Biographical note

Claude Goudimel

[source Grove's: P-A Gaillard, R. Freedman, with own additions] 

(b Besançon, 1514–20; d Lyons, 28–31 Aug 1572). French composer, music publisher and editor. 

Notae praeviae: 
1. Goudimel was not Palestrina's master (as older biographies - and thus the internet - often suggest).
2. Goudimel dit
not compose the tunes/melodies of the Psalms (as can be read almost everywhere on the anglo-saxon internet).


Goudimel was a student at Paris University in 1549 when his first chansons appeared in print. In 1551 he became a proofreader/corrector with the publisher Nicolas Du Chemin, and from 1552 to 1555 he was Du Chemin's partner (although even by this later date he was still described as ‘estudiant en l'Université de Paris’). He played an important role as both composer and editor in the time he worked for Du Chemin. The Moduli undecim festorum includes as part of its liminary materials a Latin poem by Goudimel in which he counselled his readers to ‘buy this book with money, you will see (believe me) no uncorrected work’. His own music was well represented in this book as well as in others he prepared for his employer. Through Jean Brinon, to whom he dedicated his first book of psalms (1551), he met Ronsard, and he later set several sonnets and odes from Ronsard's Amours. 

His most fruitful years were from 1551 to 1558, when he published most of his chansons, masses, motets, psalms (elaborate motet style), and odes. From 1557 he lived at the Huguenot city of Metz, where he worked with the poet and dramatist Louis des Masures on his first complete psalter (1564). He must have left Metz by 1567 for Lyons. He continued his editorial work during the last years of his life. In 1572 the Lyonnaise printer Jean II de Tournes brought out an edition of Arcadelt's chansons (L'excellence des chansons musicales) with spiritual contrafacta texts prepared by Goudimel (the book was reprinted in Geneva in 1586). 

He probably died as a victim of the St Bartholomew's Day massacres that between 28 and 31 August decimated the Huguenot population of Lyons. (Sources as early as 1574 mention his name as a victim).


Goudimel is noted principally for his psalm settings. They are of three types: 

  1. free motet style, in which the Genevan melodies are generally used either as a cantus firmus or as motifs in imitative paraphrase; 
  2. strict cantus-firmus settings in which only the first verse is set, the traditional melody appearing throughout in one voice (usually the superius) while the other voices act as imitative counterpoint to it; 
  3. note-against-note harmonizations with the Genevan melodies  (usually) in the tenor part.

Psalm publications

  • Livre contenant ... pseaumes de David (8 volumes), published between 1551 and 1566, containing in toto 67 psalm settings in motet style. All volume were published in Paris, first with Nicholas Du Chemin, later with Le Roy & Ballard. 

The first volume does not use the traditional Genevan tunes at all. From the third volume (1557) onwards the Genevan melodies are used to varying degrees. The first four volumes (1551, 1555? (edition lost, reprint 1559), 1557, 1560 are  exclusively filled with Psalms versified by Cl. Marot. Also included: Song of Simeon and the Decalogue). Only from the fifth volume (1562) onwards Bezè's texts are also set to music. 

Next to this major series he prepared an published  complete settings of the Psalter in the note-against-note and imitative styles from 1562 onwards. [The order in which they appeared is still a matter of some confusion]. 

  • The Pseaumes de David...  (Le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1562 - only the bassus partbook  survives) contains 83 settings of the note-against-note type. It is based on the then available Geneva Psaltereidition: Octantetrois  Pseaumes (1551 onwards). It appeared in four volumes. The harmonisations are not the same as in the next (complete) edition of the Psalter.
  • The 150 pseaumes de David... (Le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1564/5) consists mostly of note-against-note settings, but melodies that were used in more than one psalm are set more elaborately on their second appearance ('style fleuri') and 28 of the settings are in this imitative style; Actually Goudimel also included a setting by Thomas Champion (Mithou). The volume was reprinted in 1565 with a supplement containing the complete psalm texts. 
    • The Pseaumes mises en rime françoise... (Jacquy, Genève, 1565) is a modified reprint of the edition of Le Roy &  Ballard, adding peripheral texts common to many editions of the Genevan Psalter (Preface by Calvin, preliminary poem by Bèze). There are also some musical modifications, possibly made by Genevan musicians. It is this edition that has become an international bestseller.
  • The 150 pseaumes de David ... (Le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1568) in four volumes is 'contrepoint-fleuri' again. It is republished in Geneva in 1580 (Pierre de Saint André). Goudimel re-used some of the contrapuntal settings from 1564.


Goudimel's Latin works – five masses, three Magnificat settings and ten motets – are extremely concise and concentrated; this is specially true of the masses ‘Audi filia’ and ‘De mes ennuys’. Many of these works set texts from the Catholic liturgy, and they share much with sacred music by French contemporaries such as Certon and Maillard. Consistently imitative in their textures and featuring clearly-profiled, triadic melodies, the musical style of these works is also recalled in Goudimel's more motet-like settings of French psalms. He also composed over six dozen secular songs and chansons spirituelles, works of intrinsic interest to anyone concerned with the history of French music of the mid-16th century: in these works, procedurally distinct from the psalm settings, his output strikingly reveals the continued interest of French composers in counterpoint and polyphonic elaboration of borrowed material..

Page 4 of 19

The Musician 

Goudimel did not compose the melodies for the Psalter, as is often suggested in (older) books.  His simple harmonisations (note against note) always remained very popular, esp. for Church services (for which they, however, explicitly were not  destined). 

Below some alternative ways to perform his music, more 'like it must have been then...' Performers: Oratoire du Louvre (dir. Florian Hollard) - 1996. From CD Psaumes au temps de la Réforme 3D Classics 8016

Psalm 42

Ainsi qu'on oit le cerf...
An instrumental version serves as intro to the SATB. One of the most popular tunes. It also found its way into Lutheran hymnody: Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele

Psalm 47

Or, sus, tous humains...
A quick and quite rhytmical performance of this call for joy!

Psalm 92

O, que c'est chose belle...

Instrumental version of this 'sunday-morning' Psalm.