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Goudimel, Claude

Sorbonne student, proof-reader for the publisher Nicolas du Chemin, from a family of bakers in the Franche-Comté. Date of birth? "Somewhere between 1514 and 1520". Date of death? 28 August 1752. Fame? undying.


A familiar name to me for quite a few years, though if you'd asked me for any information I should have said – and guessing incorrectly – he was the composer of my much-loved Geneva Psalter tunes. Ignorance has now been dispelled by interest, thanks to Abigail and the armadillo. (readers who stray to this page unintentionally may require the following background information: my sister Abigail gave us a piggy-bank in the shape of an armadillo, whose chosen diet is €2 pieces. Every time the 'dillo is full, we divide the spoils and head for a second-hand CD and record-shop)

Goudimel, I now know, did not write any of those slightly quirky tunes; they come from Anon and his assistant Trad, aided and abetted by Bourgeois. What Goudimel did do was harmonise them: two full sets of harmonisations and part of a third set, ranging from simple, four-square hymn-style settings to more advanced settings creeping up on the complexities of a motet. Careful not to go against Calvin's austere view that the Lord was best pleased by monody, Goudimel prefaced his settings with the advice (or warning) they were not for liturgical use: congregations took a different view, and Goudimel's Geneva Psalter settings are still in use today.

I have also discovered, thanks to a rather short CD booklet, that though he converted to Protestantism Goudimel composed Catholic mass settings as well as Reformed psalm settings. His mass Le bien que j'ay is one I look forward to getting to know better, and I'm grateful to the musicians on this recording for their choice to include the propers for Pentecost. Altogether uplifting.

Less uplifting, but worth thinking about, is the fact of his end – drowned in the Rhone as the Saint Bartholomew massacres spread to Lyons. He had put his talents to the service of his fellow-Christians to help them sing God's praises, yet someone found doctrinal differences more important than the Decalogue.

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