Claude Le Jeune

French composer and humanist (Valenciennes v. 1530 – Paris 1600)

Claude Le Jeune was a French composer and humanist from the end of the 16th century. He is situated at the hinge between the periods of Renaissance and Baroque.

Claude le Jeune was born in Valenciennes, city that was part of the Spanish Netherlands at the time. We only know his life after he had moved to Paris in 1564. He probably received his musical education in a Maîtrise du Nord and it seems that the stayed for a while in Italy, if we listen to the two influences that can be heard in his pieces: the one of the ancient style of the French-Flemish school (Josquin Desprez or Roland de Lassus) and the one of the style nouveau, especially popular in Italy (Monteverdi).

Claude Le Jeune especially distinguished himself as one of the first and most famous French composers in the matter of tune for vocals and polyphonic instrument (lute) from the 17th century. He left a great booklet of pieces, the first one of the kind, dated from 1608. His tunes’ popularity comes from their writing in verse, “measured à l’Antique”. They obey to very precise prosodic patterns, as did the Greco-Roman poetry. As a matter of fact, Claude Le Jeune had engaged since 1570 to an avant-garde project within the Académie de musique et de poésie of Jean-Antoine Baïf. That project focused on re-examining the bonds between poetry and music based on models from the Antiquity.

Claude Le Jeune worked under the protection of high-ranked Protestants, such as William, Prince of Orange. He also endorsed the role of music master for the brother of king Henry III of France and ended his life as Composer Ordinaire for the Chamber of the King under Henry IV of France.

Claude Le Jeune’s work is wide by its number of pieces and the diversity of styles and forms he revisited: with more than 600 pieces (psalms, motets, songs, spiritual songs, tunes) he left us a large display of the styles and genres popular in his time.

Four landmark dates in the life of Claude Le Jeune

1552: first mention of Claude Le Jeune in a booklet of songs published in Louvain
1564: Claude Le Jeune moved to Paris
1570: joined the foundation of the Académie de poésie et de musique with J.-A. de Baïf
1596: Henry IV of France appointed Claude Le Jeune composer ordinaire for the Chamber of the King

Six pieces by Claude Le Jeune

• 1564: Ten Psalms of David in the form of motets.
• 1598: Dodécacorde
• 1603: Le Printemps, collection of vocal pieces
Missa ad placitum
Meslanges et fantasies de violes
• 1608 (posthume) collection of tunes published by Ballard