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Claude LE JEUNE (c1530 - 1600): Dix Pseaumes de David

Ludus Modalis
Dir: Bruno Boterf

rec: August & Oct 2010, Chambray, Église paroissiale Saint-Martin
Ramée - RAM 1005 (© 2010) (75'28")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Pseaume 57: Ayes pitié de moy; Pseaume 81: Chantez gayement à Dieu; Pseaume 88: O Dieu Eternel, mon Sauveur; Pseaume 95: Sus, esgayons-nous au Seigneur; Pseaume 96: Chantez à Dieu chanson nouvelle; Pseaume 97: L'Eternel est regnant; Pseaume 98: Chantez à Dieu nouveau cantique; Pseaume 102: Seigneur, enten ma requeste; Pseaume 135: Chantez de Dieu le renom; Pseaume 149: Chantez à Dieu chanson nouvelle

Nathalie Marec, Annie Dufresne, soprano; Jean-Christophe Clair, alto; Bruno Boterf, Vincent Bouchot, tenor; Jean-Michel Durang, François Fauché, bass; Yannick Varlet, gut-stringed harpsichord, organ

Claude Le Jeune was one of the most prominent composers in France in the second half of the 16th century. His 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.

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. The Dix Pseaumes de David were his second publication, printed in Paris in 1564. It was dedicated to François de la Noue and Charles de Téligny, two Huguenots who acted as his patrons. In his preface he doesn't hide his Calvinist conviction, referring to the "dark and distressing times seen during the past troubles". He expressed his wish to "praise and give thanks through some works of his art" and stated that he couldn't think of "a more worhty manner of serving this end than certain psalms of the divine poet and prophet David". Isabelle His, in her programme notes, adds that "[these] remarks sound like a faithful echo of Calvin's (...)". The collection ends with a Dialogue a scept on a text of the Huguenot theologian Théodore de Bèze (not included in this recording).

He was also the author of the texts which Le Jeune chose to use for his Psalms. De Bèze made a rhymed version in French, published in 1562. These were to be sung at the melodies of the Huguenot psalter, but Le Jeune chose to set them in motet form, without using these melodies as cantus firmus. The fact that they were written by De Bèze in strophic form can be seen from their numbering (fortunately included in the booklet): Pseaume 96, for instance, is divided into nine stanzas, but Le Jeune has split the whole text in three parties, each including three stanzas.

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. It is mentioned in the booklet, though, that his oeuvre suggests that he was well aware of the latest trends in Italian music and may have been influenced by the compositions of Adrian Willaert. One could argue that these psalm settings bear witness to that. It is quite striking how strong text and music are connected. Many elements in the texts are directly illustrated in the music. Pseaume 88 is the most gloomy piece in the whole Book of Psalms, and Le Jeune uses every means to depict the text in his music. It seems that it is also scored for lower voices than other psalms, but I don't know whether any transposition has been undertaken.

The expressive aspects of these psalm settings are impressively revealed in the performances of Ludus Modalis. This ensemble comprises seven beautiful voices which blend perfectly and sing in various combinations. They use the historical pronunciation of French which further contribute to the atmosphere of authenticity of this recording. The ensemble is supported by an organ or a gut-stringed harpsichord. Obviously the keyboard doesn't play a basso continuo part, but rather plays colla voce. It is in no way obtrusive.

This collection has not received the attention it deserves. In the article on Le Jeune in New Grove it is only mentioned, but not discussed. Considering Le Jeune's importance as a composer - he participated in the Académie de Poésie et de Musique which developed the musique mesurée a l’antique - and the quality of these pieces he deserves more attention. This disc is a musical monument for this master of the French renaissance. It is especially pleasing that the whole collection - minus the Dialogue - has been recorded in such an impressive way. Superb music deserves superb performances, and those are exactly the kind of performances Ludus Modalis delivers.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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