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Copenhagen Chansonnier

Amiens MS 162 D

Sacred music of the 15th century

Uppsala MS 76a

Peter Woetmann Christoffersen

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MS Florence 2794


Additional songs by Mureau?

The four songs make up the total of the music we know by Gilles Mureau. Did he compose any music for the liturgy? We cannot know, as the sources are silent on this question, and probably it was not required of him in his professional life. On the other hand, his secular production may have been far more extended than these few songs imply. Some of them suggest a very experienced composer; more songs may hide between the numbers of anonymously preserved chansons from the period 1470-1500. However, it will be impossible to pinpoint them in the multitude using stylistic criteria alone. But we can try out some probable avenues. It is obvious to take a closer look at the manuscript Florence 176 whose repertory seems so closely linked with Central France. We must remember that apart from one or two songs, the repertory of the main writer was originally entered without any composer ascriptions at all, and that the later user added names only to the pieces he recognized. The three songs, to which Mureau’s name were added, appear in the manuscript as nos. 31, 48 and 49. As remarked above, two of the three songs had key signatures involving a flat at the high f’’. Therefore it is noteworthy that among the adjacent pieces we find two anonymous songs with flats at b’ and f’’ positions; and they are the only ones with such a key disposition in the manuscript except for Mureau’s two songs, Barbingant’s “L’omme banny”, and Johannes Raoullin’s four-part “Se suis trop jeunnette” (Florence 176 no. 73). It looks as if it could pay off to examine the three songs in Florence 176, which follow next to Mureau’s (nos. 50-52).

At the first reading, the three poems trigger the thought that they could be by the same author (Mureau?), because they share the play on the traditional allegorical personifications of 15th century literature: Faulx Rapport, Bel Acueil and Male Bouche respectively (Slander, Warm Welcome and Gossip). But the bringing together of these themes could just as well be the responsibility of the person who collected the repertory of the exemplar as they should be works of the same poet. It does, however, whet the appetite. Can we find songs, which ought to be ascribed to Mureau among these songs? They are edited in the Appendix with their texts, which again had to be recovered from other sources.

At once we can assert that the evidence presented by the key signature combinations is unexciting; their function is different from the one relevant to the two chansons by Mureau. In one case (no. 52) the two-flat signature even appears to be caused by a misreading of the exemplar. The flats at the high f’’-position are in both cases simple indications that the songs are written in a high tessitura; this fact is of course in itself of interest.

Florence 176 no. 50, »Que feray, las, fors languir en destresse« (ff. 75v-77) is a candidate for an ascription to Mureau in spite of its ‘normal’ tessitura and voice distribution with a low contratenor. The poem, a rondeau, is artfully made in rich rimes léonines, and its setting pays close attention to the words. The syllabic setting of the important 3rd verse line (important in the refrain as well as in the couplet and tierce) is congruent with the style of Mureau. The drive of repeated cadences in the lower voices counterbalances the static superius (bb. 25-29) and the contratenor’s participation in the declamation of the last half of the line are both quite original creations in the vein of Mureau. Moreover, the imitation figure starting in bar 19 is clearly related to the corresponding figure heard in bars 13 ff of »Tant fort me tarde ta venue«.

No. 51, »Je te veulx desavouer oeil« (ff. 77v-79), which just like the preceding is found in two additional sources, is likewise a candidate. Its poem, a bergerette, is in rimes équivoques as are Mureau’s best efforts. It is composed for three voices in high tessitura with the contratenor crossing above the tenor several times. Again we find the clear declamation of the words alternating with melismatic passages – with the upper voice in calm dominance. The couplets are rhythmically differentiated from the first section, but there is an unmistakable thematic relation between the two sections creating an interesting mood of unity. Compare also the upper voice’s setting of the second line (bb. 7-13) with »Pensez y se le povez faire« bars 25-32.

Contrary to this, the unique rondeau no. 52, »Qu’en a affaire Male Bouche« (ff. 79v-81) appears a bit slight in comparison. Its poem is in rimes léonines and could be from Mureau’s hand, but the music is different from all the other songs. It is again for an upper voice in high tessitura and two lower voices in the same range, but it opens with a three-part imitation at the unison based on the C-hexachord, which is presented plainly in the contratenor and tenor, and its expressive range seems restricted. For example, the tenor seems stuck within the C-hexachord except for a few bars before the medial cadence. Of course, this song like »Tant fort me tarde« could be an early work from the hand of Mureau, but it does not sound like his music.

The investigation of the most obvious place to look for additional chansons by Mureau has unearthed two quite probable candidates for an ascription and one doubtful. But in order to be sure of any authorship we will need to discover new sources; and Florence 176 can tell us only about music from the early years of Mureau’s long life in Chartres.

PWCH, August 2011