Who wrote the hits? Popular composers in Renaissance France

Mar 28, 2019 | blog, Le Jardin, Renaissance | 0 comments

In today’s music business, it’s often said that it’s all in who you know. Well, things weren’t much different in 16th-century France! Back then, the ruling monarch granted royal privileges, (an old-fashioned kind of copyright), to select music publishers. In turn, these publishers hand-picked the composers they worked with, effectively becoming the tastemakers for all of France.

In our April concert, Le Jardin de Mélodies, we’ll be performing some of the most popular secular tunes of the second half of the 16th century in arrangements for voices and violin band plus plucked strings and percussion. This music would have been heard not just in the royal courts but across the French-speaking dominion, published via an innovative single-impression printing process refined by Pierre Attaingnant.

Though today the composers featured on this program don’t have the name recognition as other stalwarts of the Renaissance (like Monteverdi or DuFay), they were all very successful in their day.

Read on for a description of each of the composers featured in Le Jardin de Mélodies and to hear a sampling of their music. And if you haven’t already, be sure to get your tickets today!

Clèment Janequin (1485-1558)
Clèment Janequin was a truly unique voice in the Renaissance. Generations before Berlioz and other Romantics experimented with extended techniques to imitate real-world sounds, Janequin wrote long-form sectional chansons for vocal consorts that used nonsense-syllables, evocative texts, and layering of vocal lines to create ingenious simulacra of bird calls, the chaos of a Parisian marketplace, the glory of the hunt, and even cries of the battlefield. Our vocal consort will perform his “Le chant des oiseaux” (the song of the birds) at Jardin de Mélodies.
Listen to musica intima performing Janequin’s “Le chant des oiseaux.”

Claudin de Sermisy (1490-1562)
Equally at home with both sacred and secular music, Claudin de Sermisy was first employed as a singer at the royal chapel of Louis XII, later becoming the music director of the royal chapel during the reign of Francis I. He wrote mostly secular music earlier in his career and became more interested in sacred music later on. Almost all of his works were for voices but there’s ample evidence that his greatest hits were transcribed for various dance bands and domestic instrumental consorts across the European continent. Unlike many of the other, later composers in this list who employed a lot of dense polyphony in their music and often used imitation (a term for when all voices sing the same melodic line in sequence), Sermisy’s chansons were light and graceful.
Listen to Vox Nova Ensemble perform Sermisy’s “Il me suffit.”

Pierre Attaingnant (1494-1552)
Pierre Attaingnant is famous for becoming one of the first large-scale publishers to use single-impression moveable type to print music, which meant that the notes and the music staff could be printed at the same time. He published more than 1,500 chansons by various composers and was even named the official printer and bookseller of music for King Francis I of France. He is responsible for many composers gaining fame, including Janequin and Sermisy, but he is also credited with some music of his own, including this Branle d’Escosse, which is featured in our program.
Listen to David Douglass and Paul O’Dette perform Attaingnant’s “Branle d’Escosse.”

Thomas Crequillon (1505-1557)
A Franco-Flemish singer and composer, Thomas Crequillon wrote more than 200 chansons, 100 motets, as well as dozens of masses, but most of that music was not published until after his death. His music is described as smooth, and many of his works made heavy use of imitation, a compositional technique whereby all the voices sing the melodic line in sequence.
Listen to Crequillon’s “Ung gay bergier prioit une bergiere.”

Jacques Arcadelt (1507-1568)
When it comes to secular Renaissance music for the voice, almost no composer was more prominent than Jacques Arcadelt. Originally from Belgium, Arcadelt spent a large portion of his career in Italy, serving as a singer and composer at the Sistine Chapel before returning to France in 1551, where he served both King Henry II and Charles IX as a choirmaster. He wrote hundreds of secular madrigals and chansons, and his music was widely popular throughout France and Italy for more than 100 years.
Listen to the King’s Singers perform Arcadelt’s “Margot labourez les vignes.”

Pierre Phalèse (1510-1573)
A native of Leuven, Belgium, Pierre Phalèse (also known as Petrus Phalesius) was a Flemish bookseller and publisher who specialized in printing books of music. He first obtained a printing press in 1552, and by the time he died in 1575, his press had published more than 180 books of music. He is best known for printing sacred music such as motets and masses, as well as French chansons, Italian madrigals, and a large collection of music for the lute.
Listen to David Douglass and Paul O’Dette perform Phalèse’s “L’Arboscello Ballo Furlano.”

Adrien Le Roy (1520-1598)
If you wanted to have your music published in the late 16th-century in France, there was only one firm that could do it: Le Roy & Ballard. Founded in 1551 by Adrien Le Roy and his relative Robert Ballard, the firm became the official printer and bookseller of music of the royal family after Attaignant, and from the 1570s to the end of the century, Le Roy and Ballard held a virtual monopoly in music publishing. In addition to acting as artistic director for the firm and selecting the music that was published, Le Roy also wrote his own chansons and music for the cittern, lute and guitar.
Listen to David Douglass and Ellen Hargis perform Le Roy’s “O combine est heureuse.”

Claude Gervaise (1525-1583)
Claude Gervaise is best known for his instrumental dance music, including pavanes, galliards and branles. He worked as an assistant to music publisher Pierre Attaingnant, helping to edit and publish several books on dances, and he continued to help Attaingnant’s widow with the publishing business after Attaingnant died.
Listen to David Douglass and Paul O’Dette perform Gervaise’s “Pavanne & Galliarde De la Guerre”

Claude LeJeune (1528-1600)
One of the most prominent composers of secular music in the second-half of the 16th century in France, Claude Le Jeune is best known for creating the musique mesurée style, where the music reflects the stress accents of the French language. In this style, the stressed syllable gets a longer note and the unstressed syllable gets a shorter note.
Listen to David Douglass and Ellen Hargis perform LeJeune’s “Rossignol, mon mignon.”

Want to hear these songs performed live? Don’t miss our upcoming performance of Le Jardin de Mélodies April 5th to 7th!


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