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Complete Works of Gilles Mureau

Amiens MS 162 D

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MS Florence 2794


On chansons starting with a general pause

A very small segment of the repertory in the six chansonniers, eight chansons in all, begins every voice part with a rest of a brevis value or more. The function of this phenomenon is not clear. It probably does not have any function during a performance and certainly not in the repeat schemes of rondeaux and bergerettes. It seems to be a device meant to insure absolute notational clarity in the cases where a song in tempus perfectum starts with an upbeat in all voices, and the setting is homorhythmically designed – with the characteristic arrangement of one brevis rest followed by two semibrevis rests; however, it also appears in tempus imperfectum diminutum as a brevis rest followed by a single semibrevis rest.

This procedure seems to belong to the generations preceding our family of chansonniers. For example, four chansons appear in the works of Gilles Binchois (see Binchois 1974; 60 chansons in all), which have such a beginning (abbreviations see below): No. 19 “Je ne fai toujours que penser” (Rond, tp, br + 2 sbr), 35 “Pour prison ne pour maladie” (Rond, tp, br + 2 sbr), 42 “Seule esgarée de tout joyeulx plaisir” (Rond, tid, br + sbr, superius, staggered entries), 47 “Vostre tres doulx regart plaisant” (Rond, tp, br + 2 sbr). However, chansons beginning in similar ways do not appear in Du Fay’s works.

In the case of Busnoys’ “Quant ce vendra” the beginning with rests (Rond, tp, br + 2 sbr) seems to an integral part of the song’s identity. In addition to being present in nearly all sources for the music, the rests are included in the motto and in the tenor cantus firmus in Missa Quant che vendra – possibly by Busnoys. In a different vein, the exact same setup is in the anonymous “La fiance que j’ay en vous” (Rond, tp, br + 2 sbr) used to disguise a song i double time as an elaborate joke. Also the anonymous “Par dieu, ma dame, c’est a tort” could be a mocking parody of sad love songs.

It is quite remarkable that only the Dijon scribe, the Leuven scribe and the Nivelle scribe used this notation of rests to a significant degree. It does not appear in Wolfenbüttel, and the Laborde scribe only copied one chanson with a whole bar rest, and it was exactly Binchois’ “Pour prison”  (see below). In two cases both the Laborde and the Wolfenbüttel scribe copied the chansons appearing in the list below without the introductory brevis rest.

It is also remarkable that of these eight chansons no less than three are found in the small Copenhagen chansonnier, and they are placed close together (as nos. 23, 24 and 26) as if the Dijon scribe found them in some way related.

The brevis rest at the start of “S’il advient” in Copenhagen, Dijon, Leuven and Nivelle (copied by the second Nivelle scribe) – and in the later Italian MS Florence 176 – is difficult to explain. The song has no upbeat, but it starts homorhythmically in all voices; maybe at this time the whole bar rest had become a sort of sign for a homorhythmical start of the music, even if the whole bar rest does not appear in other similar chansons.

Something comparable to this phenomenon is found in Delahaye’s “Puis qu'aultrement ne puis avoir” (Nivelle no. 24). It is in tempus imperfectum (not diminished!) and starts with a semibrevis and a minima rest before the homorhythmical upbeat; rhythmically it thus matches Busnoys’ “Soudainement mon cueur” and Binchois’ “Seule esgarée” in tempus imperfectum diminutum.

Chansons in the six chansonniers with a whole bar’s rest at the beginning of all parts - all a 3:

(Abbreviations: Berg = bergerette/virelais; Rond = rondeau; tp = tempus perfectum; tid = tempus imperfectum diminutum; br = brevis rest; sbr = semibrevis rest)

Title Composer Cop
Soudainement mon cueur a pris Busnoys 23 100     29 Berg, tid, br+sbr
Quant vous me ferez plus de bien Busnoys 24 98     14 Rond, tp, br+2 sbr
S'il advient que mon deul me tue Michelet 26 3 (27) 17 64
(Scribe B)
Rond, tid, br
Quant ce viendra au droit destaindre Busnoys   2 (19) 43 4 Rond, tp, br+2 sbr
Accueilly m’a la belle au gent atour Caron   5       Rond, tp, br+2 sbr
Par dieu, ma dame, c’est a tort Anonymous   103     37 Berg, tp, br+2 sbr
Pour prison ne pour maladie Binchois     56     Rond, tp, br+2 sbr
La fiance que j’ay en vous Anonymous         21 Rond, tp, br+2sbr

– Laborde chansonnier no. 27 (“S’il advient”)  and no. 19 (“Quant ce viendra”) do not contain the whole bar rests found in Copenhagen, Dijon, Leuven and Nivelle chansonniers.

– In Wolfenbüttel chansonnier not one chanson starts with a whole bar rest. Just like in Laborde “S’il advient” and “Quant ce viendra” do not start with a whole bar rest.

– Caron’s “Accueilly m’a la belle au gent atour“ is correspondingly the only occurrence of this type of beginning in the so-called Mellon chansonnier (New Haven 91, no. 3, ff. 3v-4).

PWCH April 2009, revised October 2022