The Prince of Moscow and French National Antiquitarianism

If Janequin was remembered at all in France at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was as one of many shadowy figures from a vague and quasi-unapproachable musical past. Then, almost overnight, his status was transformed to that of a composer of undeniable genius, exhibiting all the traits of elegance and clarity held to be quintessentially French, and responsible for the masterpiece that quickly became the flagship of French national antiquarianism, “The Battle of Marignan” (LM3 “La Guerre”).

A central figure in this transformation was Alexandre-Étienne Choron (1771–1834), historian, collector, editor, publisher, administrator, educator, and, perhaps most importantly, a gifted choir director. Promoting the fortunes of Clément Janequin and his legacy, however, was not Choron’s first priority. Choron was committed to the idea that Europe’s musical heritage was rife with treasures that deserved to be resuscitated, and in his first efforts as historian and editor (Choron collaborated on a music dictionary in 1810 and 1811) it was names like Josquin, Goudimel, and Palestrina that had pride of place. In order to demonstrate his ideas about this repertory, Choron contributed to the founding of a series of educational institutions, starting with the Institution Royale de Musique Classique et Religieuse in 1818, where performances with student choirs often numbering more than a hundred voices were an important element. The idea to include something by Janequin in his concerts seems to have occurred to Choron sometime in the late 1820s. In a series of fourteen concerts in the 1529 and 1530 seasons, Choron’s students presented “La Guerre” three times and Janequin’s market panorama “Les Cris de Paris” four times. Choron’s concerts were meticulously prepared and well-received: a Parisian newspaper announced that a coming concert would again include the battle chanson by Janequin “that was greeted with such extraordinary enthusiasm in the preceding seasons.”[1]

Only a few seasons later, the Belgian collector, writer, and critic François-Joseph Fétis included works by Janequin in his “Historical Concerts,” first those held in Paris (1832–1835) and later those in Brussels (1836–1858). In contrast to Choron’s large student ensemble, the singers who took part in the concerts assembled by Fétis were far more experienced, far less prepared, and significantly fewer in number. In addition, Fétis seems to have been somewhat more disposed than Choron to accepting the occasional expedient adjustment to the original material.[2]

This tolerant approach also characterized the efforts of another choir leader who otherwise shared several traits with Choron (and with whose work he was familiar). This was the so-called “Second Prince of Moscow” Napoléon Joseph Ney (1803–1857), son of Napoléon Bonaparte’s celebrated maréchal. Ney was a military officer, a career diplomat, and a passionate promoter of early vocal music. In the years between 1843 and 1849, he put together a large choir (usually more than eighty voices) with a decidedly aristocratic profile when it came to its financial support, its singers, and its targeted audiences. In the space of these six years, Ney’s choir gave a series of nineteen concerts, in which works by Palestrina, Handel, and Haydn figured prominently, but where, starting with the fifth concert (on the 18th of March, 1844), Janequin’s “La Bataille de Marignan” quickly became an audience favorite. Writing in La France musicale on the 16th of February 1845, music critic Adolphe Adam noted that

The concert closed with the battle of Marignan by Clément Janequin, and quite extraordinarily, or rather, quite expectantly, because this is the most appreciated piece in the entire repertory of the Society, not a single one of the noble spectators left their seats early in order to be at the head of the line to get their carriage.[3]

Ney’s concerts were carefully prepared, usually with around three months of rehearsals. Ney cultivated a wide expressive range and, in selections from the Palestrina-dominated sacred repertory, he was particularly aware of the impressive pianissimo effects that could be achieved with a large choir. The restraint that characterized Ney’s approach to Palestrina seems not to have inhibited his interpretations of the Janequin selections programmed by the Society (“La Guerre” and “Le Chant des Oiseaux”). They were lauded by Adam for their technical accomplishment and especially their riveting energy, suggesting the employment of a full spectrum of dynamic effects. The Ney concerts attracted considerable attention, in and outside of Paris, and when in May of 1851, 130 singers at the Conservatory in Milan presented their interpretation of “La Guerre,” the decision to include this work in their program may well have been influenced by the series of concerts led by Ney.

Napoléon Joseph Ney died in 1857, but a few years later, a choir was founded with a profile that by and large qualified it as a twin sister of Ney’s group. These singers were led by Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray (1840–1910), who not only duplicated the Prince of Moscow’s format and vocal parameters, but made Clément Janequin’s “La Guerre” a central element of his programming. Bourgault-Ducoudray took his well-trained amateurs on tours, and their “dazzling”[4] Janequin performances in 1874 led to a spate of exuberant reviews in the Parisian press.[5] In 1879, Bourgault-Ducoudray was made director of the Conservatory in Paris, where as part of his efforts to foster the study of early music, he made performances and auditions of “La Guerre” part of the curriculum.[6]

Another outstanding French educator and choir director who found a central place for Janequin in his programming was Charles Bordes (1863–1909). Bordes was primarily a church musician, and the sacred repertory was naturally at the core of his activities as the leader of the Chansonniers de Saint Gervais, activities that eventually included two hundred concerts in one hundred and thirty different venues. Alarmed by the lack of educational opportunities for specialists in the sacred repertory, Bordes, together with composer Vincent d’Indy, founded the Schola Cantorum in 1896 as a musical counterweight to institutions with a more operatic profile. His commitment to the sacred repertory notwithstanding, Bordes both edited and promoted music by Janequin, and when a concert tracing the history of French music was put together by Bordes and his Chansonniers de Saint Gervais for the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900, Janequin’s “La Guerre”—the only piece on the program not in strict chronological sequence—had the place of honor as the grand finale.

Newspaper articles and a series of printed editions of “La Guerre” give us a few hints about interpretive practices in the nineteenth century. Newspaper accounts generally concentrate on the enthusiasm that the performances engendered but occasionally provide information about the size of the performing groups (often quite large). The five editions of “La Guerre” that appeared between 1829 and 1889 tell a bit more. In some editions, the pitch is transposed up a step (presumably to make things more comfortable for the ladies), and the version by Joseph Ney and Louis Niedermeyer adds a number of rhythmic and dynamic suggestions.[7] To what degree Ney and the other directors reveled in what seems to have been a relatively free interpretive atmosphere is conjectural in this period before the advent of electronic recordings, but it would seem that the emphasis was not first and foremost on restricting or defining the directors’ artistic latitude. The glowing terms used by Claude Debussy in his account of the Janequin performance he witnessed in 1914 (cited below) suggests that the accumulated interpretive baggage of this nearly one-hundred-year-old performance tradition was anything but moribund.

Janequin’s impact on successive generations of composers comes to expression particularly in two ways: via quotations and by way of stylistic procedures. Quotations are easily recognized and identified. Stylistic procedures, on the other hand, are amorphous by nature, and attributing influence in any case, and certainly with Janequin, gains immeasurably in credibility when the works being looked at can be connected with some documented expression of estimation. In the case of Janequin, such an expression came from the pen of no less a figure than Claude Debussy (1862–1918). Like most French composers of his generation, Debussy was acutely conscious of France’s musical heritage, traces of which can be seen in both the text choices and the musical techniques employed in his sole a cappella choir work, the Trois chansons de Charles d’Orleans (1394–1465) from 1908. In the second of these settings, “Quand j’ai ouy le tambourin sonner,” Debussy, perhaps unsurprisingly, illustrates the soundings of the drums in much the same style as his Renaissance predecessor. It was after attending a performance of Janequin’s LM3 “La Guerre” a few years later, that Debussy recorded in print his impressions of “cette admirable Bataille de Marignan, chef d’oeuvre de Clément Janequin.” In the Bulletin de la Société Internationale de Musique on March 1, 1914, Debussy wrote:

… this masterpiece … conveys all the hubbub and the rough way of life at an army camp. It is noted down shout by shout, noise by noise: the sound of the horses’ hooves mingles with the fanfare of trumpets in a subtly ordered tumult. Its form is so direct that it would almost seem to be “popular music” so accurate and picturesque is the musical representation of these events.[8]

In he following year (1915), Debussy completed work on his suite for two pianos, En blanc et noir, and while Debussy hesitated to view the work as a comment on World War I, Glenn Watkins observes that Debussy’s description of Janequin’s “La Guerre” in the Bulletin could easily be applied to the second of En blanc et noir’s three movements, dedicated to the memory of a recently fallen French army officer.[9]

The period before and after the First World War (1914–1918) was marked by tendencies that pulled in several directions: nationalism/internationalism, experimentation/conservatism/classicism, stylistic purity/eclecticism. Certain French composers (among them Camille Saint-Saëns, Théodore Dubois, and Vincent d’Indy) were aggressively patriotic, forming the Ligue Nationale pour la Defence de la Musique Française. Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) vigorously resisted musical classifications along national lines and had to endure the boycott of his own music by the Ligue.[10] Janequin’s celebration of the French victory in the battle of Marignan had an obvious patriotic appeal, but at the same time his polished part-writing appealed to composers with a high respect for craftsmanship and technique, and his imaginative and innovative procedures in the descriptive chansons appealed to the eclectic component in neoclassicism. A few months after the publication of Debussy’s Janequin assessment in the Bulletin, a work by Ravel appeared that indicates a similar appreciation. This was the Trois beaux oiseaux de paradis, completed between December of 1914 and February of 1915. In this work, his only effort for unaccompanied chorus, written while he was waiting to enlist, Ravel shows a clear consciousness of a Renaissance legacy, particularly in the first movement “Nicolette,” where the sound of the heroine’s clogs mimics the style of Janequin’s LM2 “Le Chant des oiseaux” and in the third movement “Ronde” where the texture at times recalls portions of LM3 “La Guerre.” On a deeper level, Emily Kilpatrick suggests a profound Janequin influence on Ravel’s textual aurality, naming Janequin “the only other French composer to have placed such importance on the sounds of the language.”[11]

Organist and composer Jehan Alain’s “Variations sur un thème de Clément Janequin” (JA 118) was written in 1937, had its first performance on the seventeenth of February, 1938, in the Paris Église de la Trinité, and was published in Paris by Alphonse Léduc in 1939. One year later Alain (1911–1940), part of the Eighth Motorized Armour Division of the French army, was killed in action at the battle of Saumur. Alain’s “Variations” have lived on as a cherished part of the French organ repertory. Although it in no way reflects on Alain’s achievement, the piece he believed to have been by Clément Janequin was in all likelihood not so. “L’espoir que j’ay d’acquérir vostre grace” appeared for the first time in a 1529 collection by Pierre Attaingnant (Trente et une chansons). Of the thirty-one chansons in that collection, five are indeed attributed to Janequin, including the piece (LM9 “My levay”) immediately preceding “L’espoir que j’ai.” In all, twenty-nine of the thirty-one chansons in the collection have attributions, but “L’espoir que j’ai” is one of the two that do not. Credit, or rather responsibility for the attribution to Janequin, lies with Alsatian composer Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin (1821–1910), who in 1853 published a collection called Echoes of Time Gone By.[12] Weckerlin called himself “editor” of this effort, but in fact the role he assumed was something even beyond arranger. Weckerlin not only converted the texture from four-voice vocal polyphony to soprano solo with keyboard accompaniment, but he made significant (modal) changes to the original in order to bring it into the realms of what an idealized conception of the Renaissance was in 1853. Then, careless or confused, he changed the attribution of “L’espoir que j’ai” from “Anonymous” to that of the preceding “My levay”: Janequin. Although an alternate edition of “L’espoir que j’ai” without attribution to Janequin later became available (edited in 1898 by Henry Expert in volume 78 of Maitres Musiciens de la Renaissance Française), Ruth Draper has shown that the Weckerlin version of 1853 was the one with which Jehan Alain was familiar. [13] However, given Alain’s sympathy for the French musical heritage, the possibility exists that his selection of “L’espoir que j’ai” had as much to do with making a statement about his relationship to a past master as it did with the shape of the melody he ultimately borrowed.[14]

  1. “…qui a été accueillie avec tant d’enthousiasme les années précédentes…“ (L’Avenir, February 28, 1831.)
  2. Walter Corten, “Fétis, Transcripteur et Vulgarisateur,” Revue Belge de Musicologie / Belgisch Tijdschrift Voor Muziekwetenschap 50 (1996): 249–68.
  3. My translation. Cited in Rémy Campos, La Renaissance Introuvable? Entre Curiosité et Militantisme: La Société Des Concerts de Musique Vocale Religieuse et Classique Du Prince de La Moskowa, 1843-1846, Collection Epitome Musical 6 (Paris: Klincksieck, 2000), 124 Campos gives a full acount of Ney’s career and the part that works by Janequin played in his achievements.
  4. “Éclatant” in the words of Michel Brenet, “Essai sur les origines de la musique descriptive II,” Rivista Musicale Italiana XV (1908): 472.
  5. These are detailed in Ellis, Interpreting the Musical Past, 158–60.
  6. D. Kern Holoman, “The Paris Conservatoire in the Nineteenth Century,” Oxford Handbooks Online, April 7, 2015,
  7. Leeman L. Perkins, “Published Editions and Anthologies of the 19th Century: Music of the Renaissance or Renaissance Music?,” in La Renaissance et Sa Musique Au XIXe Siecle, ed. Philippe Vendrix (Tours: CESR, 2004).
  8. Translation from Francois Lesure, Debussy on Music: The Critical Writings of the Great French Composer Claude Debussy, trans. Richard Langham Smith (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1988), 315.
  9. Glenn Watkins, Proof through the Night: Music and the Great War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 93. See also; Jurgen Vis, “Debussy and the War: Debussy, Luther and Janequin,” Cahiers Debussy 15 (1991): 31–50.
  10. Scott Messing, Neoclassicism in Music: From the Genesis of the Concept through the Schoenberg/Stravinsky Polemic, Studies in Musicology, no. 101 (Ann Arbor, Mich: UMI Research Press, 1988).
  11. Emily Kilpatrick, “‘Jangling in Symmetrical Sounds’: Maurice Ravel as Storyteller and Poet,” Journal of Music Research Online 1, no. 1 (April 20, 2009): 4,
  12. Jean Baptiste Weckerlin, ed., Echos du temps passé: recueil de chansons, noëls, madrigaux, brunettes, musettes, airs à boire et à danser, menuets, chansons populaires, etc. du 17. au 18. siècle (G. Flaxland, 1853).
  13. Ruth Draper, “Contextualizing the Music of Jehan Alain: Three Lenses on Variations Sur Un Thème de Clément Jannequin” (PhD, University of Washington, 2015).
  14. Links to Janequin in the works of other twentieth-century French composers include Jacques Ibert (1890–1962), who quoted from LM2 “Le Chant des oiseaux” in his 1934 ballet Diane de Poitiers, and François Poulenc (1890–1963), who made extensive studies of the vocal styles of Janequin and Claude Le Jeune.