French Sacred Music of the later 16th Century

One of the reasons that French sacred music of this period is less well-known than in other countries is that the Counter-Reformation was particularly bloody here. Many of the leading composers were Protestant, and much of their work was lost or destroyed. Also, the basic tension inhibited the development of a typical style.

Two of the more influential composers in this repertory were Claude Le Jeune (c.1528-1600) and Eustache Du Caurroy (1549-1609). A recording devoted to each:

Le Jeune: Missa Ad Placitum / Magnificat
Ensemble Clément Janequin - Dominique Visse
Harmonia Mundi 901607
Du Caurroy: Requiem des Rois de France
Doulce Mémoire - Denis Raisin Dadre
Astrée 8660

Very little of Le Jeune's music was published until after his death, but today he is generally acknowledged as the most technically intriguing composer of the group. Du Caurroy was composer to the King of France until his death.

Le Jeune was actually better known for his secular music, and so it is not surprising that Clément Janequin (c.1485-1560), the leading chanson composer of the era, also wrote some sacred music of modest scope. A fine recording:

Janequin: Messes
La Bataille / L'Aveuglé Dieu
Ensemble Clément Janequin - Dominique Visse
Harmonia Mundi 901536

Another very influential composer was Claude Goudimel (1520-1572). In fact, he is generally considered to be the most influential composer in the short-lived French sacred style emerging at that point. A recording featuring his Protestant music along with similar works by related composers of the period:

Psaumes de la Réforme
Claude Goudimel / Paschal de l'Estoquart / Jan Sweelinck
Ensemble Claude Goudimel - Christine Morel
Naxos 8.553025

Goudimel was killed in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and more conservative composers like Du Caurroy went on to more significant court positions.

Other significant recordings by somewhat more obscure French composers of Latin music during the period:

Pierre Certon: Chansons / Messe "Sus le pont d'Avignon"
Boston Camerata - Joel Cohen
Harmonia Mundi "Musique d'abord" 1901034
Guillaume Boni: Motets (1573)
Ensemble Jacques Moderne - Jean-Pierre Ouvrard
Adda Musica Nova MN8
François Regnard: Novæ Cantiones Sacræ (1590)
Motets à 4, 5 & 6 voix
Ensemble Jacques Moderne - Joël Suhubiette
Calliope 9291

Obviously, Ensemble Jacques Moderne has done a lot of good work toward uncovering this repertory.

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Todd M. McComb