Claude Le Jeune (ca 1528-1600), best known for musique mesurée, wrote in all styles of French chansons. Une puce, is one of 133 surviving air de cours. He also composed almost 350 psalms and over 100 chansons, both secular and sacred. Most of his works were published just after his death in several collections, but a few of his first works were published as early as 1554. Although born in the Netherlands, Le Jeune spent the majority of his career at the Parisian courts during which time the air de cours, a secular strophic song, became popular at court entertainments.
Une puce, a typical air de cours, is a polyphonic chansons with lute accompaniment. Styled after the poetry of Jean-Antoine de Baif, this chanson mesur'ées 'àl’antique, or setting of French verse in a classical meter, comes from a 1608 publication. Attempting to apply the French language to the principles of Greek and Latin verses in an accentual pattern of long and short, the homophonic settings allowed the words to be heard clearly. French, however does not fit the form well, and the utilization of musique mesur'ée only lasted during the latter third of the 1600s, due to an artificiality that blocked the true expression of the text. The syncopated effect, clearly heard in this piece, results in a lilting feel of the music but with a stilted effect on the words despite the clarity of the text. This piece also seems to be quite close to tonality as we know it today. Regular cadences point to the first phrase ending in a half cadence of V-I-V, while the second, de-ve-nir fou, closes with I-V-I. This pattern repeats itself throughout the strophic song.
Une puce set the French text of popular poets of the time to music. At least a quarter of Le Jeune’s other chansons use borrowed musical material, either from earlier polyphonic or popular tunes. Some of these even use older techniques such as cantus firmus or canon, as seen in Susanne un jour. The simplicity of Une puce, along with the rhythmic pattern, contrasts with the slower cantus firmus in the seven-voice canonic Susanne.
This particular style of music stood apart aurally from other music of this time as I listened to examples on youtube. It seems to have a lighter quality to the music, with a happy-sounding melody. This seems to be due to the long-short rhythmic alternations.
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Stolba, K. Marie. The Development of Western Music: A History. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
Walker, D. P., and François Lesure, ed. Claude Le Jeune: Airs. Vol. 1. of The Primier Livre. Rome: American Institute of Musicology, 1951.