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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

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Qu’est devenu ce bel œil

Claude Le Jeune

Source : ‘Autant en emporte le vent: Claude Le Jeune, Chansons’; ensemble Clément Janequin; dir. Dominique Visse; Harmonia mundi HMC 901863 (2005).


(text after Gilles Durant de La Bergerie, "Tombeau d’une belle et vertueuse dame. Vers élégiaques", Œuvres poétiques, Paris, Langelier, 1594; reworked by Agrippa d’Aubigné or Odet de La Noue)

To emphasise the tormented and funereal character of the "tomb" of Durant de La Bergerie, Le Jeune accompanied the classical metre with the "effects" of a specific musical process practised by certain humanist musicians, particularly in Italy. The piece is based on the use of one of three classical tetrachords – series of four tones – that characterise the three tunings supposedly used in Antiquity – diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic. Here, Le Jeune uses the chromatic tuning, four notes, separated by two semi-tones and a minor third (a tone and a half). The tetrachord chosen by Le Jeune (B/A Minor/A Natural/D) is played twice at the beginning of the first verse, once ascending ("Qu’est devenu") and once descending ("ce bel œil"). The composer then plays on the characteristics of the tetrachord: a semi-tone and a minor third, which are added to the fourth and the fifth, which are common to all three tunings.


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)

Qu’est devenu ce bel œil qui mon ame éclairoit ja de ses rays,
Dans qui l’Amour retrouvoit ses fleches, flames & traits ?
Qu’est la bouch’or devenue & ce ris si mignard, & ce discours ?
Dont ma maitresse attrapoit les plu’farouche en amours ?

Qu’est devenu cette joue & d’amour & de honte le pourpris,
Sur qui l’Amour étaloit cent mile rozes & lis ?
Qu’est devenu le fin or de ce poil prime frizé reluizant,
Dont mile Amours, mile rets sans fin aloyent façonnant ?

Qu’est devenu cette main que l’épouze de Titon avouroit,
Main, qui plus blanche que lait, les nége’ mesme éfaçoit ?
O maleur injurieux qui cachant ce trezor sou-le tombeau,
Fais que le monde n’a plus rien de mignard ni de beau !

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