The most important musical composer of the psalms
Loys Bourgeois was born and died in Paris. He spent some time in Geneva around 1551. He was choir master and cantor at Calvin’s church, Saint Peter’s Cathedral. He conducted psalm singing during services.
However he is best known for his part in composing the Huguenot Psalter. He was the main composer responsible for writing music adapted to the texts.
He composed new tunes for psalms versified by Théodore de Bèze and likewise adapted Latin tunes to the texts. He also modified some of his predecessor Guillaume Franc’s tunes to Clément Marot’s texts ; he was admonished by the Geneva Council and even jailed for twenty-four hours for having modified some the Psalms (« avoir corrigé les psaumes ».
He was most certainly the first to harmonise some of the Psalms in four parts.
He was also the author of Le droit chemin de musique (The right way in music), a text on musical theory presenting the principles of psalm singing according to Calvin’s rules.
- Le psautier français, Fed. Musique et Chant, Réveil Publications, Lyon, 1995
- PIDOUX Pierre, Le psautier huguenot du XVIe siècle, Baerenreiter, Bâle, 1962
- WEBER Édith, La musique protestante en langue française, Honoré Champion, Paris, 1979
Jean Calvin (1509-1564)
A generation after Luther, the Frenchman Jean Calvin became the organiser of the Reformation : he organised the Church, shaped the doctrine and defined the role of the Church in state government.
Théodore de Bèze (1519-1605)
Theodore Beza was one of the most prominent figures in the Reform movement. He supported Calvin and succeeded him as moderator, i.e. president, of the Company of pastors in Geneva. He relentlessly defended the Calvinist doctrine, the discipline of the Church and its synodal-Presbyterian organisation. He left noteworthy historic and literary writings. The only aim of his actions was to strengthen the Reform movement assaulted by Roman Catholicism and rivaled by German Lutheranism.
Clément Marot (1496-1544)
The famous 16th century French poet put into verse the biblical Psalms that were to be sung all over France and become the well-known Huguenot Psalter.
Claude Goudimel (about 1520-1572)
Claude Goudimel was one of the most important French composers of the XVIth century. He composed a polyphonic four-part version of the 150 psalms in the Geneva Psalter for singing at home. This version was very successful and it is still used today.
Claude Le Jeune (about 1530-1600)
Claude Le Jeune was a court musician. Since he was attracted to Protestantism, he composed many polyphonic versions of the psalms.
The reformers wished for congregational singing during services of worship. A new church music repertoire had to be created. In their services French-speaking reformed Churches gave much importance to psalm singing in French.
The reformers urged for congregational hymn singing. They strongly supported musical creations to renew the repertoire, namely Chorales for the Lutheran Church and Psalms for the Reformed Church.