Claude de Sermisy


Born: 1490 in Noyon, France Died: October 13, 1562 in Paris, France
Associated with the French royal court, Claudin de Sermisy was one of the acknowledged masters of the secular French chanson and also a significant composer of sacred music as well. The level of fame that he achieved during his lifetime is attested to by the high number of instrumental transcriptions and contrafacta of his works. Although there is no direct evidence pointing to a specific date or place of his birth, it has been suggested that he came from either Ile-de France, Burgundy, or Picardy. The first known document containing a specific reference to Claudin, dated July 19, 1508, lists him as a cleric at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Although the exact circumstances of his employment are unknown, according to an account of the funeral of Louis XII, in 1515, Claudin is also listed as having been a singer in the King's private chapel.

It seems likely that Claudin left Paris for a time, in order to become a canon at Notre-Dame-de-la-Rotonde in Rouen; residency seems to have been a requirement for the post. However, on December 10, 1524, he resigned his canonry and prebend in order to go to the diocese of Amiens to work at the parish church or Cambron. By 1532, Claudin had returned to Paris to take the post of sous-maitre of the royal chapel. Technically, the position of sous-maitre was second to that of director, which was held, at the time, by Cardinal Francois de Tournon, but, in reality, the position of director was a purely honorary one. It was the sous-maitre who was charged with the actual direction of the musical activities of the chapel. From this time, Claudin remained in the service of the French kings until at least 1554, but most probably until his death.

On September 20, 1533, not long after assuming the position of sous-maitre, Claudin was nominated to the 11th canonry of the Sainte-Chapelle. This too was a post that he kept for life, as it did not require a residency and provided him with both large revenues and a large house in Paris. In 1554, he was also granted a prebend at St. Catherine, Troyes. Upon his death in 1562, Claudin was buried in the lower chapel of the Sainte-Chapelle.

Over the course of his life, Claudin wrote approximately 175 chansons, and about 110 sacred works. Although perhaps best remembered as a composer of the chanson, the majority of his settings in this genre appear to have been written early in his career. His contributions to the world of sacred music include Masses, motets, and a setting of the magnificat text as well as a setting of the lamentations and a Passion according to St. Matthew. These works exhibit traits found in the music of Josquin and other Franco-Flemish composers of the preceding generation, such as points of imitation, occasional use of canon and textural reliance on voice pairings. His Masses, in particular, show that Claudin was highly aware of contemporary treatments as well as that of previous generations. The majority of his Mass settings are parody types, but he also achieved compositional unity through paraphrase, fauxbourdon, and the use of plainchant. However, Claudin's sacred music also shows that he was highly influenced by the secular chanson. His works tend to be arranged with relatively short phrases, and have text that is set syllabically.

Despite the fame achieved during his life, Claudin's music was quickly forgotten after his death. It wasn't until the twentieth century that he was rediscovered and his music recognized for its consistent, high quality.

There are 43 Claude de Sermisy recordings available.

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