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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

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Miséricorde au pauvre vicieux

Claude Le Jeune

Source : ‘Le Jeune: Messe du manuscrit de Savoie; Missa Ad Placitum; psaumes’; ensemble vocal Sagittarius; dir. Michel Laplénie; Erato-Musifrance 2292-45825-2 (1992) (thanks to WarnerClassics).


In 1589, Henri IV inherited a kingdom bled white both physically and morally. France had been riven by endless and particularly violent inter-faith struggles that were punctuated by massacres commited by Protestants and Catholics alike. It was crucial to put an end to the violence, to restore trust and peace, and to reconcile and rebuild the country, so that France could get back on its feet after the Wars of Religion. This is the instrumental version of a basic counterpoint harmonisation for four voices. It was written by the Huguenot composer Claude Le Jeune, based on a Protestant melody (1562) of Psalm 51, one of the seven penitential psalms (Vulgate Bible: Psalm 50, Miserere mei Deus).


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)

Misericorde au pauvre vicieux,
Dieu tout puissant, selon ta grand’ clemence :
Use à ce coup de ta bonté immense,
Pour effacer mon fait pernicieux.
Lave moy, Sire, & relave bien fort
De ma commise iniquité mauvaise,
Et du peché qui m’a rendu si ord,
Me nettoyer d’eau de grace te plaise…

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