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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

Listen to the the music tracks

Missa pro defunctis

Eustache Du Caurroy

Source : ‘Eustache Du Caurroy: Requiem des rois de France’; Doulce Mémoire; dir. Denis Raisin-Dadre; Astrée-Naïve E 8660 (1999).


The funeral services for Henri IV began on 29 June with an immense train that carried both the body and the effigy of the king to Notre Dame, where several masses were said for the eternal rest of the deceased. On the following day, "at around three", the train, consisting notably of all of the dignitaries in the kingdom and officers of the Maison du Roi, formed and set off for Saint-Denis. "The following day, the first of July, the day of the interment, after the four high masses celebrated by the Prelates, the Cardinal de Joyeuse made preparations to say the final high Mass […]. Seated, Monsieur Le Cardinal began the burial mass, to which was added Music by the Singers of the Chapelle of the late King […] (Mercure françois, 1610, f. 469v-470).
As is often the case, we have no contemporary account that states exactly what was this mass sung "en musique", i.e. in multi-voice polyphonic form, instead of as plainsong (Gregorian chant), which was reserved for a liturgical service celebrated by priests. According to tradition, the piece performed by the Musique de la Chapelle for this final ceremony was a five-voice Missa pro defunctis by Eustache Du Caurroy, the faithful sous-maître de la Chapelle du Roi, who had died on 7 August 1609. This is the only surviving mass by Du Caurroy, and it was perhaps composed prior to 1590. The only printed edition dates to 1636, and it was subsequently used for funeral ceremonies for the kings, princes and princesses of France. The collector Sébastien de Brossard (1655–1730) was responsible for this late publication, which is very difficult to authenticate; it appeared in the Catalogue of his library, and Brossard emphasised that "This music, as the subject calls for, is very sad, but it is of the highest possible quality, and no other music is sung at the funerals and services for the Kings and Princes at S. Denys." (Catalogue de musique théorique et pratique…, 1725, Bibliothèque nationale de France, département de la Musique, Rés. Vm8 20, p. 154).
We can judge for ourselves the majestic nature of this work, via a few extracts of one of the most powerful parts of the funeral mass: the Introit, which opens the mass.


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)

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine : et lux perpetua luceat eis.

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