Claudin de Sermisy

(c1490 - 1562)

French composer. Possibly a choirboy at the Sainte Chapelle in Paris; a singer there in 1508, when he was appointed a singer in the Royal Chapel of Louis XII. With Fran¸ois I he travelled to Italy in 1515 and he was among the musicians who delighted their hearers when Fran¸ois and Henry VIII met at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. He became sous-maître of the Sainte Chapelle in 1530. In 1533, Claudin was made a canon of the Sainte Chapelle (where he had served briefly in 1508), thus being assured a substantial salarya canon there in 1533, and finally attaining the rank of choirmaster in 1547. He and Louis Hérault shared the post in 1547 and retained it under Henry II.

Claudin (as he is usually known) published three books of motets, eleven Masses and a Passion, but is best known for the 160 or so chansons which came out in many printed anthologies, including Attaingnant's first collection of 1528 where he is represented by no fewer than seventeen pieces of the thirty-one. These constitute the quintessential French chansons—lyrical miniatures with attractive melodies carefully declaiming the words in mainly syllabic fashion, and a chordal idiom without much contrapuntal elaboration in a basic 4-part texture. A number of his chansons became so popular that they were arranged for lute and keyboard and were adapted to sacred texts. In an entertaining quodlibet , or fricassée, as the French came to call this type of composition, printed in 1536, there are about fifty quotations from popular chansons of the time, and Claudin is represented by more pieces than can be attributed to any other single composer. In sacred music Claudin often adopted a chanson-like style with simple textures and passages for alternate pairs of voices. His Masses are thus distinct from those of his northern contemporaries (Gombert, Clemens).

Claudin's chansons support the claim that many features of the French chanson, which was markedly to influence the Italian instrumental canzona (called alla francese), were themselves partly derived from the Italian popolaresca lirica. Italians contributed in person to the vogue of this kind of lyricism in France, for many were employed among the musicians of the chambre and those of the écurie at the French court," which, in patronizing Italian culture, did not confine its favors to Leonardo da Vinci and the visual arts.

IVI: The French Chanson