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Jean Guyot

born: ?1520
died: 11 March 1588
country: Flanders

Jean Guyot, alias Castileti—priest, composer, author, teacher—was a leading light in mid-sixteenth century Liège, and known in the wider Habsburg Empire. He has left us twenty-six motets, a Mass, a Te Deum and sixteen chansons, largely published by Susato and Gardano. His music is typical of the post-Josquin generation, employing imitative, full choral textures, but displays an individual imagination.

Guyot’s exact birthdate is unknown. A document of 1588 indicates his age as sixty-six. However, by that reckoning, at his matriculation into the University of Louvain in 1534 he would have been twelve, which caused Clement Lyon to suggest an error of ten years, giving a year of birth of 1512, which has often been cited. Bénédicte Even-Lassmann argues that twenty-two is an equally unlikely age to enter the university, and that, to a man of sixty-six, what are a couple of years? Therefore her suggestion is around 1520, and we must be satisfied with that.

He was born into a comfortably wealthy family in the town of Châtelet, a provincial centre in the Principality of Liège. This origin gives him a name by which he was often known—‘Castileti’. The town’s cultural life was lively, with a Society of Saint Cecilia, Easter processions featuring a children’s choir, and instrumentalists engaged to celebrate the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, patrons of the church. There were also a Chamber of Rhetoric and regular Passion Plays. We do not have certain details of Guyot’s early education but he was admitted to the ancient and eminent University of Louvain in 1534.

On arriving at Louvain Guyot was exposed to the full range of the liberal arts, studying logic, grammar, eloquence, metaphysics, moral philosophy and theology. The university felt strongly the influence of Erasmus, and retained a strong Catholic spirit in the face of the Lutheran Reformation. It also held an annual thesis competition—Guyot’s was entered on 5 December 1536, and placed twenty-second out of 108.

We lose sight of our composer after the result of this competition was announced on 22 March 1537. The date and location of his ordination are unknown. There have been suggestions, based on possible attributions of published works, of time spent in France or Italy, but these are speculative. Certain financial transactions relating to the family estate place him in Liège from around 1541, but we have little information on his activities.

In 1546 he was appointed chaplain and succentor at the Collegiate Church of St Paul in Liège. This was fertile ground for a musician. Architecturally and administratively, it was a city dominated by the church. At St Paul’s there was a college of twenty-two chaplains, and it was possessed of a magnificent library. It is from this period that we have the first of Guyot’s published works: five motets published by Susato in 1546 and 1547. The same publisher also issued a number of chansons by Guyot in 1549 and 1550, and went on to include eight motets in his Ecclesiasticarum Cantionum volumes from 1553 to 1555. None of these motets is written for more than five voices, perhaps giving an indication of the musical resources available to him at the time.

The breadth of Guyot’s literary and artistic interests is evidenced by the publication by Baethen of Maastricht in 1554 of Minervalia, dedicated to George of Austria, Prince-Bishop of Liège. It is a Latin dialogue in seven acts between the seven liberal arts, the nine muses, and Ignorance, Egotism, Discord and Envy. It draws on Greek, Latin, ecclesiastical and more modern authors to establish the role of the arts in lifting humanity from the darkness, and music’s role in this is challenged, and vindicated.

In 1558, buoyed by a strong reputation based on twenty-six published works, Guyot moved from St Paul’s to the Cathedral of Saint Lambert in Liège. He replaced Zacarias Gransyre as maître de chant, responsible for running the music of the cathedral and educating the choristers. These were known as ‘duodeni’ as they could be twelve in number, though the force varied between seven and twelve. They were generally children of modest origins, and were fortunate to receive a privileged education, funded by many legacies, and often went on to be supported through university. In addition there were two priest-musicians, or ‘intonateurs’, and singers employed to provide the lower parts in polyphony. Guyot added to his role of maître de chant that of premier intonateur from 1559 to 1561 when he was able to pass the duties to his pupil Jean de Chaynée. He was also, on 24 April 1558, appointed rector of the imperial altar of Saint Lambert.

In 1563 Guyot moved to the centre of life in the Habsburg Empire—the Imperial Court in Vienna. He had been given leave to travel by the chapter of Saint Lambert in July 1563, and was replaced as succentor by Nicholas Douhaer. Guyot’s predecessor in Vienna, Pieter Maessens, had died on 10 December 1562 (according to research by H Leuchtmann). The first record we have of Guyot in the city is from 1 September 1563; what occurred in the eight months between these dates is unknown. He was accompanied in Vienna by two other singers from Liège, Adam da Ponta and Jean de Chaynée—musicians from the Low Countries held a commanding place in the chapels of the Habsburg Empire at that time.

In Vienna he had access to a much larger musical foundation than at Liège. This difference can easily be seen in his published works from both periods. Up to this point the motets we have, published by Susato, are for no more than five voices. However, the works published by Gardano which can be dated to Guyot’s Vienna sojourn, are predominantly for eight voices, with several for six, and one for twelve. In addition it is from this period that we have his sole surviving Mass, the Missa Amour au cœur. It is a parody Mass based on a chanson by Clemens non Papa, and is written for eight voices in the main, but with an additional four employed for the final section. This period was clearly an extremely productive one for Guyot, and saw him taking full advantage of the musical resources at his disposal.

Unfortunately his stay was to be brief. Ferdinand I died on 25 July 1564, and by 31 August of that year, Guyot was without employment at the court. The new Emperor, Maximilian II, disbanded the existing chapel and installed his own. Guyot was granted a pension, though a reduced one, and due to an earlier intervention by Ferdinand I he still had a prebend at Saint Lambert in Liège as an imperial chaplain, alongside his family income. He returned to that city and appears in various records, though his precise activities are unclear. We have just one manuscript composition, the Te Deum laudamus, from this final period, and he died in 1588.

from notes by David Gostick © 2017


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