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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger


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Claude GOUDIMELL (1514 – 1572)
Six Psaumes: Or sus tous humaine; Que Dieu se montre seulement; Laisse moi desormais; Mon Coeur rempli; O Seigneur; Du fons de ma pensee
Messe Le bien que j’ay
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562–1621)
Ricercar en la
Choral – Variations ‘Allein Gottin der Hoh sei Ehr’
Choral – Variations ‘Ons is gheboren een Kindekijn’
Toccata en la

Xavier Darasse (organ)
Ensemble Vocal et Instrumental de Lausanne
Michel Corboz (conductor)
Recorded 1975
ERATO 2564 60574-2 [72.49]


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 anybody's guess.

Robert Hugill

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