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Victim of History


Composers are often involved in major historical events. In the case of Claude Goudimel the historical event was fatal.

Goudimel was a well-known composer and music theorist of the 1550s and ’60s. He was born in Besancon about 1510 and studied at the University of Paris, where he published a book of songs in 1551. During the next seven years he published songs, psalms, motets, and masses.

In 1557 Goudimel’s life took a turn. He moved to the city of Metz, which had a large population of Protestants–or Hugenots as they were known in France. During his ten years there Goudimel converted to Protestantism. There he collaborated with the poet
and dramatist Louis des Masures on a complete psalter–a setting of the Book of Psalms. His later psalm settings would become the basis of his lasting reputation.

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About 1567 Goudimel left Metz and eventually settled in Lyons. He began corresponding with the humanist poet Paul Schede. They would exchange letters for the rest of Goudimel’s life.

The mid-1500s were a time of tension between French Roman Catholics and Protestants. In 1562 a civil war had begun between the two factions. It raged for eight years.

A treaty of 1570 granted the Hugenots freedom. But Catherine di Medicis, the mother of King Charles the Ninth initiated a plot to assassinate Protestant leaders. She convinced Charles that the Hugenots would attack the palace and might even kill him. The king is said to have replied, “Kill every one of them so that not a single one will be left to accuse me.”

On August 24, 1572 the killings began in Paris. Clashes flared in cities across France. On August 23rd Goudimel had written a letter to Paul Schede from Lyons. It would be his last. Sometime between the 27th and the 31st of August, 1572, composer Claude Goudimel fell victim to what would become known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

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