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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

Listen to the the music tracks

Ninfe qui tiens tant d’heur

Eustache Du Caurroy

Source : ‘Henri IV et Marie de Médicis: Messe de mariage’; Doulce Mémoire; dir. Denis Raisin-Dadre; Astrée-Naïve E 8808 (2000).


On the subject of the royal wedding, Nicolas Rapin composed these vers mesurés à l’antique. Set to music by Eustache Du Caurroy, Rapin this time addresses the queen Marie de Médicis, by evoking the eventful journey she undertook to her new country, the eagerness of France to discover the charms of the new queen, and its impatience to see the two greatest powers of the humanist Renaissance united and at peace.


Eustache Du Caurroy


Eustache Du Caurroy was born in 1549 in Gerberoy, at the borders of Picardy, Normandy and the Ile de France. He is considered to be the last great masters of Renaissance polyphony. He probably entered royal service (as a countertenor in the king's chapel) in 1575, the same year he won a musical competition in the town of Evreux, the Puy de Sainte Cécile, with a composition for four voices, Rosette pour un peu d’absence. He won the same competition the following year, with a motet for five voices (Tribularer si nescirem, now lost), and again in 1583 with a song, Beaux yeux dont le pouvoir, also for five voices.

In 1578, his name appears in the court account-books, still listed as a countertenor, but also as sous-maître de la Chapelle du roi, one of the most prestigious musical posts in the kingdom. He was also a member of the Chapelle of the queen mother Catherine de Médicis (1585 and 1587) and appeared to have been part of the circle around Marguerite de Valois who, starting in 1605, gathered around her the finest artists at her townhouse in Rue des Augustins (where the École des Beaux-Arts now stands).

Starting in 1594, Henri IV set Du Caurroy apart from other musicians. In 1595, Henri named him Compositeur de la Musique de la Chambre – a post he shared with Claude Le Jeune – and Compositeur de la Musique de la Chapelle five years later in 1599. This royal favour was accompanied by a number of ecclesiastical benefits that ensured him a comfortable life. He died in 1609 as he was preparing to publish his works, having signed an agreement with Pierre Ballard, "music printer to the king". He barely lived to see the completion of the project.

Most of his surviving works have come down to us in five collections, published starting in 1609. There are two volumes of Preces ecclesiasticæ (1609), dedicated to Henri IV and Marguerite de Valois, which contain fifty-three motets for between three and seven voices; forty-two Fantasies a III, IV, V et VI parties (1610); one volume of Melanges (1610), which contain secular and sacred polyphonic works sung in French; a Missa pro defunctis for five voices. This last was written around 1590, but the only surviving source for it is a re-edition by Ballard from 1636. It was sung at the funeral service for Henri IV, and tradition made it the funeral mass for the kings of France. Three other masses for four voices that he wrote are now lost.

Transcription (in French)

Ninfe qui tient tant d’heur, que de joindre à la France ta grandeur,
Et d’un Roy valeureux prendre le joug amoureux :
Quel paresseux démon te retient à Florence si long temps,
Sur le sablon toscan, loing de ton Astre nouveau ?
Viens combler de faveur notre Mars, qui s’avance devant toy :
O ! quelle troupe de Dieux et de Déesses t’attend.
Les forts vents de la mer bientôt sur l’onde paroistront,
Déjà la Brume revient, qui nous allonge la nuit.
Pousse la barque Hymenée nocier, ne retarde ce festin :
D’un mutuel flambeau brusle l’Amante et l’Amant,
Entre la guerre et paix que la France ait laissé de chanter :
O Hymenée, Hymenée ô Hymenée d’Amour.

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