Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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2. Works.

Simply on account of the large number of his chansons (he wrote over 250) Janequin has often been twinned in the musicological literature with Claudin de Sermisy (the other principal figure composing in the genre during the second quarter of the 16th century) as a master of the so-called Parisian style of chanson. Scholars have come to realize, however, that the principles governing Janequin's approach to chanson composition seem to differ markedly from those routinely favoured by Sermisy. Even discounting the often rather declamatory style and animated rhythmic fabric prompted by the narrative texts of his justly celebrated programmatic pieces, Janequin's concept of melodic organization departs considerably from the practice of Sermisy, Certon and other composers writing in the style popular at the royal court. Whereas the latter composers preferred concise melodic phrasing (with a clear caesura after the fourth syllable of a decasyllabic line of poetry and a melisma reserved principally for the penultimate syllable), Janequin often tended towards repetition of individual words and short ideas, thus breaking the melodic line into several shorter motifs. What is more, while Sermisy's chansons are extremely regular in their disposition of cadential notes within a given modal type, Janequin's chansons are often notable for the ways in which they explore unusual or irregular points of melodic repose. It is clear that Janequin regarded the chanson as his principal genre; even if a volume of motets was published by Attaingnant, his settings of vernacular texts completely overshadow his two masses and one surviving motet, and even the masses are based so literally on his own chansons that they are closer to being contrafacta than parodies.

The best known of all his chansons are those very long ones that imitate natural and man-made sounds: among them Le chant des oiseaux, L'alouette, La chasse, Les cris de Paris and the perennial favourite of singers, lutenists, guitarists, keyboard players and other instrumentalists throughout the entire 16th century, La bataille, possibly written to celebrate the Battle of Marignano, which had taken place in 1515. All of these chansons are filled with onomatopoeic effects, such as fanfares, bird songs, street cries and the like, almost all based on short and simple musical formulae that make whole sections of each composition seem like mosaics of superimposed fragments. Often the music is quite static harmonically, so that the work depends entirely for its effect on rhythmic invention and witty superimpositions. (For an illustration of Le chant des oiseaux, see Chanson fig.2.)

Many of the programmatic chansons were composed early in his career, although he occasionally produced a new one, like that celebrating the siege of Metz and other exploits of the Duke of Guise (La guerre de Renty, for instance), in his later years, and he sometimes revised an earlier one, as A.T. Merritt has shown. For example, his four-voice setting of Gentilz veneurs (La chasse), from a book of his descriptive chansons issued by Attaingnant in 1528, was reworked to include three additional parts, in all likelihood by the composer, for a reprinting of the volume in 1536. The composer himself was not the only person to make such arrangements. Philippe Verdelot added a fifth voice to La guerre when it was published by Susato (Antwerp, 1545), while Le chant de l'alouette (Or sus vous dormés trop) and Le chant du rossignol reappear in Claude Le Jeune's posthumous cyclic chanson print Le printemps (Paris, 1603), each with an added fifth voice from Le Jeune's pen and each with additional poetic stanzas drawn from La sepmaine, a creation cycle by Salluste Du Bartas.

The circumstances that Janequin's first chanson appeared in an Italian anthology, that his most successful composition was one celebrating an Italian battle and that, quite unusually for a composer of Parisian chansons, he set one Italian text, Si come il chiaro, but in a very French style (one of only two in all of Attaingnant's anthologies), have led some to speculate that he spent time in Italy; however, no solid evidence supports the hypothesis. His connections with Italy are probably explained by the wide and rapid distribution of all sorts of music throughout western Europe in the 16th century. Indeed, his Missa super ‘La bataille’ was sufficiently well known by the mid-16th century to be singled out by Tridentine performers as worthy of censure for the profanity of its model.

For his shorter chansons he set texts by Clément Marot, Mellin de Saint-Gelais, François I, Ronsard and other poets, mostly of more local significance. He had a penchant for witty narrative poems, quite often those which tell a bawdy story or those involving rustic characters. He set them with that precise and clear sort of imitation that came into the chanson at the beginning of the 16th century. This imitation often involves very square melodies, frequently rather popular in tone, that he constantly displaced metrically, fragments of dialogue thrown back and forth among the parts of the ensemble, and of course the characteristic opening rhythm, long–short–short.

Janequin set the words of his chansons carefully because so many of them are narrative. However, like many other French composers, he seems to have been more interested in fitting the music to the rhythm of the words than in reflecting the meaning of the text in the music. In harnessing rhythm in the service of good declamation, he sometimes resorted to a repetitive formula, for example, long–breve–long–breve–long, but more often the melodic lines unfold in a very flexible rhythm that ignores the bar-lines and is capable of shifting back and forth from duple to triple metre to emphasize either a single word or a whole phrase.

Janequin turned late in his career to settings of French translations of the psalms and chanson spirituelles. Unfortunately most of these 150 works survive in an incomplete state. Some may have used an amount of chromaticism uncharacteristic for French music of the time. If Qui au conseil des malings n'a esté is a typical example, their counterpoint is more sober than that of the secular chansons, and they present the traditional Calvinist tunes plainly and simply in the tenor. The fact that he composed so many suggests that he may have sympathized with the Protestant cause towards the end of his life.

Janequin, Clément


for 4 voices unless otherwise stated

Edition: Clément Janequin: Chansons polyphoniques, ed. A.T. Merritt and F. Lesure (Monaco, 1965–71, 2/1983) [M]

incomplete but given a number in M

See Lesure (1951 and 1959) for reasons for rejecting attributions to Janequin




italian song

psalms and chansons spirituelles

doubtful works

Janequin, Clément: Works


Missa super ‘L'aveuglé dieu’, Missae duodecim (Paris, 1554) (on his own chanson)

Missa super ‘La bataille’, 15328 (on his own chanson)

Janequin, Clément: Works


A volume of motets by Janequin was published by Attaingnant (Sacrae cantiones seu motectae quatuor vocum, Paris, 1533; lost), according to C.F. Becker: Die Tonwerke des XVI. und XVII. Jahrhunderts (Leipzig, 1855), 23.


Congregati sunt, 15385; ed. in SCMot, xiv (1995)

Janequin, Clément: Works

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