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Claude Goudimel

Claude Goudimel

The French composer Claude Goudimel (ca. 1514-1572) is best known for his various settings of the French Psalter. He also wrote Roman Catholic church music and French chansons.

Claude Goudimel was born in Besançon; little is known of his early training. He was living in the French capital when his first chansons were issued (1549) by the Parisian music printer Nicolas du Chemin. Additional volumes under Du Chemin's imprint followed, but the composer's conversion to Protestantism probably forced his relocation to Metz about 1557. Ten years later, because of an administration unfriendly to Huguenots, Goudimel once again had to flee, first to his native town and then to Lyons. The massacres that began in Paris on St. Bartholomew's Day reached Lyons on Aug. 28, 1572, when Goudimel fell at the hands of religious fanatics.

Goudimel's devotion to the secular song is attested by numerous French publications, beginning in 1549. The many chansons printed during and after his lifetime suggest that he composed them throughout his career. Most of his extant music for Roman Catholic worship, however, was probably written before his conversion: five Masses, five motets, and three Magnificats.

Goudimel composed 66 psalms in the form of motets for three to six voices between 1551 and 1566. These imitative works constitute the first and most elaborate of the three settings he made of the French Psalter, translated by Clément Marot and Théodore de Bèze. Even though Goudimel elaborated in these psalms the Huguenot tunes of Louis Bourgeois, most of Goudimel's pieces were probably still acceptable to Catholics, who only later were forbidden to traffic with heretic texts and tunes.

Goudimel's second (1564 at Paris, 1565 at Geneva) and third (1568) settings of the French Psalter were probably intended for the Huguenots from the outset. A simple chordal style sufficed for the second version of 1564, but the third setting of 1568 saw the reappearance of the elaborate imitative style of the first setting. Unlike the early psalm settings, each of which Goudimel treated as a series of through-composed motets, the psalms of the third version were strophic songs with the music of the first standing for later stanzas.

Of all Goudimel's works the note-against-note pieces of the second version proved most successful and were sung (in translation) throughout Protestant Europe. Designed for home rather than choir singing, they are the least complex of his works. By meeting the need of the new faith for simple choral music, they became the most enduring creations of the master.

Further Reading

A useful discussion of Goudimel's music is in Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance (1954; rev. ed. 1959). For background see Donald Jay Grout, A History of Western Music (1960). □

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