wrote his own melodies or adapted an existing melody and encouraged other to follow in his footsteps. This resulted in a large number of hymns being written and set to music, often - but not exclusively - on biblical texts, some of which from the Book of Psalms, and in German.

The French Reformer John Calvin shared Luther's views. "It is a thing most expedient for the edification of the church to sing some psalms in the form of public prayers by which one prays to God or sings His praises so that the hearts of all may be roused and stimulated to make similar prayers and to render similar praises and thanks to God with a common love." (**) In contrast to Luther Calvin gave the Psalms an almost exclusive place in worship. This finds its expression in the so-called Huguenot or Genevan Psalter: the first edition from 1539 included 22 Psalms and three hymns: the Ten Commandments, the Song of Simeon (Nunc dimittis) and the Apostles' Creed, all versified and in French. In next editions new versifications were added, but no hymns on other texts. In 1562 the Genevan Psalter was completed. The texts were written by Clément Marot and Theodore de Bèze, the melodies were provided by Guillaume Franc, Louis Bourgeois and 'Maître Pierre' (Pierre Davantès).

Obviously congregations sang in unison: the Psalter includes only monophonic tunes. But composers soon started to write additional parts: the homophonic or polyphonic settings by French composers were written for domestic use among the higher echelons in Protestant circles in France and in countries where the Genevan Psalter had been embraced, such as the Netherlands. The three productions which are the subject of this review consist of music which is in one way or another related to the Genevan Psalter.

Le Concert des planètes consort performs settings by some of the main composers of music based on the Psalter: Claude Goudimel, Claude Le Jeune and Paschal de l'Estocart. Most pieces are by Goudimel: some are in forme homorythmique which means a simple harmonization, others are in forme fleurie, in which the tune is accompanied by three new parts of a more independent character. The tune is mostly in the upper voice, whereas Le Jeune sometimes placed it in the tenor. Goudimel also composed Psalms in the form of a motet in which the tune is less dominant and less clearly audible (Miséricorde au pauvre vicieux, Psalm 51; Sus, sus, mon âme, Psalm 104). Most settings are for four voices, but there are also three-part settings by Le Jeune, which are performed here instrumentally (O bienheureux qui juge sagement, Psalm 41; Du fond de ma pensée, Psalm 130). Two little-known composers are represented: Jean Servin, who mainly worked in Geneva, and set the whole Psalter but also published three collections of chansons. The second is Jean Caulery: little is known about him, but on the title-page of one of his publications he described himself as maître de chapelle to Catherine de' Medici, Queen of France. The Oraison Dominicale (The Lord's Prayer) is one of the few texts from the Genevan Psalter which he set to music, but in this case he doesn't use the tune.

The performance reflects music making at home or in social gatherings: one voice per part, sometimes with viole da gamba playing colla voce. In some cases a stanza is sung by a solo voice, with the viols playing the remaining parts. The ensemble also uses an organ; such an instrument did not participate in domestic music making, but rather in social gatherings of a devotional character. The singing is very good, with voices which blend perfectly and also adapt themselves well to the viols.

The disc of the Ensemble Sagittarius is a little different: the programme includes a wider spectrum of composers, and interestingly the ensemble also sings Psalm settings by composers who remained true to their Catholic convictions. In the booklet Michel Laplénie writes: "Faced with the enormous success of the Huguenot Psalter, the Catholic authorities began to mobilise their own resources and, after a literally combative phase (religious wars, banning of the Psalter) it was decided to mount a more subtle 'counteroffensive' by opposing the Huguenot Psalter with a French Psalter translated by catholic poets." Philippe Desportes put the 150 Psalms into 'French rhymes' and Jean-Antoine de Baïf translated the Psalter into 'measured verses'.

The largest part of this disc is devoted to Psalm settings by supporters of the Reformation. We meet Goudimel and Le Jeune again. The latter is represented with Psalms settings in three different forms: two homophonic psalms based on tunes from the Genevan Psalter, a chanson spirituelle - with some strong chromaticism - and two settings of psaumes mesurés. In the latter three the Genevan tunes are absent. Another composer who contributed to the repertoire of Psalm settings on Genevan tunes was Paschal de l'Estocart: in 1583 he published a collection with settings of the complete Genevan Psalter; three of them are performed here.

Jacques Mauduit set the 'measured verses' by Baïf. Although he was Catholic he was friendly with Claude Le Jeune whom he helped to escape from Paris during the siege of 1590. Denis Caignet was also Catholic and played later the viola da gamba in the household of Louis XIII. His two Psalms are settings of the 'French rhymes' by Desportes. Eustache du Caurroy set Psalms from both sources, and Assis le long des eaux (Psalm 136/137) by Guillaume Chastillon de la Tour is a setting of a text by Desportes. It is part of the 'Catholic section' of the programme, but in fact he was a Protestant. A setting of Psalm 41/42 (Le cerf si fort ne désire) is attributed to Jean Planson, a composer and organist who also set the vers mesurés of Baïf, but this text is anonymous. Sieur de Courbes is an interesting figure: in 1622 he published a collection of Cantiques spirituels which includes Latin liturgical pieces which are bilingual: the Latin text is accompanied by a French translation by the composer. This is uncommon in a time when other languages than Latin were prohibited in church. The collection also includes six settings of Psalms from the pen of Desportes; Psalm 150 (Louez Dieu grand en puissance) appropriately ends this disc.

The performances are generally alright, but not really good, and that is largely due to the lack of blending of the voices. Some singers use too much vibrato which damages the ensemble. However, the programme is very interesting, especially the settings of texts by Baïf and Desportes. That is a part of French music from around 1600 which deserves to be explored more thoroughly. Emmanuel Mandrin plays two variations on Genevan Psalm tunes by Samuel Mareschal, a Swiss composer of Flemish birth who left a considerable amount of vocal and keyboard music which - again - is hardly explored as yet.

The largest corpus of Psalm settings, and certainly ranking among the very best, is from the pen of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, for many years organist in Amsterdam. He was also the director of the local Collegium Musicum which comprised eight people, merchants and wealthy citizens who supported Sweelinck and who were the dedicatees of his second book of psalms. They were without any doubt also the first performers of Sweelinck's psalm settings. It seems likely that the composer first tested the waters in his Collegium Musicum before publishing his psalm settings.

His first attempts in this genre were included in a collection of Psalms by various composers, among them Orlandus Lassus. In 1604 Sweelinck published his first book of Psalms. In 1613 and 1614 the two next volumes appeared, and in 1621, the year of his death, the last. These four books include settings of the complete Psalter of 150 psalms and two additional pieces, the Song of Simeon (Cantique de Siméon) and the Lord's Prayer (Oraison Dominicale); some Psalms appear in more than one setting. The number of voices varies from four to eight; only one of the latter is in two choirs (Psalm 113; book 3). Sweelinck sometimes selected one or more stanzas from a Psalm, but also composed Psalms in full length (tout au long). The number of parts could vary from one stanza to the other. The melody is treated in two different ways. In some Psalms it is sung unaltered in one of the voices as a cantus firmus whereas in others phrases are quoted, sometimes melodically and/or rhythmically altered.

Sweelinck made use of the original French text, not of the Dutch versifications which were sung by the congregation in the Reformed Church. That can be explained from the fact that they were written for performances by the Collegium Musicum whose members belonged to the highest echelons of society where French was the colloquial language. Moreover, Sweelinck had also the international market in mind: pieces on Dutch texts wouldn't sell. And he was aware that the quality of the French texts was by far superior to the Dutch versifications.

The recording of the complete Psalms by the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam is part of the Sweelinck Monument whose purpose was the recording of Sweelinck's complete vocal oeuvre (***). The previous volumes, with the secular works and the Cantiones Sacrae, have already proven that this ensemble has a superb command of Sweelinck's idiom and the performance practice of his time. It was decided to perform the Psalms with one voice per part, reflecting the practice in the Amsterdam Collegium Musicum. The Psalms are also sung without participation of instruments. I wonder whether we can exclude the possibility that sometimes one or more parts have been performed instrumentally. That could certainly have been the case elsewhere, after the publication of the respective volumes. This means that there is room for alternative performances. However, the performance practice followed here is probably most close to how they were first performed under Sweelinck's direction. It guarantees a maximum clarity of the texts, which is also due to the excellent diction of the singers. They make use of a historical pronunciation of French, and the then common meantone temperament. Every Psalm is preceded by a monophonic performance of the original tune in the Genevan Psalter. That is especially important as these melodies are far less well-known to today's music lovers than, for instance, Lutheran hymns. The vocal works are interspersed by instrumental items: Sweelinck's own lute arrangements and his organ variations on Psalms. The latter are played by Bernard Winsemius, a seasoned Sweelinck interpreter who also contributes fantasies on various Psalm tunes in Sweelinck's style.

This set of discs is indeed a monument for Sweelinck, but also for the Genevan Psalter which is still in use in our own time and is a source of inspiration - musically and spiritually - for many people.

N.B. The spelling of the titles follows that in the respective booklets. The numbering of the Psalms depends on the religion of the composer: either that of the Genevan Psalter or of the Vulgate.

(*) David T. Koyzis, Introduction to the Genevan Psalter.
(**) Genevan Psalter.
(***) Later it was decided to add a new recording of the entire corpus of keyboard works; they have been released in two volumes.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Sagittarius
Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam
Le Concert des planètes consort
Lee Santana
Bernard Winsemius

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