There are many ensembles
which concentrate on the polyphony of
the renaissance. Most of them don't
pay that much attention to French music
written in the second half of the 16th
century. French ensembles like the Ensemble
Clément Janequin concentrate
for the most part on the secular chanson.
The sacred repertoire is not fully explored.
That is certainly the case with compositions
written under the influence of the Reformation.
The ensemble Ludus Modalis here set
about redressing the balance.
Not much is known about
Paschal de l'Estocart. It is not unusual
that a year of birth isn't exactly known,
but in de l'Estocart’s case we don't
even know when he died. All his music
which has come down to us was printed
in 1582; then he just disappears. There
is some circumstantial evidence that
he was still alive in 1587 but that’s
His early years are
also shrouded in mist. He was born in
Noyon (Picardie) and lived for a while
in Lyon, where he married in 1563. The
next recorded landmark came in 1581
when he enrolled at Basle University.
Here he came into contact with the Huguenot
pastor Antoine de La Roche-Chandieu,
one of the authors of the 'Octonaires
de la vanité du monde', a collection
of spiritual huitains, set to
music by Claude Le Jeune and La Roche-Chandieu
himself. The first and second book of
the 'Octonaires' were set to music by
L'Estocart as well. These were recorded
in 1982 by the Ensemble Clément
Janequin for Harmonia Mundi. There is
every reason to believe that L'Estocart
was at the very least sympathetic to
the ideas of the Reformation.
The music on this disc
is taken from the collection 'Sacrae
Cantiones', which contains sacred music
on both French and Latin texts. The
fact that L'Estocart also used Latin
texts gives food for thought that he
could have been indecisive in his religious
convictions. Composers had to think
practically: the inclusion of motets
on Latin texts increased the chance
of commercial success. The texts of
the motets included here (five of the
total of 8) are certainly not in conflict
with the ideas of the Reformation.
The French pieces belong
to the genre called chanson spirituelle.
Originally the chanson was mostly of
a secular nature. In the wake of the
Reformation the – often amorous – texts
were replaced by sacred texts. After
a while a new genre emerged: protestant
songs with original texts and music.
These were either metrical psalms (like
those by Marot and De Bèze) or
chansons spirituelles on non-biblical
texts. Both genres are part of the 'Sacrae
Cantiones' by L'Estocart.
The melody of a metrical
psalm is used by L'Estocart in 'O combien
et plaisant', a setting of Psalm 133
(O how pleasant and desirable to
see brothers united, amicably).
The melody, which appears in the tenor
of L'Estocart’s setting, is sung unisono
The title of this disc
refers to the chanson spirituelle
'Deux coeurs aimants' which is about
love according to biblical principles:
"Two hearts, in worthy and holy faith,
cherishing the sweet pleasure, fidelity's
reward". It gives some idea of the character
of these chansons spirituelles,
many of which are about sin and redemption.
The longest piece on
this disc is the 'Ode en douze parties',
a series of twelve chansons whose complete
title declares the subject matter: "Ode,
in which Jesus Christ, the very God
and very man, reminds all Christians
of the good they receive through him".
Christ speaks in all of these pieces:
six of the twelve begin with the words
"Je suis" (I am). "The anaphoric construction
(…) at the start of the strophes is
set each time to a rising motif which
spans a whole octave, possibly serving
to symbolise the metaphysical distance
between God and his creation"; so writes
Anne Coeurdevey in the booklet. The
twelve chansons span the whole of the
Bible, beginning with "The work of the
creation of the world", followed by
"Jesus Christ came to redeem man", his
death, resurrection and ascension to
heaven and ending with an "Exhortation
to Christians to seek all good in Jesus
Christ, and uphold His holy word".
"The musical language
of L'Estocart is influenced, as with
all the French composers of his generation,
by that of Lassus. The whole range of
compositional techniques, from imitative
counterpoint to homorhythmic chordal
writing, are employed to serve the goal
of expression, the neatness with which
the musical syntax matches that of the
text, rhythmic variety and the sense
of movement (…), and the wide use of
rhetoric figures (…)." A good example
of chordal writing and use of rhythm
to express the text is in the ninth
of the chansons from the 'Ode en douze
parties', on the text "I reduce the
enflamed rage of haughty rulers to air,
and dash their intrigues".
The ensemble is very
profound in its approach to these compositions.
As the chansons were meant to be sung
at home, the ensemble have opted for
a more intimate acoustic than in the
motets. As one of the aims of the ensemble
was "to allow the richness of the polyphonic
writing as much space as possible" they
have opted for a performance without
instruments. The scoring of the pieces,
written for four to seven voices, varies:
"solo voices for the chansons spirituelles
and at specific moments during the
Ode; doubled upper voices for the psalms;
and all doubled voices for the large-scale
motets". They also chose to perform
these pieces at - "historically justified"
- low pitch and with the contemporary
French and Latin pronunciation.
This approach has certainly
paid off. The result is a recording
which is just wonderful: it is difficult
to decide what to admire most, the music
or the performance. It is the combination
of the two which makes this disc a winner.
The music is first-rate: how well did
L'Estocart translate the texts into
music and how well he used the compositional
tools of his time to express the meaning
of those texts. The ensemble is first-rate:
the intonation is immaculate, the blending
of the voices and the balance between
the voices in the ensemble is excellent.
The rhythmic flexibility, the dynamic
shading and the communication of the
text are most admirable.
I have very much enjoyed
this disc, and I sincerely hope Bruno
Boterf and his colleagues will record
more pieces by L'Estocart.
Johan van Veen