Claude Le Jeune was one of the most prolific and important composers of the second half of the sixteenth century, his output consisting of hundreds of psalms, airs, chansons, motets, and other compositions. His Le Printemps (published in 1603) is a collection of 39 spring chansons, including “Revecy venire du printemps.” Some 350 years later, Olivier Messiaen would call Le Jeune’s Printemps “a masterpiece of choral writing and of rhythm.” Indeed, Messiaen’s Cinq rechants, he confessed, was a homage to Le Jeune’s masterful collection.

Composed in 1948, the Cinq rechants retain the verse/refrain (or “chant” and “re-chant”) formal structure of Le Jeune’s chansons. The text, however, does not change from verse to verse. Instead, the music becomes increasingly elaborate. In the first rechant new layers are added, and in the fourth the pseudo-instrumental hummed accompaniment changes. The composer also demarcates verses and refrains (as well as introductions and conclusions) with tempo changes. The first rechant, for example, uses two tempos, modéré for the introduction, verses, and coda, and presque vif for the refrains; and in the fourth, the refrains are vif, the verses modéré, and the coda becomes progressively slower. Messiaen, typically, draws upon exotic musical sources. Among these are the Deci-Talas rhythms of provincial India, and according to the composer the harawi (a folkloristic love song from Peru and Ecuador) and the alba (a medieval morning song) were sources of melody. The text was written by Messiaen himself, and is at times in French, at others in an imaginary language “that owes a little to the sound of Sanskrit,” and occasionally in both. The French passages, Messiaen explains, prominently feature symbols of love: “the names of Tristan and Isolde, of Viviane and Merlin, of Orpheus, … Tristan’s wondrous glass castle, … recollections of the great lover-magicians (Ariadne, Isolde, Viviane),” and others.

A Deruchie [ii-07]