This recording was first issued in 1975 but since
then the catalogue has not been overwhelmed with recordings of
Goudimel’s music. Apart from the inclusion of a few works in various
anthologies, the only other major disc of his music seems to be
Naxos’s Psalms of the French Reformation.
Claude Goudimel was born in Besançon in
1514 or the thereabouts. He lived most of his life in Paris, Metz
and Lyon. He was at the University of Paris in 1549 and worked
for the Parisian printer Nicoal Du Chemin. Goudimel was in Metz
for 10 years from about 1557, where he developed close ties with
the Reformed Church. He died in Lyons, one of the victims in a
massacre of Protestants which followed from the St. Bartholomew’s
day massacre in Paris.
Goudimel’s works are predominantly settings of
French psalm translations based on the Geneva psalter. These hundreds
of polyphonic psalms far outweigh the surviving songs, motets
and masses. The psalms all came with official tunes and Goudimel
uses these in two different ways. In ‘Or sus tous humains’ (Now
arise all men – a paraphrase of Psalm 47), the work makes uses
of imitation of motifs based on the official psalm tune. In other
works such as ‘O Seigneur loue ser’ (O Lord, praised shall be
– Psalm 130) and ‘Du fons de ma pensée’ (From the bottom
of my thoughts – Psalm 75), Goudimel uses the psalm tune as a
cantus firmus in the tenor. The two settings ‘Laisse moi desormais’
(Song of Simeon) and ‘Mon coeur rempli’ (My heart full) use texts
which were fitted later to pre-existing Goudimel settings of other
psalms. The notes do not explain why the original Goudimel psalm
settings were not used in these two cases.
These are not public works; the psalm settings
were written for private use as the Protestant worship of the
time only allowed the official tunes to be used. So we should
imagine a small group of musically talented Protestants coming
together in a domestic setting to sing these for devotional entertainment.
The come over as a mixture of conventional hymn-like pieces and
the fuguing songs of the 17th and 18th century
English church. Goudimel is careful to keep the words audible
at all times. The motet style pieces which use imitation sound
as if they would be rather fun to sing. And this is a pointer
to the problem with all the psalms; the musical material is not
really of sufficient interest. These are pieces for performers,
the music being subservient to the text but enjoyable enough to
perform. The choir, the Ensemble Vocal et Instrumental de Lausanne,
sound as if they are a large group – you have to take the idea
of a domestic performance with a pinch of salt. The performances
are attractive enough, though the choir sings with a vibrato that
is probably unsuitable for music of the period. I would like to
hear smaller scale, more delicate performances of these pieces.
Goudimel wrote five surviving masses, all are
parody masses. "Missa Le bie qu j’ay" is based on the
song "Le bien que j’ai" by Jacques Arcadelt. Here it
is sung interspersed with plainchant propers, though the booklet
does not make this clear. As with the psalm settings, this seems
to be music written primarily to be useful and functional, (I
could even imagine the Goudimel mass being useful to a modern
day Latin Mass choir such as the one in which I sing). The musical
material never overwhelms the text, even the passages with four
moving parts are written with a startling clarity. And passages
of homophony (or near homophony) are frequent; there are very
few really extended passages with all four moving parts. The performance
from the choir is adequate, if a bit robust. The vigour of the
performance might reflect the homely style in which the mass was
first performed but it does not bring out the best in the piece.
The Benedictus, sung by solo voices, is one the most moving movements.
Some of the speeds are rather on the slow side, which reflects
the conductor’s generally romantic view of the works. As with
the psalms, the amount of vibrato seems anachronistic and I would
like to hear a smaller scale more subtle performance of the mass.
Rather curiously, the disc is completed by performances
of three organ pieces by Sweelinck, performed by Xavier Darasse.
No information is given about the organ used for these pieces.
Sweelinck was one of those composers whose influence transcended
the rather narrow confines of his personal life. He never left
the Netherlands but his fame as an improviser and the fine quality
and wide range of his pupils meant that his influence spread as
far as Eastern Europe. The performances by Darasse are stylish
and polished. Why they have been tacked on to a disc of music
by Goudimel (the two almost certainly had no links at all) is