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The Ear of the Huguenots
Huelgas Ensemble (Axelle Bernage, Michaela Riener, Sabine Lutzenberger (soprano), Witte Maria Weber (contralto), Achim Schulz, Adriaan De Koster, Bernd Oliver Fröhlich, Matthew Vine (tenor), Tim Scott Whiteley, Guillaume Olry (bass), Annelies Decock, Jérôme Van Waerbeke (violin), Lies Wyers (viola da gamba), Matthieu Lusson (violone))/Paul Van Nevel
rec. 2016, Monasterium PoortAckere, Ghent
Texts and translations included
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 88985411762 [65:09]

The commemoration of 500 years Reformation mostly focuses on the Lutheran Reformation. From a musical point of view most attention is given to the chorales and other sacred music, composed under its direct influence. However, comparable movements took place in other countries, such as France, the Netherlands and England. These were partly inspired by Luther and his allies, but partly also independent. The present disc brings music which was written in France, under the influence of the other great Reformer, John Calvin.

It is often stated that Calvin had a negative attitude towards music. However, he did not fundamentally disagree with Luther as far as the importance of music is concerned, although he—probaby more than Luther—was aware of “music's destructive potential”, as Judith Haug writes in the liner-notes to the present production. In contrast to Luther, Calvin gave the Psalms an almost exclusive place in worship. “It is a thing most expedient for the edification of the church to sing some psalms in the form of public prayers by which one prays to God or sings His praises so that the hearts of all may be roused and stimulated to make similar prayers and to render similar praises and thanks to God with a common love.” This explains why he himself started to write rhymed versions of some psalms. He soon realized that his talent in this department was too limited, and asked Clément Marot to take care of this job. Marotwas a highly respected poet in the service of the court. In 1539 Calvin published a book with psalms. It included 22 psalms and three hymns: the Ten Commandments, the Song of Simeon (Nunc dimittis) and the Apostles’ Creed, all versified and in French. At the time these psalms were even sung at the (Catholic) court.

In next editions new versifications were added. As Marot had died in 1544, Calvin asked Thedore de Bèze to carry on Marot’s work. In his early years Bèze had published Latin poetry which was received well, but later he became a follower of Calvin and turned to theology. In 1562 the Genevan Psalter was completed. At that time the number of Protestants had increased considerably. It has been estimated at about two million on a population of 16 million. This resulted in an increase in tension between the two religions. Many Huguenots sought refuge in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. Many of those who remained in the country fell victim to the massacres at St Bartholomew’s Day in 1572. One of them was Claude Goudimel, one of the most prominent composers who created polyphonic settings of psalms from the Huguenot Psalter.

The present disc puts these psalms into a historical perspective. The programme opens with settings of Psalm 67 from the Genevan Psalter by Goudimel and Claude Le Jeune respectively. They are for four and three voices respectively; one of them is the cantus firmus, placed in either the tenor or the soprano, whereas the other parts include the counterpoint. The third item in this section is a setting of Psalm 101 from the pen of Jacques Mauduit, a composer of aristocratic birth, who was a follower of the poet Jean-Antoine de Baïf. In 1586 he published a collection of chansonnettes mesurées on texts by Baïf. The latter had developed a new poetic style, called vers mesurés à l’antique, based—as the term suggests—on the models of the classical antiquity. He also translated the book of Psalms in French three times: two metrical translations and lastly a rhymed version (1587). The setting performed here is not rhymed and therefore must have been taken from one of the earlier translations.

The reactions to the St Bartholomew’s massacre across the continent were mixed. It is said that King Philip II of Spain “laughed for the only time on record”. On the other hand, Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, considered it “shameful”. Gaspard de Coligny, one of the leaders of the Huguenots whose killing by order of King Charles IX initiated the massacre, was considered a threat to Christendom, and thus Pope Gregory XIII designated 11 September 1572 as a joint commemoration of the Battle of Lepanto and the massacre of the Huguenots. The second section of the programme is devoted to this celebration. It is a bit disappointing that the liner notes hardly give any information about this event. We are told, though, that the “programme booklet” for the service did not mention the names of the composers whose works were being performed. Therefore the pieces included here are the result of a personal choice of Paul Van Nevel. The inclusion of Palestrina is obvious, as he was the most prominent representative of the post-Tridentine church music. Giovanni Animuccia can also be counted among the composers who represented the Counter Reformation. His Gia fu presa da te and the anonymous Chi vol seguir la guerra are laude, examples of the kind of spiritual songs in the vernacular which were sung in the circles of the laudesi, lay brotherhoods. These had their origins in the 13th century, but at the time of the Counter Reformation they were used by the Church as a useful tool to disseminate its doctrines.

In the third and last section of the programme we return to France. It gives some idea about the context in which the Huguenot Psalter came into existence. In fact, there is a close connection between the Psalter and the poetic style of Baïf; the latter also manifests itself in the two secular pieces by Le Jeune which close this disc. Povre coeur entourné is full of dissonants and chromaticism. Also in this section are two sides of Paschal de L'Estocart. He has become best known for his Octonaires de la Vanité du Monde, a kind of spiritual chansons. He was close to Huguenot circles and seems to have adhered to their ideals. Here we hear a motet on a Latin text and a secular chanson. Guillaume Costeley was also a follower of Baïf's ideals. The largest part of his oeuvre comprises chansons. The least-known composer is Jean Servin, another Protestant who set the 150 Psalms for three voices. Here we hear an eight-part setting of Psalm 15, on a Latin rhymed version of the Psalms by George Buchanan, a Scottish historian and scholar who was in Paris in the 1550s and took the side of the Calvinists.

Whatever repertoire he chooses, Paul Van Nevel always gets to the heart of the matter. The features of the pieces recorded here is fully explored. The clarity of the voices and the audibility of the text are essential in communicating what these sacred and secular pieces are all about. The similarities and the differences come clearly to the fore. The differences between French and Italian music are also eloquently demonstrated. Obviously the ensemble sings in meantone temperament and uses historical pronunciation.

This repertoire is seldom performed; there is a large amount of music from this period in French music history which deserves to be explored. The choice of repertoire and the quality of both music and performance justify this disc to be labelled Recording Of The Month.

Johan van Veen

[Psalm music of the Huguenots]
Claude GOUDIMEL (1514/1520-1572)
Psaume LXVII à 4: Dieu nous soit doux et favorable [4:38]
Claude LE JEUNE (1528/1530-1600)
Psaume LXVII à 3: Dieu nous soit doux et favorable [3:45]
Jacques MAUDUIT (1557-1627)
Psaume CI à 4: Pardon et justice il me plaît de chanter [5:54]
[Rome 1572: a celebration on receiving the “good news” of the massacre in Paris on the 23rd August]
anon (16th C)
Chi vol seguir la guerra, lauda à 3 [2:38]
Giovanni ANIMUCCIA (1520-1571)
Gia fu presa da te, lauda à 4 [3:39]
Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (1525-1594)
Missa Ut re mi fa sol la à 6 & 7:
Agnus Dei [7:39]
[Secular and sacred music from the Huguenot circle]
Paschal DE L'ESTOCART (1539-after 1584)
Peccantem me quotidie a 4, motet [6:39]
Le monde un jour contre Vertu faché à 4, chanson [3:33]
Jean SERVIN (1530-1596)
Psalm XV a 8: Stellata coeli [4:01]
Guillaume COSTELEY (1530-1606)
Noblesse gist au coeur du vertueux à 4, chanson [10:40]
Cigne je suis de candeur à 3 & 5, chanson en vers mesurés [6:07]
Povre coeur entourné à 5, chanson [5:46]



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