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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

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Déserts témoins de mes pensées

Pierre Guédron

Source : Doulce Mémoire; dir. Denis Raisin-Dadre; unpublished recording of a concert given at Versailles (Salon d’Hercule, 11 October 2003), within the context of a conference "Louis XIII musicien et les musiciens de Louis XIII", organised by the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles; recording: Thierry Géroux, Atelier d’Euterpe (Le Chesnay).


(text by Pierre Motin)

By the end of Henri IV's reign, the air de cour had evolved into something much more subtle and ornamental. This changed mirrored the ideals of a society that was becoming increasingly refined. Urbane circles attempted to define a modern sociability that was governed by new codes of civility, and that united the activities of heart and mind.
This change is particularly noticeable in Guédron's third collection of airs de cour (1612), from which this air is taken. It sets to music a lovely text by Pierre Motin, and one senses the beginnings of a new, more gallant and lyrical aesthetic. The air is divided into two parts; it begins with a delicately ornamented récit in a single melody line, which then gives way to a polyphony that is more penetrating and less vertical than in the composer's two previous collections of airs.


Pierre Guédron

(ca. 1565–1620)

Pierre Guédron was the youngest of the three composers at the court of Henri IV. He was born at Châteaudun in 1565 or 1567. In contrast to his older colleagues Claude Le Jeune and Eustache Du Caurroy, Guédron excelled only in the composition of secular music, and rapidly became a master of the genre.

His name appears in the historical record for the first time in 1583, when he was listed as one of five singers from the chapel of Louis II de Guise, cardinal de Lorraine, that had performed at the Puy de Musique d'Évreux that year. He is described as singing "countertenor in an excellent manner", despite being "of changing voice", i.e. between 15 and 18 years old. The date of his arrival at court is unknown. Perhaps he joined the singers of the Musique du Roi after the death of the cardinal de Lorraine in 1588. His name first appears in the royal accounts in 1599, as Maître des enfants de la Musique de la Chambre. By March 1601 at the latest, Guédron was appointed Compositeur de la Musique de la Chambre, replacing Claude Le Jeune, who had died the previous year. His career reached its apogee under Louis XIII, when in 1613 he was appointed Surintendant de la Musique de la Chambre du roi and Maître de la Musique de la reine mère Marie de Médicis, leaving the post of Maître des enfants to his son-in-law Antoine Boesset (1587–1643). Guédron rapidly made a name for himself by his masterful treatment of the air de cour, a secular genre in which he was unrivalled. After several of his pieces had been quietly published in anonymous anthologies (1595, 1596 and 1597), in 1602 Ballard published the first collection devoted exclusively to Guédron, which made the musician famous. Guédron also supplied airs and recitatives for the main ballets performed at the French court between 1598 and 1620, from Ballet des Étrangers to Ballet d’Alcine. He is considered the finest French craftsman of the accompanied solo song. He died in 1620, sometime around 9 July.

A total of 185 of his airs de cours and ballet music have come down to us, in versions for four or five voices, or for voice and lute. These were published in anthologies and collections starting in 1595. The lion's share of them were published in six polyphonic collections signed by the Guédron and published by Ballard, "music printer to the king", between 1602 and 1620.

Transcription (in French)

Desers tesmoins de mes pensées,
Rochers jusqu’aux cieux élevés,
Cheres forets qui reçevés
Le jour sans en estre percées :
Devant vous je puis seulement
Dire que j’ayme extrémement.

La nuit de Pavos couronnée
Ne me sçauroit fermer les yeux,
Car trop d’objéts delicieux
Tiennent mon ame environnée :
Et mes plus aymables portraits
Ce sont des chaines & des traits.

Celles qui se donnent la gloire
D’avoir enflammé mes esprits,
N’avoyent que des glaçons au pris,
Où j’en ay perdu la memoire :
J’esprouve estant si bien domté,
Que je ne l’ay jamais esté.

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