• Born around 1504, of Flemish origin, little is known about the youth of Jacques Arcadelt. He lives in Namur in the Burgundian Netherlands, where he receives a French education. He is probably a pupil of Josquin des Près, most certainly of Philippe Verdelot at the court of the Medici.
  • His presence in Florence is attested as a composer of madrigals in the service of Duke Alexandre de Medici in 1534-1535. He left this city after the assassination of the Duke in 1537. In Florence, he seems to have been the employee of Roberto Pucci, Gonfalonnier- head of government, close to the Medici, who alternates stays in Rome and Florence. The prelate settled in Rome after having been elected bishop and then created cardinal by Pope Paul III in 1547. Arcadelt was present in Rome from 1538 where he participated in the marriage of Margaret of Austria, widow of Duke Alexander, and Octavian Farnese, celebrated in the Sistine Chapel in the presence of Pope Paul III, Octavian's grandfather.
  • Four madrigal books with 4 voices appear in Venice at the publisher Antoine Gardane, between 1539 and 1544. He is introduced as "the most excellent and divine Arcadelt". The collections of 250 madrigals, quickly reissued, make him His style is described as “simple, elegant, never too complex.” Arcadelt greatly contributes to defining and then developing the Madrigal, this new genre which succeeds frotella, a type of profane song, popular in Italy until late 15th century.
  • He notably composed in 1539, Il bianco e dolce cigno, an Italian polyphonic madrigal on a poem by Count Alfonso d'Avalos / Guidiccioni? (The sweet white swan dies while singing, while the sobbing poet arrives at the end of his days). He earned the nickname "Arcadelt the sweet white swan".
  • In 1540, he was appointed chapel master at the Sistine Chapel during the reign of Paul III. The pope grants him the benefit of the prebend of two Liège collegiate churches, Saint-Barthélémy and Saint-Pierre de Liège.
  • Arcadelt left definitively for France in 1552 and became chapel master of Cardinal Charles of Lorraine who, with his brother François de Guise, governed France (reign of François II Valois, 1559). He stood out by composing, in addition to religious music, no less than 126 French songs. Strongly inspired by its origins, these publications can be considered as the first songs in the form of strophic tunes.
  • A book published by Pierre Attaingnant mentions him as the King's musician (master of the chamber of King Henry II). At that time, he met the poet of the Pléiade Rémy Belleau (1528-1577) who lived at the Hôtel de Guise. •
  • Like many Renaissance composers, Arcadelt composes as well on Italian poems (Petrarch, Boccaccio, Michelangelo), French (Ronsard, du Bellay, Magny, de Baïf, Mellin de Saint-Gelais (Let color verde, 1561) than Latin (Virgil and Horace), modernizing the latter with the help of elegant popular expressions.
  • He harmonized six Psalms of David (1559), on the melodies of the Huguenot psalter by Clément Marot (despite this contribution, Arcadelt does not seem to have been sensitive to the ideas of the reform). Among the works also received today, we can still cite two masses with four and five voices, the first, Missa Ave Regina caelorum on the motet of Andreas de Silva, the second on the motet of Jean Mouton Noë, Noë, Psallite, Noë.
  • Jacques Arcadelt died on October 14, 1568 in Paris. He remains immortalized by Rabelais in the prologue to Gargantua and Pantagruel's Quart livre (1548), quoted prominently between Clément Janequin and Claudin de Sermisy (in a chorus of bawdy songs). 
  • © Didier Chagnas

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Pierre-Louis Dietsch (1808-1868), canon of the church of La Madeleine in Paris, in 1842 adapted this melody to achieve what is wrongly called "Arcadelt's Ave Maria". Here is the original version with a text all that is profane. To discover and to...