A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Le Jeune, Claude


LE JEUNE, Claude, or Claudin, born at Valenciennes probably about 1530, for we first find his name as a composer in 1554. The only part of his life of which we have any record was spent in Paris. Thus in 1581 he attended the marriage of Henry III's favourite the Due de Joyeuse, and noted the magical effect of his own music.[1] About this time also, Leroy printed 5 vols.[2] of chansons (à 4), 39 of them by Le Jeune, and the publisher, himself a first -rate musician, seems to have valued them highly, placing the author by the side of Lassus, and filling the last 2 vols. with their works alone. Still the Huguenot composer met with slender encouragement for many years, and there is a pathetic story of his attempted flight at the siege of Paris in 1588, when bowed down by the weight of his unpublished MSS., he was caught by the Catholic soldiers, and would have seen his treasures committed to the flames, but for the timely aid of Mauduit, a Catholic musician, who saved the books and aided the escape of his brother artist.

Better times came late in life. In Henry IV's reign, Leroy printed 'Recueil de plusieurs chansons et airs nouveaux,' par Cl. le J. (Paris 1594), and in 1598 Haultin, at La Rochelle, the 'Dodecacorde,' 12 psalms written according to Glarean's 12 Church modes. On the title-page of the latter we see for the first time 'compositeur de la musique de la chambre du roy,' so perhaps the permission to print such a work, and the possibility of holding the appointment, was a result of the Edict of Nantes in the same year. In any case the appointment was quite a recent one, and Le Jeune did not long enjoy it, for the next publication, 'Le Printemps' (dedicated to our king James I[3]), was posthumous, and on the 4th page an ode appears 'Sur la musique du defunct Sieur Cl. le J.,' the second stanza of which begins thus,

'Le Jeune a faict en sa viellesse,
Ce qu'un bien gaye jeunesse,
N'auseroit avoir enterpris.'

The 6th page contains a general essay on music, claiming for Le Jeune the honour of uniting ancient rhythm to modern harmony. 'Le Printemps' contains 33 chansons with 'vers mesurez,' followed by longer settings of 'vers rimez.' Amongst the latter is Jannequin's 'Chant de l'Alouette' (à 4) with a 5th part added by Le Jeune, 'Le chant du Rossignol in 6 nos.,' 'Ma mignonne in 8 nos.,' and a Sestine (á 5) 'Du trist Hyver.'

The prefaces give no full explanation of 'vers mesurez.' On p. 6 we read that 'the wonderful effects produced by ancient music, as described in the fables of Orpheus and Amphion, had been lost by the modern Masters of Harmony, that Le Jeune was the first to see that the absence of Rhythm accounted for this loss; that he had unearthed this poor Rhythm, and by uniting it to Harmony, had given the soul to the body; that 'Le Printemps' was to be an example of this new kind of music, but on account of its novelty, might fail to please at first.

The editor next tells us (p. 7) that M. Baif[4] and M. Le Jeune had meant to print the words with suitable spelling and without superfluous letters, and to make the scanning as clear in the French poetry as it would be in Latin. But that he (the editor) had been advised to abandon this as too great a novelty. We are therefore left uncertain as to the method which the authors meant to employ, and have little to guide us as to the interpretation of such a passage as this (the bars drawn and quavers joined as in original):—

{ \time 4/4 \key f \major \clef mezzosoprano \relative g' { \cadenzaOn g2 e4 fis g2 c,8[ bes] ees2 d \bar "|" f g4 c,2 cis4 d8[ e f g] e4 fis2 \bar "|" } \addlyrics { Voi -- cy le verd à beau may con -- vi -- vant à tout sou -- las } }
We have, however, above the ode 'Sur la musique mesurée de Cl. le J.' on p. 3 of this same book a scheme of the quantities of the 4 lines in each stanza. The first line of this scheme being
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \new RhythmicStaff \cadenzaOn \stopStaff s4\tenuto s\lheel s\lheel s s4\tenuto s\lheel s\lheel s4\tenuto s4\tenuto s s4\tenuto s\lheel s\lheel s s4\tenuto s\lheel s\lheel s4\tenuto }
the corresponding line of the ode would then be accented

| Maīnts mŭzĭ | ciēns dē cĕ | tēmps cĭ || pār lĕs ă | cōrs grăvē | doūs.

and any music set to this would take the same accents. And so we might suppose that by some suitable directions as to the scanning of the words he might intend the above passage to be sung thus—

{ \time 3/4 \key f \major \clef mezzosoprano \relative g' { g2 e4 fis g2 c,8[ bes] ees2 d2*3/2\fermata \bar "||" f2 g4 c,2 cis4 d8[ e f g] e4 fis2*3/2\fermata \bar "||" } }

using the bars in the original as a mere division of the lines in the poem, where there should always be a pause and the measure completed. In any case this is only an adaptation to French music of what had been already done by Lassus and others in using the metres of Latin verses, though their efforts at Rhythm may have been accidental, while Le Jeune had a set purpose. It is interesting, at least, to see the importance of Rhythm being recognised, and some attempt at a notation to express it. It also seems clear from what is said in the preface, of making the French lines like the Latin, that the authors saw the impetus which the Latin odes had given to music in this direction.

The music (à 3) to the Psalms (Paris 1607) was apparently not reprinted, being doubtless cast in the shade by the more important setting (à 4 and 5) of Marot and Beza's Psalms, printed at La Rochelle by Haultin, and dedicated by Cecile Le Jeune,[5] in pursuance of the composer's expressed wishes, to the Duke of Bouillon, a great Protestant champion. This work, on which Le Jeune's great reputation entirely rests, went through many editions in France, found its way into Germany with the translation of Lobwasser, and except in Switzerland, was soon used universally in all Calvinistic churches. 'It went through more editions, perhaps, than any musical work since the invention of[6] printing.' The melodies in the Tenor are the same as those used by Goudimel, and earlier still by Guillaume Franc.[7] The other parts are written in simple counterpoint, note against note. The simplicity of the style, and its consequent fitness for congregational use, was not the only cause of its supplanting earlier works of the kind. There is real beauty in the music, which modern critics do not cease to recognise. 'Claude Le Jeune,' says Burney, speaking specially of this work, 'was doubtless a great master of harmony.' Ambros finds 'the discant so melodious that it might be mistaken for the principal [8]part.' 'These psalms,' thinks Fétis, 'are better written than Goudimel's.'[9]

Other posthumous publications are the 'Airs à 3, 4, 5, 6 (Paris, Ballard, 1608), and a collection of 36 chansons, 3 on each of the 12 modes, under the title 'Octonaires de la vanité et inconstance du monde' (id. 1610).

Lastly, in 1612, Louis Mardo, Le Jeune's nephew, published a 2nd book of Meslanges, in which, judging from the miscellaneous contents, he must have collected all that he could still find of his uncle's works, French chansons à 4, 5, 8, canons, psalms, a magnificat, a fantaisie, Latin motets, and Italian madrigals.

In the higher branches of composition Le Jeune never met with great success. The Belgian and Italian masters would not look at his writings.[10] Burney regarded him as a man of study and labour, rather than of genius and facility, but this judgment was only passed on some of his very earliest works.[11] Fétis, on the other hand, considered him naturally gifted, but without the education of a great master; and this opinion seems to be borne out by the success of his simpler, and the failure of his more elaborate works.

Le Jeune is generally regarded as a Frenchman, though his birthplace did not become part of France till 1677. It would however be no great honour to be called the chief musician of an ungrateful country, which suffered Jannequin in his old age to bewail his poverty, which had killed poor Goudimel, and could now only boast of a decaying and frivolous school. It is more to his honour to remember him as the composer of one little book which was destined, after his death, to carry God's music to the hearts of thousands in many lands.
  1. The story goes that an officer was so excited by an air of the composer's that he cried out, with oaths, that he must attack some one, and was only pacified when the character of the strain was altered. Whatever truth there may be in the story, the effect was more probably produced by some martial rhythm in the music than by any superior intelligence which Claude possessed in the use of the modes, to which it is attributed by the narrator.
  2. The last 8 of 25 vols. of chansons published between the years 1569 and 1587.
  3. See Hawkins's History (Chap. 110). The copy we have seen had the first page torn out, on which this dedication probably appeared, and the words 'roy' and 'majesté' erased on the second.
  4. Poet and musician, 1532–1589.
  5. All doubt as to Le Jeune being a family name seems to be dispelled by the sister's signature as above.
  6. Burney's History, iii. 46.
  7. The belief which at one time existed in England that Le Jeune wa the author of the melody of the 'Old 100th Psalm,' and which gains some support from the vague terms in which Burney (iii. 47) speaks of it, has no foundation in fact. It is now well known that that melody first appeared in Beza's Genevan Psalter of 1554. [See Old Hundredth.]
  8. Geschichte der Muslk, iii. 344.
  9. Biographie, v. 261.
  10. Mersenne, Harm. Univ. iv. 197, and Burney iii. 273.
  11. Except a canon, the pieces of Le Jeune's in Dr. Burney's MS. notebooks are among the composer's first publications in 1554.