Song is prayer redoubled
The man whom music historians would come to consider as the most important composer that Germany was to give to the Protestant rite was born in Eisenach on 21 March, the first day of spring, 1685. Louis XIV signed the Edict of Fontainebleau a few months later on 18 October; this abolished the Edict of Nantes that Henri IV had promulgated in 1598 and curtailed the freedoms that the Huguenots had earlier been granted. This, although a coincidence, is highly significant in that the resulting exodus of French Protestants to Germany was to play a considerable role in Johann Sebastian Bach's musical development.
Our choice of such an observation as the starting point for this essay is not, however, coincidental. After having steadfastly proclaimed his convictions before the Diet of Worms in April 1521, Martin Luther knew that he would be prosecuted and that anyone who might agree to protect him would also be condemned. The safe-conduct that Emperor Charles V had granted him in order for him to come to Worms was only valid for a short time and was in any case invalidated by the publication of the Edict that transformed the Diet's deliberations into law. Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony, then gave Luther sanctuary in his castle in Wartburg under cover of Luther's supposed kidnapping; the castle happens to stand on a hill that directly overlooks the town of Eisenach! Luther made good use of his time there by writing several important works and also began his German translation of the New Testament.
Thuringia and a large part of central and northern Germany had become for the most part Protestant by the time that Johann Sebastian Bach was born a little more than one hundred and fifty years later. The horrors of the Thirty Years' War were, however, still very much in people's minds. A primary cause of the war had been religious tension and, although the Treaty of Westphalia had effectively ended it, the war had involved almost every country in Europe and its chief battleground had been central Germany itself. The memory of its horrors was not to be erased in a few short years: even though religious faith was clearly one of the main remedies for the suffering the war had caused, the music that accompanied it presents us with a tender and moving image of this faith even today. Luther may not have realised the strength of that music at that time, but he did well to make sure that song would play a leading part in the organisation of the various religious services and in Protestant spiritual life in general.
This is neither the time nor the place to retrace all the steps that led the reformers to their various fates; neither, on the other hand, need we outline the reactions of those who forged the basic ideas of the Counter-Reformation by defending the principles of the Roman Catholic Church. Such a description of the historical background simply aids us to a better understanding of the role that music played in these situations, how it was able to adapt itself to the precepts that the two faiths proclaimed and how it continued its development during a highly complex period in history: it was during this time that polyphony had reached its apogee and was beginning to give way to the accompanied single lines and the rich expression that would characterise the baroque.
LUTHER AND THE REFORMATION
Born in Eisleben in Thuringia in 1483, Martin Luther could have easily enjoyed a peaceful life, one divided between monastic life (he had entered an Augustinian monastery in 1505) and a university career. This, however, was not to be. A period of time spent in Rome in 1510 perhaps provided the foundation for all his doubts about the Catholic church and its conception of faith and its behaviour, given that the church presented itself in the world as if it were a political and economical power. The Reformation had its origins in the university of Wittenberg, founded by Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, at the beginning of the 16th century and where Luther was a professor. Luther was not alone there, for he had been joined by various colleagues who would also come to play important roles in the spreading of the Reformation; these included Philipp Melanchthon and Georg Burckardt, alias Spalatin, an advisor to Frederick the Wise.
Luther attacked the Church on several points: he first discussed the very basics of the Christian faith, stating that the Church should return to the Bible, its fundamental source, and cleanse it of all the interpretations that had accrued to it over the centuries. It was, however, Luther's struggle against the power of the Church that provoked the greatest enmity of the ecclesiastical authorities. This began with Luther's virulent attack on the system of indulgences, for one of the most questionable instances of this system was the indulgence promulgated by Pope Julian II in 1506 and renewed by Pope Leo X in 1515: it was granted to all those who contributed financially to the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Luther, having witnessed these practices and many other similar procedures in Germany, reacted violently; the publication of his Ninety-five Theses (Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum) in 1517 marked the first of a long series of polemical writings. He did not have to wait long for a reaction from Rome, for he was threatened with excommunication in 1520. He soon realised that his ideas would be linked with certain political ideas then current and addressed his following tract 'To the Christian nobility of the German nation concerning the improvement of the Christian state'; he was then excommunicated. Luther remained obdurate at the Diet of Worms that was convened by Charles V in 1521; true to his convictions, he married in 1525 and continued his work without respite until his death in 1546.
When the Diet of Augsburg was convened in 1555, one part of Luther's struggles had been won: the Peace of Augsburg ratified the religious and political separation of Germany from the Empire. In a nutshell, the Rhineland and Bavaria remained Catholic, whilst the remainder of Germany became Protestant. This division was nevertheless not as arbitrary as it sounded; one of the more astonishing situations thus created occurred in the city of Dresden, where the ruling court remained Catholic but the city's churches became Lutheran.
Luther's ideas and doctrines continued to spread throughout Europe during this time, although Luther was not solely responsible for the various ideological and religious movements that arose. Zwingli in Zürich, Calvin in France and Geneva, Bucer in Strasbourg, to name only the most important, all developed their own ideas for the reformation of the Christian faith. Like Luther, they fought energetically to defend their position, creating impassioned debate, blind hostility and unfair condemnation both around them and within their own circles. The history of the Reformation links the basic tenets behind such ideas with many reactions that were often created and directed by national and political imperatives. [Richard Stauffer's book La Réforme (1970, Que saia-je?) provides an extremely well-researched explanation of these important moments of the European Renaissance].
The Lutheran liturgy
Our principal concerns here are the impact of these spiritual movements on musical creation and the role that this music played in Lutheran worship.
The Lutheran liturgy is based on the books of the Old and the New Testament, bearing in mind that certain of these — the Apocryphal books such as Wisdom of Sirach, Tobit and Wisdom of Solomon — are generally regarded as non-canonical by Protestants. Amongst the texts of the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms occupies an extremely important place; it was also provided with an extensive commentary by Luther himself. We should also remember that the Protestant liturgy rejects all worship of the Saints as individuals. The cult of Mary is also excluded from the Protestant rite; the Virgin is nonetheless recognised as the mother of Jesus, although not as an intercessor for mankind before God. A direct consequence of this for musicians was that many moving texts that had been set with so much tenderness and emotion by Catholic composers were now excluded. One particular example of this is provided by J.S. Bach's discovery of Pergolesi's Stabat mater towards the end of his life; not wanting to be deprived of this music, Bach replaced the original text with the words of Psalm 51, Tilge Höchster meine Sünden (Miserere mei Deus). Franz Tunder had done the same one century earlier, replacing the text of Giovanni Rovetta's motet Salve Regina for solo voice with the words Salve mi Jesu (CD 7/10), This being said, the Protestant liturgical year nevertheless observed several feast days relating to the Virgin: the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, marked by Bach's cantata Ich habe genug BWV 82, the Angelic Visitation and the Annunciation, and of course Christmas itself with its frequent mentions of the Virgin Mary.
Even though German became the principal language of the liturgy, Latin was not about to disappear. Luther did not intend it to fade away, for he considered it as the language of learning and of knowledge. He drew up a lengthy Latin catechism for priests and those with learning as well as a shorter German catechism for the common people. Luther envisaged a widespread use of Latin in the cities, even for readings that could be given in Latin and/or in German. The same was true for the parts of the Ordinary of the Mass that were incorporated into the Lutheran rite such as the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.
Composers therefore continued to compose settings of texts from the Ordinary for certain occasions, whether in German or in Latin. One example of this was Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, the teacher of Handel, who composed a Missa brevis (CD 8/1) on the theme of the Easter chorale Christ lag in Todesbanden. J.S. Bach himself also was to compose four masses as well as the impressive Mass in B minor, part of which he presented to the Elector of Saxony in the hope of obtaining the title of court composer; the Kyrie and Gloria of the Mass in B minor formed part of an earlier Lutheran Mass that Bach had composed for Dresden.
The only sacraments that were incorporated into the Lutheran rite were those of baptism, confession and the communion in two kinds. Extreme Unction disappeared, leaving only an Office for the Dead; this, however, did not include the texts that characterised the Catholic Requiem Mass.
When J.S. Bach published the third part of the Clavierübung, he presented the fundamental tenets of Lutheranism between the monumental Prelude and the grandiose Fugue: the Law, Faith and Prayer allied with the three sacraments of Baptism, Confession and Communion.
The central part of the Lutheran rite is the sermon, which at that time was framed by two pieces of music that were generically known as a cantata. This positioning of the cantata in the liturgical rite provides an explanation why certain cantatas are divided into two clear parts.
Luther and music
Although Luther's role in musical matters is significant, it is also highly interesting, if not essential, to take stock of German musical life at that time, returning to the final years of the 15th century. What exactly do we know about German music of that time? The centre of musical life then was of course the court of Maximilian I, situated between Vienna and Innsbruck Maximilian's musical establishment consisted of some of the most important composers of the time when he died in 1519; these included Heinrich Isaac, famed for his Flemish technical skill and his knowledge of Italian music, Ludwig Senfl from Zürich and the organist Paul Hofhaimer. The Flemish polyphonic style predominated, as can be seen in the motet Imperii proceres, composed by Isaac to celebrate the glory of the Emperor. Another highly specific genre, the Tenor Lied, was in use in secular music: this was a piece for three or four voices in which the principal melody was given not to the soprano but to the tenor line; the remaining lines were often performed instrumentally. Beyond the walls of Maximilian's court, there was an entire series of manuscripts in which compositions of many different origins were assembled. Most of them were German and unfortunately anonymous, although alongside these are several pieces by the most famous Franco-Flemish composers of the 15th century. One of the most important of these collections is the Glogauer Liederbuch, so called because of its origin in the town of the same name. The majority of these pieces are secular, whether vocal works or instrumental compositions; this was somewhat unusual at that time and seems to reflect a certain individuality in German music. Nonetheless, there are also several sacred works in Latin and, surprisingly enough, also in German — a real anticipation of Luther's ideas about the use of the vernacular in sacred music in the final years of the 15th century. Christ ist erstanden (CD 1/3) is taken from the Glogauer Liederbuch and Sey willekommen (CD 1/2) from a manuscript kept in Erfurt in Thuringia.
It should, however, be realised that these few manuscripts all exist concentrated within an area that was limited to the cultural capitals of the Empire and to southern Germany. What is more, the printing of music that was already flourishing in Venice and in France in the first years of the 16th century had not yet arrived in Germany. It is more than likely that the sole examples of polyphonic music that could have reached Luther had been published in Italy; it is also highly probable that they were sacred works by Josquin Desprez, the supreme master of the Ars perfecta, for he was the composer who had incontestably benefited the most from these early Italian editions and Luther valued his works highly. Music printing finally reached Germany during the 1510s and was initially employed for the publishing of song-books.
Luther's first task in musical matters was, with the collaboration of his musician advisors and friends, to create a basic repertoire of chorales that would soon be the foundation of all music intended for use in Lutheran services. One result of this was Johann Walter's publication of the first edition of the Geistlich Gesangbüchlein in Wittenberg in 1524. Other volumes of chorales would follow as the century progressed: Georg Rhaw's Newe deudsche Geistliche Gesenge... (1544) contains one hundred and twenty-three chorales organised according to the liturgical year. The number of composers listed there shows how important their work was in the development of the reformed church: alongside many little-known names we also find Martin Agricola, Arnold von Burck, Lupus Hellinck, Ludwig Senfl, Thomas Stoltzer, Lucas Osiander and several others.
The basic principles of the chorale melody were that it should be syllabic, that it should use a simple and regular metre with minims and crotchets, and that it should be capable of being memorised easily by the congregation; the faithful were invited to sing the chorales during services and at other times as well, such as during family prayers. The greater part of these chorale melodies seem to be original work, although some of them were certainly borrowed from many different types of repertoire ranging from Gregorian chant to popular secular songs. The melody of the Easter chorale Christ lag in Todesbanden was inspired by the plainsong melody Victimae pascali laudes (CD 8/2), whilst the melody of the famous Italian popular song Madre non mi far monaca (CD 5/2), translated into French as La Jeune Fillette or Une Jeune Pucelle and whose French texts would evoke the virginity of Mary, was adapted into a chorale melody and applied to the text Helf mir Gottes Güte preisen. Bach was to use this chorale to conclude his Cantata BWV 73 for the third Sunday after Epiphany with the line Das ist des Vaters Wille (CD 8/22). The chorales melodies are primarily in binary rhythm, although this does not exclude the use of ternary rhythm for chorales associated with the great festivals of Christmas and the Resurrection such as the famous In dulci jubilo, nonetheless still with its Latin text.
Martin Luther was also a musician, as were many ecclesiastics at that time; it is said that he was able to hold a part in polyphonic music and certain iconographical sources even depict him playing a lute. Various chorales are considered to have been composed by him, the most important of these being the chorale Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A mighty fortress is our God) with its statement of the foundations of his belief (CD 1/4).
Although the chorales were monodic in origin, they were soon given polyphonic treatment; the need to respect their rhythmic simplicity resulted in a homophonic style of composition that would be employed even by Johann Sebastian Bach himself. Volumes of monodic chorales were published that were rapidly followed by further collections of polyphonic settings (CD 1/5). The composers of the Reformation were also required to master the perfection of imitative polyphony; the first great examples of their works in the field of sacred music began to appear during the second half of the 16th century (CD 1/6).
It is now time to describe the personality and the work of several of Luther's collaborators. Johann Walter (1496-1570) was born in Kahla in Thuringia and entered the service of the court of Frederick the Wise as a cantor. After Frederick's death he joined Luther in Wittenberg before gaining permanent employment in Torgau, where he remained until his death. His personal involvement was crucial to the development of the chorale repertoire; he was supported in this by Luther, who wrote a preface to Walter's first collection of chorales (1524). Johann Walter was also a composer of extremely complex polyphonic music who did not hesitate to attempt pieces in six or even seven parts, whether in Latin (several versions of the Magnificat) or in German. The motet Wir glauben all an einen Gott (CD 1/7) for six voices is composed in a style that is very close to that of Josquin Desprez, with a cantus firmus based on the chorale melody being place in the second part. The version recorded here uses the first verse only. The same music is used for the two other verses of the chorale, Wir glauben auch an Jesum Christ and Wir glauben all an den Heiligen Geist.
Caspar Othmayr (1515-1553) was not really a member of the inner sanctum of those close to Luther. We know that he met Johann Walter in Torgau and that he aligned himself with the Reformation from 1545 onwards. He could not in all fairness be omitted from this anthology, as his name appears as the harmoniser of many chorales and he was also the composer of a musical homage to Luther himself. The motet for five voices Mein himmlischer Vater bears the annotation Verba Lutheri ultima, or Luther's last words; the first tenor sings the words that Luther is supposed to have spoken on his deathbed as a cantus firmus: "In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum. Redemisti me, Deus veritatis" (CD 1/1).
The works of Thomas Stoltzer (ca. 1480-1526) place him at the very beginning of the Reformation. Born in Silesia, his career led him first to Cracow and then to Buda in Hungary, where he was in the service of the court. He applied for the post of Kapellmeister to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1526, attaching a monumental setting of Psalm 37, set in German as Erzürne dich nicht, for 6 and 7 voices. There is no evidence that Stoltzer actually belonged to the new movement of reform, although this psalm and several other compositions indeed leave this impression. Unusually for the time, Stoltzer also notes that the motet can also be played on crumhorns; we may suppose that these instruments, popular all over Germany, were particularly appreciated at the Brandenburg court. One of the verses of this motet is recorded here with these instruments (CD 1/8).
The Lutheran Passions
Alongside the invention of the chorale and the composition of motets in the Ars perfecta style, the Lutheran composers very quickly came up with the idea of setting various excerpts of the Gospels to music, making use of the narrations of Christ's Passion in particular. Johann Walter had already composed two Passions, one according to St. Matthew and the other according to St. John; these were monodic compositions, using the modal technique used for the singing of Gregorian chant. Polyphony was employed only in the sections for the crowds, the turbae, and respected the same melodic principles: the polyphony was constructed quite simply according to the faux-bourdon technique. Joachim Von Burck's setting of the Passion was published as Die deutsche Passion nach Johannes (CD 1/10 & 11) in Wittenberg in 1568 and is the oldest Lutheran setting of the Passion that is completely polyphonic. All the characters of the Gospel narration benefit from the polyphonic writing, including the Evangelist himself, Christ, Judas, Caiaphas and Peter.
Die deutsche Passion nach Johannes is divided into three parts: the Arrest, the Judgement of Pilate and the Crucifixion. It is introduced by a polyphonic setting of the title, to the words "Hear the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, as it is narrated in the Gospel according to John" and concludes with the words "Sweet Lord, we believe, strengthen our faith. Amen''. In order to draw clearer distinctions between the various protagonists, the recording of this work made by Vox Luminis for this anthology divides the various sections between two groups of singers, the first representing the Evangelist and the second the colloquentes, with the two groups joining forces for the opening and closing choruses as well as for the turbae. Many composers continued this tradition, including Leonard Lechner and Johannes Herold at the end of the Renaissance as well as Christoph Demantius and Antonio Scandello (1517- 1580). Scandello was born in Bergamo and had been engaged as an instrumentalist at the Dresden court in 1547; he converted to Lutheranism in 1562.
Leonard Lechner (ca 1553-1606) is interesting for more than one reason: he had been a pupil of Lassus in Munich and so had considerable influence on the development of the polyphonic style. His career became somewhat complicated after his conversion to Protestantism, given that he was generally employed in the service of the Catholic courts of southern Germany. He nevertheless composed various Pieces for the rites of the Lutheran church, including harmonisations of chorales (CD 1/9) as well as a St. John Passion.
THE REFORMATION IN SCANDINAVIA
The Lutheran doctrines found a perfect breeding-ground in the Nordic countries, given that they were so close to Germany both geographically and politically. The theologian Hans Tausend was a disciple of Luther and encouraged the first stirrings of the movement in Denmark; his actions were closely followed by the Danish monarchy and by Christian IV in particular. Christian IV was born in Frederiksborg in 1577 and died in Copenhagen in 1648. He was beyond any doubt the monarch who gave the Danish court its greatest glory, thanks to his investment in a strong military policy with a very clear position towards Germany and to his participation in the Thirty Years War, in which he formed a coalition with Gustav II of Sweden, his historical enemy. Was he a musician? There is no proof of this, although he was clearly passionate about music. His musical establishment was large and included not only Danes but also many musicians from many different European countries. There were eighty musicians divided amongst the various institutions, these being instrumentalists, singers and trumpeters. The court professed Protestantism, a choice that had important consequences for the sacred music performed there. Frederick II, the father of Christian IV, had urged the court composers during his reign to collect all the chorale melodies that should be sung in Danish; Christian IV then requested that these chorales be given polyphonic settings, a task that he entrusted to his Kapellmeister Mogens Pedersøn (CD 1/14).
Pedersøn was born around 1580 and was Denmark's leading composer during the above period. He was most probably trained in the royal musical establishment and was then sent to Venice by the king in 1599 to finish his training with Giovanni Gabrieli. He remained in Venice only a short time, returning to Copenhagen the following year; he returned to Venice in 1605 and this time remained there for four years. Mogens Pedersøn left one important collection of sacred music, the Pratum Spirituale; it was dedicated to Christian IV and published in 1620. The collection consists of harmonisations of thirty chorales in Danish as well as a Mass for five voices and several Latin motets (CD 1/12 & 13).
The Swedish court was to follow the same path: links were thus forged between northern Germany and the Scandinavian lands. A certain Dieterich Buxtehude was to come from Denmark and would be the last of a great generation of northern German organists. The organ tradition was already highly important in Denmark, as can be seen from the instrument built by Compenius that was installed in the chapel of Frederiksborg castle in 1617; we also know that it was played by Johann Lorentz, a predecessor of Buxtehude and also organist of the Nikolaj Kirke in Copenhagen, whose compositions included pieces based on chorale melodies (CD 1/15).
CALVIN AND THE REFORMATION IN FRANCE
We mentioned the other instances of the Reformation and its effects in other countries at the end of the chapter dealing with Luther and the Reformation. Apart from the movement that Bucer had initiated in Strasbourg, the spirit of the Reformation rapidly conquered several other French cities. Such was the case in Meaux, which followed the movement that was now well-established in Strasbourg. Guillaume Briçonet, the Bishop of Meaux, having taken stock of the lamentable organisation of the spiritual life of the city's many priests as well as their deplorable private lives, instituted a large-scale debate on how the Christian faith should be best observed. He was joined in this by several theologians and preachers. Marguerite de Navarre, the sister of François I, kept up a correspondence with him that shows that she adhered to the new ideas that Briçonet had developed. Briçonet launched himself into the publication not only of theological essays but also of translations of various books of the Bible, including the New Testament, the Psalms and the Acts of the Apostles. These publications enabled the movement to gain ground in several regions of France. Marguerite de Navarre also played an important role: not only did she indeed spread these new currents of thought at court, but her daughter, Jeanne de Navarre, would give birth on 13 December 1553 to Henri de Bourbon, the future Henri IV, who would be raised in the Protestant faith.
It was nonetheless Jean Calvin who was at the centre of the Reformation in French-speaking lands, as Luther was in Germany. Born in Noyon in 1509, he followed Luther's example in linking his university training in philosophy and law with a career as a theologian. His Institutio Christianae Religionis (1536) sets out the basic concepts of his deliberations. After a short time in Geneva, Calvin then spent three years in Strasbourg as a member of Bucer's circle, although little by little he distanced himself from it, publishing several works in which he developed and extended his theories. Charles V then organised symposia in an effort to reconcile the different liturgical ideologies, and it was at one of these that Calvin met Philipp Melanchthon, with whom he became friendly. Calvin lived in Geneva from 1541 until his death in 1564 and made the city the focal point of his reforms. His work was later continued by Théodore de Bèze. Calvin had, however, kept up his contacts with people who favoured the idea of a Reformation in France. Even though the reformed churches were able to establish themselves in the Kingdom of France around the middle of the 16th century, this did not mean that the Protestant rite was officially recognised. This particularly murky chapter of French history was made even more so by the problem of religion, as can be seen from such significant events as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in Paris on 24 August 1572. Much blood was shed that day and continued to be spilt for several more days afterwards in other towns and cities of France, causing the deaths of thousands of Protestant men and women. Marguerite de Valois, the daughter of Catherine de Medici, had married Henri de Navarre a few days beforehand, on 18 August. This, although much against the wishes of the Pope at that time, was an opportunity to attempt a reconciliation by bringing a Protestant into the royal family. Henri de Navarre was crowned king of France on 27 February 1594 in Chartres Cathedral, although he had been obliged to convert to Catholicism to gain the throne. The new king, however, did not give up the fight and promulgated the Edict of Nantes in April 1598, thereby granting Protestants the right to free and open worship. Protestants also began to be known as Huguenots from then onwards.
Music and the Calvinist liturgy
Calvin's views on the place of music in the liturgy were much narrower than were Luther's. Latin disappeared, and with it went the entire body of music that had been composed in it since the first centuries of Christian belief. The only singing permitted in Calvinist services was the singing of the Psalms: "To all Christians and lovers of the word of God, for the sake of which, after having searched high and low and travelled to many places, we have found no better song and none more fit for the purpose than the Psalms of David, those the Holy Spirit created and dictated to him". Calvin then added: "Care must always be taken that the singing be neither light-hearted nor flighty for it should have weight and majesty as Saint Augustine said; let there be therefore a great difference between the music that is made to make men glad at table and in their homes and the music of the Psalms that is sung in church in the presence of God and his Angels". The Psalm texts were translated and rendered into verse by various French poets of the Renaissance, although Clément Marot was responsible for the majority of them from 1533 onwards. Apart from the Psalms, the only other sacred texts that would enjoy the same attention were to be the Song of Simeon (Nunc dimittis), the Creed and the Ten Commandments.
All song within the church was strictly monodic, polyphony was banned and instruments were forbidden. This last measure was to have dramatic consequences for the church organs, which were dismantled if they were not simply burnt! For the Calvinists, as for the Lutherans, everything was grist to their mill when they came to find melodies for their music. Original tunes jostled with popular melodies and with various melodies that had been taken from Gregorian chant. One of the leading Calvinist composers was a certain Loys Bourgeois (CD 1/17), cantor at St. Peter's in Geneva. In Calvinist services the Psalms were intoned by a cantor and then taken up by the congregation; they were also sung at family prayers and little by little developed into simple melodies that were soon transformed into popular songs.
Polyphonic settings of the Psalms nonetheless began to multiply during the second half of the century, with some composers composing them only occasionally and others such as Pascal de L'Estocart, Claude Le Jeune and Claude Goudimel writing them more regularly. Goudimel justified this practice in a preface to one of his works: 'In this little volume we have added three parts to the singing of the psalms, not to induce people into singing them in church, but rather to give praise to God, in homes in particular. This should not be found to be bad, given that the song that is used in church remains one sole and undivided whole'.
We should note that the Calvinist rite also had followers in Germany, as J.S. Bach was to experience at the court in Keithen; he was obliged to cease all activity as a composer of religious music from 1717 to 1723, the time of his engagement there.
The Huguenot composers
In contrast to the Lutherans, the French composers who devoted their talents to the Psalters also frequently composed secular works at the same time as they also composed sacred works for the Catholic church.
Even though Clément Janequin, the uncontested master of the early French chanson, also composed polyphonic settings of French translations of the psalms, in this anthology he stands for the extension of the polyphonic techniques perfected by Josquin Desprez. Astonishingly enough for the period, Janequin was never employed by a court or by a church for any particular length of time; at the very most he was awarded the honorary title of Chantre du roi towards the end of his life. His religious compositions were limited to two Masses, although it is not fully established that he was the composer of the Messe la Bataille (CD 1/16), included in a collection of Masses by famous composers that was assembled by Jacques Moderne in Lyon in 1532; nonetheless, the work is so original that it is impossible not to include it. From the beginning of the 15th century onwards, Dufay and the Franco-Flemish composers had provided themselves with extra inspiration for their Masses by basing them on melodies of both sacred and secular origin; the names of these melodies were added to the titles of the Masses. The secular song that was most frequently used was one that was linked to the Hundred Years' War: L'homme armé. One of the fundamental principles of the later Counter-Reformation would be the complete rejection of this very practice. In 1532, with the Reformation only beginning to gain ground in France, Catholic musical styles were still very much anchored in tradition. A particular variant of the above technique called the Parody Mass was employed: the polyphonic material was used more or less complete and only the sung text was changed. Those who knew Janequin's song about the victory of François I at Marignan (1515) well would have quickly reversed the process and have replaced mentally the words of the Ordinary of the Mass with the words of the original song.`Kyrie / Ecoutez'.
Claude Goudimel (1505-1572) seems to have been the composer most involved with settings of the Psalms and also with the expression of the Protestant faith in general, for he was one of the victims of the St. Bartholomew's Night massacre in Lyon in 1572. Many of his works composed after 1551 were devoted to polyphonic settings of the Psalms, whether in 'note for note' counterpoint somewhat in the style of the Lutheran harmonisations, or in a more elaborate contrapuntal style that resembled that of the motet. The interpretations of Psalm 37, Estans assis aux rives aquatiques (CD 1/19), offered here by the Clément Janequin Ensemble allow the listener to make a comparison between the simple version and the version in motet style; the second version of Psalm 37 recorded here was first published in 1564 but is only known thanks to the reprinting of the complete one hundred and fifty Psalms that was carried out in 1580, several years after Goudimers death.
Aside from his more daring polyphonic settings of the Psalms for five and up to eight voices, Pascal de L'Estocart, born in Noyon like Calvin, is principally known for his settings of the Octonaries on the vanity and inconstancy of the world (CD 1/18). This was a volume of poems that all used the same eight-line form to present moralising texts with a religious background. L'Estocart published a collection of fifty settings of these poems in 1581 and maintained close links with the centres of the Reformation in Switzerland, in Geneva and in Basel. He dedicated his collection of the Psalms of David to Henri IV in 1583.
Claude Le Jeune set these same texts from the Octonaries on the vanity of the world to music. His career was closely linked to his adherence to the Protestant faith; his sacred works, although for the most part consisting of Protestant works, nonetheless contain a few significant works for the Catholic rite, including a Mass, a Magnificat and several motets. He was one of those close to the new peacemaker king Henri IV, who appointed him Compositeur de la chambre du Roi shortly after his accession to the throne. The motet Muze honorons de ta chanson (CD 1/23) was published in the year of Henri's coronation and was clearly intended to honour the new sovereign. We here present two of Claude Le Jeunes sacred compositions, one for each of the two faiths. The motet Tristitia obsedit me (CD 1/24) is interesting not only for its music but also because of its choice of texts; written in an archaic style employing a cantus firmus (here a quotation from Lupus Hellinck's motet In te Domine speravi), the text of this motet was by the monk Savonarola, an inventor of ideas that were considered blasphemous at the time — in actual fact they predicted the Reformation that was to arrive a century later. This, however, cost Savonarola his life: he was burnt at the stake in Florence in 1498, literally one century before the Edict of Nantes.
The vers mesuré à l'antique technique used in several compositions was one of the many compositional techniques that defined Claude Le Jeune's style. Jean Antoine de Baïf described this new manner of creating a musical rhythm that was implicit in the text in his deliberations for the Académie de Poésie et de Musique in 1570. Just as in Greek prosody, the basic idea was that the rhythm does not originate in the music but within the text. In songs such as the renowned Qu'est devenu ce bel oeil, Le Jeune goes so far in his desire to recreate Antiquity that he even includes chromatic descending tetrachords. His setting of Psalm 88, O Seigneur, j'espars (CD 1/25), was composed according to this principle; the melody is underpinned by several homophonic polyphonic passages for two, four and five voices.
The repertoire of sacred music of the Huguenots was enriched still further with the appearance of yet another surprising medium, the counterfact chanson, meaning simply that the original secular text of the song had simply been replaced by a more 'virtuous' text. This is precisely the case in Roland de Lassus' Bonjour mon coeur; two counterfact versions of which can be heard here — one in French and the other in German (CD 1/20 & 21).
translation: Peter Lockwood