In modern hymnals, the “top line” is the melody. For this, we may have the Huguenot Claude Goudimel to thank, for it is he who adopted this style in one of his later editions of the Genevan Psalter. And of course, if we are to discuss Huguenot music, we must begin with the psalter, for it seems it was their only musical form for many years.
While we know far less than we’d like about this fascinating musician, what we do know suggests that the popularity of the French versions of the Genevan Psalter was due largely to his arrangements. He did not compose the original tunes, but he did develop four-part harmonies for the new genre of psalms set to music, and is also responsible for the syncopation that characterizes these early psalters.
Goudimel is thought to have been born in Besançon around 1510, and was in Paris in 1549. It was not until he moved in 1557 to Metz, however, that he allied himself with the Reformers. The “Wars of Religion” swept through Metz, and Goudimel sought refuge in his native town of Besançon. Forced to continue in flight, he settled in Lyon.
It remains in the Providence of God why He chooses to call His own home when he does. For Claude Goudimel, it was to be in that company of saints martyred in the immediate aftermath of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.