01 Jun 2006

LE JEUNE: Autant en emporte le vent — French Chansons

In spite of the religious warfare that consumed France during the second half of the sixteenth century (which claimed the life of one eminent Catholic composer, Antoine de Bertrand, who was murdered by Protestants)*, musical life continued unabated.

Claude Le Jeune, perhaps the most important of Protestant composers, lived to see the accession of Henri IV, a Protestant who abjured his religion and returned to the Catholic Church in order to become King (1593), but who managed to achieve a cease-fire between the sides with the Edict of Nantes, which allowed freedom of religion to the Protestants (1598). Le Jeune died at about seventy in 1600, and we are fortunate that, though politics prevented his works being printed during his lifetime, they were issued posthumously. Until recently few had been issued in modern editions (though I recall being entranced as a teen by his Te Deum, recorded in the Anthologie Sonore in the fifties).

Le Jeune's output reflects a wide variety of styles — the more traditional Parisian chanson, the settings of vers mésuré by the poet Baif, Protestant psalm settings, and even a substantial number of canzonettas to Italian texts (I have yet to see these last on disc). This is the third disc by the Ensemble Clément Janequin to mine this rich vein (the two previous devoted to chansons and sacred music respectively). The ECJ is one of our treasures, resuscitating a huge and fascinating repertoire in almost four (!!) decades of recordings, and it is to be expected that this collection is first-rate. The quibbler/curmudgeon in me just sees a few mis-steps here. I can't imagine that the arrangement of Laute joun (a rustic piece in Gascon dialect) reflects the original — it's just too folk. As I don't have access to the source, I can't nail this down in chapter and verse. Povre coeur, entourné de de passions, de tant de nouveautés, de tant de fictions makes ample reference to the musical novelties and musica ficta of Le Jeune's Italian contemporaries (Marenzio, Luzzaschi, Gesualdo). Unfortunately the busy lute added here confuses rather than clarifies the musical difficulties. This should be a cappella, and much more Italian in style — flexibility of rhythm, lingering over the chromaticisms. And finally, the booklet, though it has notes in French, English and German, gives the French texts, with no translations. Shame, shame, shame! I would not like to see this continue. Even Anglophones with some French may need help once in a while.

But these niggles are not enough to detract from your enjoyment of a well-programmed and beautifully sung recording of important repertoire, a worthy addition to the oeuvre of a fundamental ensemble. Warmly recommended.

Tom Moore

* Editor's Note: The Protestant composer, Claude Goudimel, was also a victim of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in August 1572. He is best known for his contributions to the so-called Geneva Psalter. See Paul-André Gaillard/Richard Freedman: 'Goudimel, Claude: Works', Grove Music Online.