The Missa L’Aveuglé dieu: A Case of Critical Contagion

Despite the straightforward circumstances surrounding the publication in 1554 of the Missa L’Aveuglé dieu with a clear and unambiguous attribution to Janequin, plus its subsequent convenient availability in the archives of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, the idea that this mass is not authentic has proliferated in the secondary literature. This is largely due to an uncharacteristic stumble by François Lesure, who wrote in 1976:

Quant aux deux messes qu’on lui a attribuées et qui sont basées sur deux chansons dont il est l’auteur, il ne les a sans doute pas écrites: il s’agit de médiocres arrangements publiés par un éditeur lyonnais peu scrupuleux.[1]

[As far as the two masses which have been attributed to him are concerned, and which are based on two chanson for which he is the author, these he has no doubt not written: they are mediocre arrangements printed by an unscrupulous Lyon publisher.]

Missa aveuglé Dieu was not, of course, published by Jaques Moderne (the “unscrupulous Lyon publisher” to which Lesure is referring) but by the Parisian Nicolas Du Chemin, under the guidance of his artistic advisor, Claude Goudimel. Uppermost in Lesure’s thoughts when he penned these words was probably the Missa La Bataille, which he had every reason to regard as a mediocre arrangement published by an unscrupulous Lyon publisher. How attitudes regarding these two works became confused, and have remained so until the present, is best explained schematically:

Phase 1: All in

In the earliest stages of Janequin research, the goal was to identify as much as possible of what the man had written. Neither Fétis, who wrote that the Vatican library had “several” Janequin masses, nor Lesure himself, who in an article in 1951 accepted the Missa L’Aveuglé dieu as being from the time when Janequin “joined the royal chapel”, had the opportunity to look closely at everything they included in their lists. Gather first, then examine, was the not unreasonable methodology. Conclusion: Janequin wrote two masses.

Phase 2: Throwing out the Battle Mass

In the course of editing the Chansons polyphoniques (published 1965-1971), Lesure looked more closely at everything attributed to Janequin, including the battle mass, and what he saw, he didn’t like. Everything about it – the style, the conditions of its publication, the way it fits with existent biographical information – everything suggested that this was not the work of Janequin. “Creative slothfulness” is what he wrote in a review in 1969, perhaps not a little irritated by the numerous examples of lazy editing and unethical borrowings which Lesure had encountered in Moderne’s publications.[2] And indeed, nothing that has subsequently turned up has done anything to cast doubts about Lesure’s instincts or his conclusion, which was: Janequin did not write the Missa La Bataille.[3]

Phase 3: Throwing out both masses

This is where Lesure stumbles. He had been aware, when he and Genevieve Thibault did their bibliographical catalogue in 1953, that Du Chemin had printed the Missa L’Aveuglé Dieu in 1554 and that a copy still existed in Munich. But in the fervor and excitement of establishing that the Missa La Bataille was a corruption of an otherwise exemplary piece of work, Lesure suddenly expanded the catalogue of doubtful attributions to include both masses. Noted in his 1970 dictionary article[4] as “d’attribution douteuse,” and sharpened in his 1976 description, the rejections were then duly repeated in dictionary entries and derivative sources all the way to the present. Conclusion: Janequin wrote no masses whatsoever.

Phase 4: Putting them back in as contrafacta

Lesure’s antipathy was one thing, but the undeniable presence of Missa L’Aveuglé Dieu in Munich was another.[5] The two things needed to be reconciled, and this is where Howard Mayer Brown stumbles: in his Groves 1980 article, which served as a basis for the Groves and MGG articles which followed in its wake, Brown credits both masses to Janequin, but states that they are not true parody masses, but contrafacta. Put briefly, parody masses are a series of variations on a theme, while contrafacta are works where one set of words has been yanked out and replaced with another. Calling the battle mass a contrafacta is a bit extreme, but there is more than a grain of truth in the description, and whatever it may be, the battle mass is certainly not an example of a parody mass as practiced by church musicians in the mid 16th century. However, this is exactly what Missa L’Aveuglé dieu is: it is the very definition of a mid 16th century parody mass, with no elements whatsoever of contrafacta present. Why Brown put both masses in the same sack is not clear: the Missa L’Aveuglé Dieu was not available in modern edition at the time Brown wrote his article, and perhaps he had other things to do when he visited Munich.[6] In any case, here is a new case of contagious criticism, the conclusions of which are: Janequin wrote two masses, both based on his own chansons, and they are not true parody masses, but rather contrafacta.

Phase 5: Putting them back in as parody

Frank Dobbins took an opposing stance, finding parody procedure a perfectly acceptable framework within which to view the work, even to the point of claiming that it satisfies the procedural canons for the genre laid down by Pietro Cerone in his Melopeo y maestro of 1613.[7] Indeed, the Missa bataille does follow conventions from around 1530: the sectional divisions and the number of voices employed in the different sections are traditional, borrowed material is used at the start of sections, and the different sections are glued together with appropriate contrapuntal gravitas. Unlike a genuine parody event, however, a unifying theme or texture is not repeated, reworked, and developed in the succeeding sections. Instead, as many recognizable citations as possible are stuffed into the fabric of the piece, until finally quotation moves development out of the mainstream as a guiding precept. In the words of Frank Tirro, the adapter responsible for the Missa bataille failed to “transform the model until the result conforms with the accepted precepts of sacred composition”[8], a judgement quite different from that which emerges in a careful consideration of Missa L’Aveuglé dieu.

Phase 6: Clearing up the Battle mass mess

Here are my suggestions for not prolonging the confusion:

1) Give Francesco Layolle credit for making a free-wheeling arrangement of Janequin’s chanson “La Guerre” in mass form that was published by Jacques Modernes in Lyon in 1532 and again in 1540. Describe the work as having a number of sections which are pure contrafacta (new words on original music), a number of sections which fleetingly resemble parody style and a number of sections which seem to be newly created transitional material or simply new material. If you care to join Lesure in his judgement of this pastiche as “mediocre,” feel free, you will not be alone.

2) Give Janequin credit for writing the Missa L’aveuglé dieu as published by Nicholas Du Chemin in 1554 in Messae duodecim. Describe the work as being a well-wrought parody mass in the style of the period, in which paraphrases and elaborations of thematic material from Janequin’s chanson of 1551 serve as the point of departure, as a work which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called “an arrangement” or contrafacta and as one which compares favorably in beauty and expressive power with any number of compositions from the same period which share the same form and musical aesthetic.

  1. Lesure, François. Record jacket notes (August 1976) to “XIX Chansons Nouvelles” Ensemble Polyphonique de France, directed by Charles Ravier. Astrée AS3, Atelier de Recherche Valois, 1977.

  2. Lesure, François. Review of Pogue, Samuel. Jacques Moderne: Lyons Music Printer of the Sixteenth Century, Genève: Librairie Droz, 1969, in RdM LV (1969), p.233. His exact words were “indigence créative”.

  3. On the Missa La Battaglia see Clément Janequin: French Composer at the Dawn of Music Publishing, 95–100.

  4. Lesure, François. “Janequin” in Dictionnaire de la musique, ed. Marc Honegger, Bordas, 1970, p. 537.

  5. Missae duodecim, cum quatuor vocibus, a celeberrimis authoribus conditae…  Parisiis… Nicholas du Chemin… 1554 is in the Bayerische Staatsbibliotek (Munich) Mus.  pr. 2/39.  A manuscript copy from Breslau (ca. 1568-72) is in Stadtbibliotek zu Berlin, Sammlung Bohn, Mus ms 93 (formerly WrocS 93).

  6. In 1554, Du Chemin published both (1) a collection of motets titled Moduli undici [RISM 1554-7] and (2) a collection of masses on the title page of which both the masses contained therein and the motets from Moduli undici are listed. This apparently caused some comfusion when RISM was being compiled, as the volume containing the 12 masses was not granted a listing.

  7. Asserted in the introduction to Dobbin’s edition of the Missa La bataille, Edition Fazer, 1995, p.3.

  8. Tirro, Frank. Renaissance Musical Sources in the Archive of San Petronio in Bologna, Renaissance Manuscript Studies 4. Neyhausen-Stuttgart: American Institute of Musicology, Hänssler-Verlag, 1986, 10.