EUSTACHE DU CAURROY
He was baptized at Beauvais on February 4th, 1549 and, as with many artists of the era, very little is known of his early years. He was thirteen years old when the Religious Wars began. Was it at this moment that he became destined for a clerical career? Perhaps. He sang in a church choir for several years, and it was as a singer - counter tenor - that he would enter the Chapel of Henry III, in 1575. He was then 26 years old. His talent, which was already asserting itself, allowed him, three years later, to be named sous-maitre of this same chapel, with specific training of the children.
This Chapel, (which today we would call a «choir»), reorganized first by Francois 1st in 1543, had two groups. The first, designed as Chapelle de Plain Chant or Oratoire , had 12 singers called to sing in the Court, each day, the seven canonical hours. The second group, called Chapelle de Musique , (where DuCaurroy was found), had at least 32 singers, plus an organist and two trumpet players. The Chapel followed the king in all his traveling: from the Louvre to St-Germain-en-Laye, to Fontainebleau, to St.Germain-l'Auxerrois. The Chapel increased in number until 1586, at which time there were 72 members. Then for economic reasons (there was almost full civil war!) it would be reduced to 51 musicians, with twenty children under the direction of sous-maitre Du Caurroy.
The Chapel moved also when the King visited this or that church. When it was at the prestigious Notre-Dame cathedral, rivalry broke out between the Chapel and the local choir: who would sing Vespers before the king? The King settled it thus: The Vespers would be sung by two choirs, but the Chapelle would begin. This is perhaps the origin of Du Caurroy's double choir psalms or anthems. Some of these manifestations were able to gather more than one hundred singers, as was the case on several specific occasions, one such being the baptism of the Dauphin in 1606.
As sous maitre, Du Caurroy was well paid. His salary grew gradually, especially after he was named Composer of the Chamber and of the Chapel of the King, a position created especially for him. The king assured him the income of various priories, where certainly, according to the time, there was no need to dwell.
All this time Du Caurroy was writing: choral music, especially to supply the needs of the Chapel; but also organ music and music for viols, where he excelled in the elaboration of the counterpoint on a melodic line called Cantus firmus . This musical form had a certain influence on two «specialists» of the style, forerunners of Bach: Pachelbel and Buxtehude. His Te Deum for six voices was sung for the coronation of Henry IV at Chartres (February 27th 1594) and his Requiem , written in 1609, the year of his death, was interpreted for the funerals of Henry IV, the next year, and, following, was reserved for royal funerals until the French Revolution.
He did not publish much during his life and only three of his Chansons are found in a kind of anthology, in 1583, where much of the place was given to Orlando di Lasso. A few years before his death, he diverted some of his revenue sources in preparation, it seems, to publish his PRECES ECCLESIASTICÆ. This monumental work, in two volumes, contains many psalms, hymns, anthems and other liturgical chants, in several parts (six parts for the Psalm In exitu ) for 4, 5, 6, and even 7 voices. Some involve two choirs. The PRECES were published in 1609.
Eustache Du Caurroy died in Paris on August 7 1609 and buried the next day in Grand-Augustins church.
One might ask why the sacred work of Du Caurroy is not as well known as that of his illustrious contemporary, Palestrina. One might find the hint of an explanation in the Motu proprio on Sacred Music, promulgated by Pope Pius X in 1904, where the music of Palestrina is pointed out as a supreme example of «true» polyphony. The composer certainly had left his mark in St. Peters in Rome, where he was the music director during almost half a century (1551-1594). The publishers were then sufficiently impressed to publish the work of Palestrina and to make it accessible. This was not the case for Du Caurroy, therefore even the material in Ballard's 1609 edition is difficult to locate.
We don't mean to place Du Caurroy ahead of Palestrina - but not behind either!! In 1994, to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the death of Palestrina, the St-Germain Choir added no less than 14 Palestrina masses to their repertoire. Consequently, we have given him due recognition. And now, having leaned for several months toward the PRECES ECCLESIASTICÆ, we are able to note parallels which in no way diminish the achievement of FRANÇOIS-EUSTACHE DU CAURROY.
(English version by Fran Wright and Cindy Teel)