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Claude Goudimel (1520 - 1572)
Psalms of the French Reformed Church
translated by Clément Marot
The French Reformed Psalter
The French Reformed Psalter consists of paraphrases of the
Psalms of David made by Clément Marot and Théodore de Bèze in the sixteenth century and
set to Gregorian melodies and to melodies secular or unpublished, adapted or harmonized.
More than a purely functional collection, the Huguenot Psalter is a powerful vehicle of
the Protestant faith. It clarified theological, musical and aesthetic questions of the
Renaissance and exercised an undeniable influence on the music of the period.
Claude Goudimel (1520-1572), who harmonized the Psalter, was
the composer of a monumental work which contains several levels of composition. First the
note against note psalm, easy to perform and intended to be sung by everyone, then a more
contrapuntal psalm, more ornamented, and finally the psalm in the form of a motet, full of
symbolism (Psalms XIII, CXXVIII and CIV) and treating each verse of the complete text. The
juxtaposition of these three types of setting demonstrates the great art of this French
master, whose life was dramatically cut short at the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. Paschal
de l'Estoquart and Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck contributed to the development of the genre
into the seventeenth century, with an ornate contrapuntal musical language more clearly
instrumental (Psalm XXV) and making a more spectacular use of voices (Psalm CIV).
Meditative prayers of petition, penitential appeals to God in
distress, are found in Psalms XIII, CLXIII and CXXX. The argument of Psalm CXXX is
translated by Clément Marot: Deeply felt prayer of one
who, through his sin, is in great adversity and nevertheless, through his firm hope, seeks
to obtain from God remission of his sins and deliverance from evil.
Psalms of praise, acknowledgement of the creation, Psalms XXV,
XXXIII, CIV, CVII and CXXVIII, rely on stirring melodies and are recognisable from their
great number: It is a fine hymn in which the prophet invites praise of the Almighty...(Psalm
XXXIII); The deliverance of Israel out of Egypt...;
Canticle of the priests, Levites and singers of Jerusalem, captive in Babylon. The
third category of this group of psalms, Psalms CXIV and CXXXVII, tell the story of Israel
in captivity and delivered.
The Song of Simeon concludes
the vingt psalmes derniers, traduitz par Clément Marot
(Twenty Last Psalms, translated by Clément Marot). This is the only extract
from the New Testament included in the Psalms of David.
The canticle is an exhortation to the chosen people.
Par le désert de mes peines, mon âme va
haletant (Through the desert of my suffering, my souls pants for
breath), the first words of the last chanson
spirituelle composed by Goudimel, were written by his contemporary Antoine de
la Roche-Chandieu. This new form marks, with the magnificent Octonaires de la Vanité du Monde and the Cantiques Spirituels, the development of religious
song in French, later to become a part of worship; after the Reformation, the
Counter-Reformation extended considerably the use of French in the song of the Church. The
Reformed Liturgy preserves living traces of older psalters through successive adaptations
and the feeling of the psalms is still generally familiar to those who have inherited the
Christine Morel (tr. Keith Anderson)
Psalme et chanson je chanteray,
A un seul Dieu, tant que je seray
(Psalm and song will I sing
To God alone, as long as I live)
Writer and courtier, royal scribe and recorder of the King's
journeys and battles, poet of his celebrations and his mourning, Clément Marot
constructed neither a Gargantuan palace nor a Christian institution, but rather the Psalms of David newly put into French according to the true
Hebrew. In debt to Erasmus for his freedom to read and transcribe Scripture
according to his personal experience and religious practice, he stands apart from the
immediate precursors of the Reformation, Nicolas de Clue and Guillaume Briconet, but also
Marguerite of Navarre and her miroir de lâme
pécheresse (Mirror of a Sinful Soul). Marot avoids this brand of mysticism in
favour of a direct acknowledgement and enjoyment of beauty. His joy in living through
grace does nothing to take away the fear of war but spares him that feverish and obscure
quest for God that he had found in Jesus Christ. This poet, free and light of heart, is,
all in all, an evangelist rather than a theologian or a mystic.
Marot's evangelical faith is expressed in his song, where he
plays with words as with a musical instrument. And what can be less mystical than this Petite épître au roi (Little Letter to the King):
En m'esbatant je fais rondeaux et rithme,
Et en rithmant bien souvent je m'enrime...
(In sport I make rondeaux and rhythm
And in rhythm often do I rhyme)
He lived his faith before God, coram Deo, and his Psalms express the attitude of the
believer face to face with God, without turning aside, complexity, meditation or mystery.
The complete and sufficient fullness of salvation is expressed, as the end of his Dialogue chrestien (Christian Dialogue) shows:
En grand'clarté congnoistra vivement
Que par Dieu seul il a son saulvement,
Sans que jamais en rien l'ait mérité
(Very clearly will he acknowledge
That he has salvation through God alone,
Without in any way deserving it.)
Michel Leplay, Extrait du Journal Réforme (tr. Keith Anderson)
Ensemble Claude Goudimel
The Ensemble Claude Goudimel is under the direction of
Christine Morel and includes the soprano Evelyne Brun, mezzosoprano Sylvette Claudot, alto
Laurent Mitsakis, tenor Jean Yves Sidoit and bass Vincent Lecornier. The Ensemble aims at
an expressive style of singing and various arrangements of the group have been used to put
into relief the melody of the psalm. With mixed voices it has been possible to cover the
whole repertoire, which includes works written in higher and in medium tessitura. The more
elaborate polyphonic settings keep only fragments of the psalm, with the use of three,
four or five voices. In ornamented settings the voice that carries the melody is in the
foreground, and sometimes the melody is sung by several voices. A more
compact positioning has been adopted for the simpler settings. In some cases the psalm
melody is entrusted to a single solo voice. In the settings of the Huguenot Psalter it is
important that the text by Clément Marot should be intelligible, in addition to a lively
and animated performance of the transparent musical textures of the composers concerned.
The Ensemble aims to open again the pages of a Psalter that has survived the test of time.
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Psaumes de la Reforme