82 Psalms (1557/1559): notes on the transcriptions/reconstructions

1. Sources

There is only one extant partbook for Octante deux pseaumes, the bass partbook found in the Bibliotheque Royale in Brussels (7.eme classe, V.K. Jane)(RISM J 457). The superius is based on Pseaumes octantetrois de David (GE51) a collection of unharmonized psalm melodies and their texts published by Jean Crespin in Geneva in 1551 and reissued with minor changes in 1554 (GE54).  A facsimile of GE51 has been published by Friends of the Rutgers University Libraries, New Brunswick, 1973.  Copies of GE54 are preserved in Tübingen (Univ. Bibl.), Wolfenbüttel (Herzog August Bibl.) and Paris (B. Nat.).  (Judging from some details in the settings, it would appear that Janequin had access to and used both sources.) The contratenor and tenor lines have been reconstructed by the author, and are presented in slightly smaller typeface.

2. Numbering of the psalms

The numbers in this edition are those of the Protestant tradition, as used by Pierre Pidoux in his Les psautiers huegenots: Vol 1, Les mélodies (Bale: Bärenreiter-Verlag, 1962.) In the Catholic tradition, a significant number of psalms are numbered differently, which can lead to some confusion.  For a succinct overview of the different systems, see http://www.psalmen.wursten.be/psalms_numbering.htm. (In Octante deux pseaumes of 1559, the psalms are presented without numbers.)

3. Order of presentation

The psalms in this edition are presented in the order they appear in Octante deux pseaumes (1559).  Insofar as any particular logic is apparent in that ordering, it would seem to be a loose grouping by mode, as well as placing the psalms in such a way that turning the page in the middle of a psalm is avoided. Janequin sets all the psalms from the Genevan  Pseaumes octante trois de David save Psalm 29 “Vous tous princes et seigneurs” and Psalm 113 “Enfans qui le Seigneur servez.” (There are actually only 81 psalms represented in the collection: the second strophe of Psalm 18 being longer than the first, each of the two strophes is accorded its own setting, thus producing 82 harmonizations.)

4. Staff presentation

The 4 voices are presented on two staves, both to save space and to facilitate harmonic analysis. Barlines are for convenience of reference and do not indicate phrasing. Original clefs for three of the four voices are not known.  For the bass part, Janequin uses the F3 for numbers 1, 47, 79, 43, 2, 37, 5, 50, 128, 131, 19, 121, 4, 72, 39 and 6, and F4 for the rest.

5. Key signatures and transposition

The reconstructions are presented with key signatures identical to those used by Janequin in Octante deux pseaumes. These are not necessarily the same as those in GE51/GE54, as Janequin apparently sometimes used the melodies at their original pitches (10 instances) or transposed at the octave (44 instances), and sometimes in transpositions of a fourth (6 instances), fifth (18 instances) or seventh (4 instances.)

6. Note values

The breve (used only in final chords) is presented as such, and is presumed held.  Semibreves are rendered as half notes and minims as quarter notes. No other values appear in the bass and superius lines of the collection, save for two eighth notes in the bass line of psalm number 2 (LMN371 “Pourquoy font bruit”.)  Patterns including eighth notes have not been used in the reconstructed contratenor and tenor lines.

7. Ficta

Ficta which is noted in the bass and superius sources is noted in the harmonizations without comment.  Ficta which seem to be required in the bass line to avoid the melodic tritone or harmonies in which the tritone intrudes, but which were not noted in the original are given in parentheses before the note in question. Since the contratenor and tenor lines are already hypothetical (reconstructions), suggestions involving ficta are presented without parentheses in these parts.  The integrity of the psalm melodies in the superius has been respected throughout: that is to say, no changes have been made or suggested in the superius (aside from those due to the transpositions noted in paragraph 5.)

8. Texts

The spelling and punctuation have not been modernised, nor have they been made consistent, but are presented as they appear in Octante deux pseaumes, with the exception of stenographic symbols, which have been realized (“&” changed to”et”, “õ” to “on” or “om”, “ã” to “and”, “^q” to “que”, “§” to “s”, “9” to “ous”, “p” to “par”, and “i” and “u” to “j” and “v” when appropriate.)


Notes on the reconstructing process

1. The placement of the melody

The musical and historical backgrounds for supposing that Janequin placed the psalm melodies in the superius are explored in chapter 30 of Clément Janequin: Life and Works.  Briefly, the argument rests on three circumstances:

First, if the melody is placed in the tenor, voice crossings are produced between the tenor and the bass in 6 of the 82 settings.  In psalm 91 (m.5) and psalm 17 (m.24) these crossings produce intervals of the third, which are not in themselves flagrant violations of the harmonic practices of the period.  In psalms 1 (m. 8), 6 (m.1), 37 (m.1) and 104 (m.33) the crossings produce intervals of the fourth, which in turn create 6/4 harmonies that were seldom, if ever, used at this time.

Secondly, with the melody placed in the tenor, the tenor voice and the bass voice share the same note on what seems to be an inordinately high number of occasions. This varies from psalm to psalm: no psalm seems to have less than 3 occurences, the average seems to be closer to 8-10, and in some psalms the number is as high as 18 (psalm 36.) This frequent sharing of the same tone between the tenor and bass line has the effect of pushing the settings somewhat in the direction of a three-part sonority, a sonority which Janequin showed little preference for in his ulterior compositions.

Thirdly, and completely subjectively, reconstructions with the melody in the superius seem to “work,” while reconstructions with the melody in the tenor seem more difficult to find satisfying results with.  This can simply be due to the different creative challenges involved. The one involves filling in missing chord members between two outside voices. The other involves the composing of two new melodic lines above a given bass/tenor foundation, above which the appropriate limits of the tessitura are constantly uncertain.

Finally, it should be noted that Janequin may have used the melody in the superius in some of the settings and in the tenor for others. Until further evidence comes to light, the question remains of necessity  hypothetical.  The reconstructions which follow are based on the premise that the melody was placed in the superius for all the psalms.

 2.  Tight and loose structure

When the melody is placed in the superius over the existing bass, a number of harmonic situations arise in which there are very few or even only one appropriate harmonic solution. This is particularly true in so-called “tight structure” in which the distance between the bass and the superius is such that there is only one or just a few ways to include the appropriate missing harmonic elements.  When the distance between the bass and the superius is greater (“loose structure”) then the placement of these elements in high or low tessiture is much less certain.  The aim, of course, is to achieve the smooth and elegant voice leading that Janequin was praised for by Baif in the preface to the Verger of 1559.  The necessity to avoid parallels and tritones, and the sometimes angular shape of the psalm melodies combine on occasion to create situations where this ideal is difficult to achieve.

3. Final chords

Janequin’s final cadence of preference throughout his career contained a final chord with the root in the bass, tenor and superius parts, and the fifth in the contratenor. He used this formula in 80% of the 233 four-part chansons for which all four partbooks have survived, and in 27 of 28 of his psalm settings of 1549. The majority of the exceptions to this practice are either plagal cadences, or retrograde half cadences. Only twice (LM160 and LM242) do we find authentic cadences leading to a final harmoni with two roots, a third and a fifth, and in neither of these instances is one of the tones carrying the root placed in the superius.

Since the melodies in all 82 of the psalms in this collection end on the root, and since 73 of the 82 melodies are harmonized by Janequin with fifth-to-root movements in the base, it would seem preferable to follow Janequin’s practice from his other works and leave the final tonality without a third. (The other 9 cadences include 3 instances with a F-G tonality, and 6 instances (grouped in the print as entries 64-69) with a d-e tonality.

There are two reasons for questioning this conclusion.  The first is that Janequin in his preface has promised “unusual chords,”  and refraining from using a third in the final chord effectively removes one of the possibilities for adding harmonic color to the pieces. The other is the presence, in addition to a good deal of harmonic decoration in the interior of the piece, of final chords with full harmonic complement in two of Janequin’s last pieces, LM242 and LM245.  While it may be granted that Janequin did not present himself as a harmonic innovator during most of his career, we have no guarantee that his cadence formule in his last piece followed his practices from the rest of his production.

The solution to this conondrum has been not to find a solution. Some of the pieces are transcribed without a third in the final cadence, and a number of others, too many, no doubt, have adorned with full chords.  The eventual user of these pieces should have this in mind, and choose for him or herself the solution which seems most in accord with the spirit of the rest of the piece.  There is, although no documentation exists to support it, the possibility that singers of the period availed themselves of the clear, open and somewhat archaic sound of such final chords to add some of their own personal color to the pieces.

 4. Rhythmic considerations

The rhythmic patterns in Janequin’s bass part and in the psalm melodies as found in GE51/ GE54 are identical except for a small number of instances which are clearly 4-3 or 2-1 suspensions preceding cadences.  In all of these the interior voices are transcribed with rhythms identical to the bass line.