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Amiens 162 D, f. 18 »Parce, domine, parce populo tuo« 3v [Jacob Obrecht]

Notation: Entered by Hand D in white mensural notation on four-line staves originally drawn for music in chant notation (staff system 2), which have been extended to five lines in each staff, and an extra staff has been added at the bottom of the page. Red initials and light brown ink in text and music.

The scribe has copied this song in mensural notation without making any errors in the placements of the notes on the staves, but he had only a limited understanding of the rhythmical elements of the notation. The drawing of the notes is very carefully done with precise and regular lozenge-shaped note heads and vertical stems. It is, however, impossible to perform the music as it stands, because, for example, in dotted figures the dots are often missing (and the note heads are drawn close together, so no space was left for them), and stems on some minimae and semiminimae are missing. For a singer trained in mensural music it would be easy to detect that the note values do not add up, but apparently this did not disturb the scribe. He presumably could read chant notation only, and therefore he had to render graphically the elements he recognized as important to mensural notation – in order to create a visual impact. In this case, he left the copying of the text until after finishing the music. The chant-like bassus voice did not present him with any problems, and his underlay of the upper voice also seems credible. His exemplar, however, probably did not give any text in the tenor, so he just wrote it into the part in a quite arbitrary way, without coordination with the music.

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


Three-part version:

Bologna Q17 f. 2 »Parce, domine, populo tuo« (T and B only) Facsimile
Brussels / Tournai ff. 8v-9 / ff. 9-10 »Parce, domine, populo tuo« (S and T only)
*Cambridge 1760 ff. 46v-47 »Parce, domine, populo tuo« Obreh (in index) PDF · Facsimile
Copenhagen 1848 p. 99 (no. 52) »Parce domine« · Facsimile
London 35087 f. 4 »Parce, domine, populo tuo« (T only)
*Uppsala 76a ff. 26v-27 »Parce, domine, populo tuo« PDF

Glarean 1547 pp. 260-61 »Parce, domine, populo tuo« J. Hobrecht

Four-part versions (Altus added):

Bologna Q18 ff. 84v-85 »Parce domine« Facsimile (picture 85)
Munich 322-325 no. 15 »Parce, domine, populo tuo« Hobrechthus
Sankt Gallen 463 no. 128 »Parce, domine, populo tuo« Jacobus Obrecht (S and A only) Facsimile

Petrucci 1503 ff. 33v-34 »Parce, domine, populo tuo« Obrecht
Antico 1521 no. 20 »Parce, domine, populo tuo« (A only)


Sankt Gallen 530 no. 15 (keyboard)

Attaingnant 1531 no. 13 (keyboard)

Editions: Amiens 162 Edition no. 21 (PDF); Obrecht 1908, Motetten no. 10; Rokseth 1930, no. 7, Glarean 1965, Vol. II, p. 327; Obrecht 1983, vol. 16, no.5.

Text: Latin prayer, consisting of quotations from Joel II.a7 and Judith VII.20:

Parce, domine, parce populo tuo quia pius es et misericors. Exaudi nos, in eternum domine.


The bassus sings a Phrygian melody in long note values, which fits the text syllabically. This is either a now unknown plainchant melody or a deliberate imitation of plainchant by the composer. The upper voices are livelier and fill out the gaps in the bassus, The composition may originally have been a ‘motet-chanson’ with a French rondeau cinquain or – more probably – a Flemish poem as text of the upper voices. In texture the song is very like Loyset Compère’s “Tant ay d’ennuy / O vos omnes”, which circulated in many of the same sources as a motet with the text ”O vos omnes” (cf. Christoffersen 1994, Vol. II, p. 79).

The Latin prose text “Parce, domine” does not go well with the upper voices – word repetitions are needed. Only three complete manuscript sources transmit the three-part version of song with a full text, Amiens 162, Cambridge 1760 and Uppsala 76a, all probably from the first decade of the 16th century. They exhibit great differences in their text underlay in comparison with the printed sources, Petrucci 1503 and Glarean 1547. This is indicative of the difficulties in fitting the text to the upper voices. The most consistent solution is found in Cambridge 1760, where the word “domine” is repeated in the beginning. The copyist of the Uppsala MS did not write more than a text-incipit in the tenor. Here a later hand has tried to work out a solution using more extended repetitions (see the links to PDF-editions above).

Obrecht’s song had a wide circulation as a motet, and its slow-moving lowest voice was used as cantus firmus or was cited in compositions by Isaac, Verdelot, Jachet and Franci (see further Christoffersen 1994, Vol. II, pp. 73-74).

PWCH January 2014