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Amiens 162 D, f. 1 »Le grant pena que io sento« 3v [Anonymous]

Notation: Entered by Hand D in white mensural notation on four-line staves originally drawn for music in chant notation (staff system 3). Red initials and light brown ink in text and music.

Nearly all the music was erased after the scribe’s first attempt at copying this song, because the spacing of the notes was too tight and out of step with the text, which took up much more space, and which he probably had copied first. The missing note in the superius bar 9 was in fact in the first version, and the error in bars 26-27 did not appear at first.

Disposition of parts: [Superius]-[Tenor]-[Bassus] below each other.


*Copenhagen 1848, pp. 403 and 411 (nos. 232 and 238) »La grand pena que yo sento« 3v PDF · Facsimile
*Laborde, ff. 137v-138 »La grant paine que yo sento« 3v PDF · Facsimile
*Sankt Gallen 462, p. 102 »La grant pena che io sento« 4v (+A) PDF · Facsimile

Editions: Amiens 162 Edition no. 19 (PDF); Goldberg 199,7 p. 512 (Laborde; Geering 1967, no. 57 (Sankt Gallen 462).

Text: Italian song, 4 lines of 8 syllables with a repeat of the fourth line. In the Laborde chansonnier the spelling is even stronger influenced by French orthography.

Le grant pena que io sento
Me tormenta nocte dia[.]
de morir Jozo contento
por la vostra signoria.


A very simple setting of an Italian song. The tune in the upper voice is followed strictly in parallel sixths by the tenor except for the song’s first and last sonorities, and both voices keep their ranges within a fifth. The only adornment is a slight touch of figuration in the tenor and superius and the traditional suspension before the final cadence (bars 23-24 and 29-30). Accordingly, the formal layout is quite simple: A B CA’(3+5 syllables) |:B’:|. The bassus accompanies in alternating thirds and fifths below the tenor, again except for the first and last sonorities, which are unison and octave.

The song was added to the Laborde chansonnier some time after 1480 (cf. the description of this MS) in an even simpler, declamatory version without the repeat of the last line. In Amiens 162 D the song is worked out in a more regular double time, but still with strong traces of declamation. The two copies of the song in Copenhagen 1848 (nos. 232 and 238) are again different in rhythmization, and they are decorated by semiminima-diminutions in bassus and superius. These three versions are so different in musical details and rendering of the text that they were hardly dependent on any shared written tradition, That the Italian song (maybe in a real Italian version of poem and music, which none of the French sources reproduce correctly) circulated in oral transmission, which then was notated by different French musicians, has to be considered. It has all the characteristics of an oral transmission, a simple tune varying two elements of melody only, and clothed in polyphonic sound by the simplest improvisatory means – parallel sixths and alternating thirds and fifths. One only has to remember the text and the short lines of melody, everything else it is easy to reconstruct alla mente (cf. for example, N. Pirrotta, ‘The Oral and Written Traditions of Music’ in Nino Pirrotta, Music and Culture in Italy from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. A Collection of Essays. Cambr. Mass. 1984, pp. 72-79).

The resulting three-part versions are quite different (see examples 1-3), and probably none of the French copyists would regard it as a secular love song, rather it was appreciated as a devotional song to the Virgin Maria, a lauda. In three sources (Laborde, Amiens 162 and Copenhagen 1848), it was placed in close proximity to Prioris’ popular Latin song »Dulcis amica dei«, which confirms its classification as a lauda. The four-part version in the MS Sankt Gallen 462, copied in or produced for a scholarly milieu in Paris in 1510, is of a more regular rhythmic design and shows a better understanding of Italian. Like Amiens 162 it has a written out repeat of the last line.

The song – the earliest versions in Laborde and Amiens 162 cannot really be labelled as ‘a composition’ – could just as well have been rendered in chant notation. Its character of polyphonic improvisation becomes obvious if we compare the very simple settings of the second line (examples 1-4):

Example 1, Washington D.C., Library of Congress, MS M2.1 L25 Case (Laborde Chansonnier), ff. 137v-138, bb. 7-11.

Example 2, Amiens, Bibliothèque Centrale Louis Aragon, ms. 162 D, f. 1, bb. 7-12.

Example 3, Copenhagen, The Royal Library, MS Ny Kgl. Samling 1848 2°, pp. 403 and 411, bb. 6-11.

Example 4, Sankt Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Ms. 462, p. 102, bb. 7-11

From the earliest version’s straight declamation of the poem (Laborde – the last decades of the 15th century) it ‘evolves’ in the later sources helped by a more regular notation (Amiens 162, first decades of the next century), by diminutions (Copenhagen 1848 – c. 1524, but transmitting a much older repertory), and in Sankt Gallen 462 (1510) it has been transformed into the four-part idiom. It is extremely rare that a song can be traced in differing versions through four sources in quite close chronological order during these decades, which are so poorly represented in French musical sources.

See further Christoffersen 1994, Vol. II, p. 156. See also Fallows 1999, p. 530: The song appears reworked as a basse dance in S’ensuyvent plusieurs basses dances (Lyon, Moderne c. 1532), f. D1v »La grant peine«).

PWCH December 2013