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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

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O Seigneur, j’épars jour et nuit

Claude Le Jeune

Source : ‘Le Psaume français à l’Époque de l’Édit de Nantes’; ensemble vocal Sagittarius; dir. Michel Laplénie; Lira d’Arco LA 010-3 (2005), (Codaex).

Caption

(text by Agrippa d’Aubigné)

The translations of the Genevan Psalter and their melodies are not the only versions that provided inspiration for the composers of the era. Here is Psalm 88, set to music by Claude Le Jeune, using a translation into rhymed vers mesurés à l’antique that the Protestant poet Agrippa d’Aubigné, "prostrate with overwhelming grief at the death of his wife", Suzanne de Lezay, penned between 1595 and 1597.

Composer

Claude Le Jeune

(ca. 1530–1600)

"Claudin" Le Jeune was born in Valenciennes. Sometime prior to 1564 he settled in Paris, where he quickly attracted the patronage of several Protestant seigneurs, including François de La Noue and Charles de Téligny (son-in-law of the admiral de Coligny). Later, starting in the 1570s, he received the support of Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne and future duc de Bouillon.

He played an active role in the humanist project of the Académie de Musique et de Poésie, which had been founded in 1570, and was one of the principal architects of musique mesurée à l’antique, in which French words were set to ancient metric forms in order to recreate the "effects" that ancient music was reputed to produce. He barely escaped being killed in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre on 24 August 1572, and became "maistre de la Musique" of François de Valois – brother of Charles IX, the future Henri III and of Marguerite de Valois – and remained in the duc's service until the death of François in 1584. It was likely that Le Jeune met the king of Navarre, the future Henri IV, when François de Valois and his retinue stopped at Nérac in September 1580.

In the autumn of 1581, Le Jeune's composed several vocal pieces for the Balet comique de la Royne, which was performed at the festivities organised for the marriage of the duc de Joyeuse to Marguerite de Lorraine-Vaudémont. In 1590, he fled Paris to escape persecution by the Holy League. He found refuge in La Rochelle, where he rubbed shoulders with the great Huguenot poets of the era, including Jacques de Constans, Odet de La Noue, Agrippa d’Aubigné – some of whose texts he set to music. He also frequented Nicolas Rapin who, although Catholic, had abandoned the Holy League and sided with Navarre.

As soon as he acceded to the throne of France, Henri IV made Le Jeune one of his favourite musicians, and created the post of Maître Compositeur ordinaire de la Musique de la Chambre du roi just for him. But Le Jeune had little time to benefit from the king's largesse, as he died in September 1600.

His rich and varied opus (more than 600 pieces) was published between 1552 and 1612, most of it posthumously, at his sister's behest. It consists of many songs and airs, a number of which are set in "antique" metres, a dozen Latin motets that appear at the end of the two books of Mélanges, collections of Protestant songs in both simple and florid counterpoint and in "antique" metre, one authenticated mass (Missa Ad Placitum) and one of more dubious authenticity (the so-called "Savoie manuscript") and three instrumental fantasies.

Transcription (in French)

O Seigneur j’espars jour et nuit devant toy
Mes soupirs ailés relevés de leur foy :
Monte mon tourment de ce creus et bas lieu
Jusques a mon Dieu.

Au milieu des vifs, demi mort je transis :
Au milieu des morts, demi vif je languis :
Non ce n’est pas mort que balancer ainsi,
Ni la vie aussi.

Dans le ventre obscur du malheur resserré,
Ainsi qu’au tombeau je me sens aterré,
Sans amis, sans jour qui me luis’ et sans voir
L’aube de l’espoir.

Quand je veus parler je ne rens que sanglots,
Si je joins les mains je ne joins que des os :
Rien que les peaus n’ont et la toile mes yeus
Pour lever aus cieus.

Veus tu donc ô Dieu tirer entre les mors
Ta louenge encor’ du milieu de leur cors,
Et que ton grand nom venerable tant beau
Sonne du tombeau.

N’est-ce plus au ciel que seance tu faits ?
N’as-tu plus d’autelz que sepulcres infectz ?
Donc ne faut il plus a ta gloir’ étoffer
Temple que l’Enfer.

Suis-je donc forclos de ton oeil ? le berceau
Dur me fut : plus doux ne sera le tombeau :
Or coulés mes jours orageus, et mes nuits
Un fleuve d’ennuis.

Pour jamais as’-tu ravi d’entre mes bras
Ma moitié fidelle et mon espoir helas !
Las ce dur penser de regréts va trenchant
Mon cœur et mon chant.

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