Rossignol mon mignon
Claude le Jeune (1528-1600)
Le Rossignol Musical des Chansons de diverses et excellens autheurs de nostre temps, 1597
(but originally published in Mellange de chansons, Le Roy & Ballard 1572)
Time for a new composer: this time Claude le Jeune, one of the later 16th century’s great French composers. He is particularly associated with Baif and the intellectual circles who sought to restore the classical Greco-Roman styles of poetry, whose rhythms and line-lengths are driven not by simple syllable counts but by more complex ‘lengths’ or weights of the syllables – hence the French term for the style of music particularly associated with Le Jeune, musique mésuré. A number of recordings of Le Jeune’s sacred music exist which demonstrate the style – where rhythms and ‘time signatures’ are determined by the words, not by purely-musical considerations, as ‘long’ and ‘short’ syllables are in a strict 2:1 ratio (minim-crotchet, for instance).
This secular piece to a Ronsard text is, however, NOT in that style! It is far freer, with a range of typical late 16th century polyphonic gestures (e.g. imitation between the voices) and madrigalisms (the little melismas on “chantes” (‘sing’ – page 3), the repeated disappointed falling melisma on “je ne le suis point” – see page 11-2 of the score – or the sudden slowing at “triste” with long note-values). But Le Jeune reminds us he is a late-century polyphonist too. His vocal lines jump around rather than making more-or-less stepwise progression, there are lots of octave leaps (and a few jumps of a 7th – tricky!), and he’s not afraid to break some of the rules: I particularly like the way “Nous soupirons” (‘we sigh’ – top of page 5) is interrupted by a sad little hiccup, splitting the word over a rest, but I also enjoy the little break (bottom of p.11) in the bass line only at “et … je ne le suis point”.
Le Jeune also nods towards the older French style with a monophonic section reserved for late in the piece, where all voices come together on the words “ayons tous deux les musiques pareilles” (‘we [all] have the same music’) – beautiful but clearly a little tongue-in-cheek!
I also like the way the tenor part is arranged in the original: the first part is a bit too long for one page, so a little pointing finger indicates that the tenor needs to read the bottom line of the opposite page to finish, before going up to the top of that page for part 2!