General Index of music editions
by first line
   by composer


Other editions and papers on this site:

Copenhagen Chansonnier

Sacred music of the 15th century

Complete Works of Gilles Mureau

Uppsala MS 76a

Peter Woetmann Christoffersen

Papers on

Basiron’s chansons
Busnoys & scibes PDF
Chansons in Fa-clefs
Chansoner på nettet
Fede, Works
Dulot’s Ave Maria
Open access 15th c.
MS Florence 2794


Three-part simple polyphony

The tree-part settings show a similar wide variation. We have already discussed two songs added by Caulaincourt. In Paris he apparently found the motet »O miranda dei caritas / Kyrie eleyson« (ff. 123v-124, cf. ex. 1), a dissonant recreation of a 13th century motet into simple polyphony, and we counted »O salutaris hostia« (f. 1v) among his latest additions, a ‘modern’ hymn-setting in plainchant notation (ex. 4).

The remaining four three-part compositions, which belong to the funeral music selected and copied by Hand A, must be regarded as the most significant contributions to the repertory of simple polyphony. They offer quite different solutions for how such music could be crafted, even if they all ultimately build on simple improvisatory models. But, however different the four settings may be, they have a number of features in common in addition to their place in the responsory “Libera me”:

They all use to some degree cadential patterns and other elements drawn from the stock of commonplaces of mensural music.

Their music is placed on the pages in a voice disposition, which traditionally was used for old-fashioned motets or settings of liturgical tunes with the given tune in the tenor, and which is characterized by the placement of the tenor voice across the bottom of the openings. They seem so to say to inspire a sort of ecclesiastical confidence; but in fact, it makes no difference if the tenor is carrying a tune as is the case in »Creator omnium rerum, deus« and »Juxta corpus spiritus stetit«, or is simply a supporting voice as in »Bone Ihesu dulcis cunctis« and »Lugentibus in purgatorio«. This layout apparently did not convey any musical meaning.

All four probably represent the most recent style of the genre, which was accessible to the compiler.

Three of them employ passages, in which all notes are furnished with fermatas, as important structural and textual markers.

The three strophic settings have textual or melodic relations to other more or less contemporary settings, which already have been mentioned in the first section of this article, and which it is necessary to include into the discussion of the music too.

Creator omnium rerum

This last-mentioned feature, the fermata passages, which we also could observe in the two-part songs “Quando deus”, “Stabat mater” and “Credo”, is prominent in »Creator omnium rerum, deus« (ff. 16v-17v). The exclamations, which open the second part of the setting (bb. 46-53, cf. ex. 8a), stand out not only by way of their rhythmical indefiniteness, but also by their sound. The four-note repeat in the liturgical tune on “Exaudi, exaudi” is set with parallel tenths in the superius, while the Contratenor fills in between them. During the whole fermata-passage it is remarkable that the Contratenor avoids taking the position of a fourth below the upper voice. In the remainder of the setting, the superius is a structural counter voice against the tenor tune in contrary and parallel motion, and the Contratenor often takes the fourth below and thereby produces the characteristic sound of improvisatory practices like the fauxbourdon (see for example bb. 19-26, ex. 8b). Moreover, the setting’s general note-against-note style is enlivened by the introduction of smaller note values (white minimae) in the Contratenor, which smooths its lines and produces syncopations in some instances (bb. 14-15, 61-62 and 72). All this clearly indicates that the setting is measured in spite of being mainly in chant notation, and it incorporates traces of contemporary cadential patterns and differentiated roles of the voices. In comparison with this, the ‘floating’ fermata-passage stands out by force of its different rhythmic and harmonic personality.

Example 8a-b, »Creator omnium rerum, deus« (ff. 16v-17v), bb. 46-53 and bb. 19-27.

As a whole, “Creator omnium rerum” is perfectly adapted for its role as a prose versus in “Libera me” at funerals; it is solemn and modern, in many ways similar to the three-part hymn “O salutaris hostia” in pure plainchant notation, except that the liturgical tune in “Creator omnium” is placed in the lowest voice as in many other liturgical settings.

Lugentibus in purgatorio

The strophic setting of »Lugentibus in purgatorio« (ff. 10v-13) is constructed in a different way. It is notated in white mensural notation, but basically it is much closer to the two-part simple polyphony than “Creator omnium”. Its two equal upper voices in the range a-b’ make up a self-sufficient structure, note against note without dissonances or parallel perfect concords. This structure seems to be developed from the ‘modern’ type of two-part simple polyphony, which we have just discussed, based on contrary motion and parallel motion in imperfect concords. Every line is brought to its end with stock cadential figures including syncopations. The “Tenor” is a supporting voice below the duet in the range c-a. (ex. 9).

Example 9, »Lugentibus in purgatorio« (ff. 10v-13), stanza 1, bb. 1-6.

This setting does not appear to build on any known tune, but its simple melodic phrases are clearly related to the other settings of the text. Its five verse lines are organized in the form aba’ab’ with the a-lines ending on A in the upper voices and the b-lines on D. Every line ends with a fermata, and the first four lines are subdivided by a fermata on the fourth syllable; the invocations in the fifth line, “O Ihesu rex”, “O Maria”, “Sancte Petre”, are emphasized with fermatas on every syllable.

In spite of its extremely restricted musical motives great care have been taken to vary the setting. The upper voices exchange places and motives as well as the functions as superius and tenor in the cadences, and the “Tenor” supports the varied harmony. In sound it is very close to a contemporary devotional song conceived according to the rules of mensural counterpoint. Its foundation in simple polyphony emerges with even greater clarity when we consider it alongside contemporary two-part settings of the poem.

The first two stanzas of the song in MS Tübingen 96 (ff. 55v-57) are very similar to the upper voices in the Amiens 162 version. This setting is notated in semi-mensural black notation, which uses two note values only: breves (square notes) and semibreves (rhomboid notes and ligatures c.o.p.). It presents the same alternation between note-against-note style and stock cadential patterns with a preponderance of imperfect concords between the voices, and sounding a fifth lower (ex. 10). It also has the same care for varying the sound with the voices exchanging places and motives as well as functions as superius and tenor. And the stanzas end with a ‘refrain’, “Ihesu pie, dona eis requiem” set off with fermatas over the first four notes – as in Amiens 162.

Example 10, Tübingen, Universitätsbibliothek, MS Mk 96, ff. 55v-57, »Lugentibus in purgatorio«, bb. 1-8.

When we reach the two last stanzas, something new happens. They are set to a different music, similar in style, but using a greater variety of pitches for the line endings, and having a new refrain “O Maria, ora natum pro eis”. This creates an intensification of the music through the four stanzas, which alternate with the sections of the monophonic “Libera me”.

The setting in Tübingen 96 probably represents an older version of this trope, even if this manuscript may be younger than Grand-Saint-Bernard 7. In fact, the version in Grand-Saint-Bernard 7 may have been copied after an exemplar very similar to Tübingen 96 and revised in order to obtain an increased level of variation in the music. More instances of voice exchange have been introduced, and cadences have been prolonged to make room for syncopations. Furthermore, the scribe/arranger did not appreciate the closing of the second setting (stanzas 3-4) on D, seeing that the first setting ended on G, so he simply added the first prayer-‘refrain’ to the setting and thereby rounded off the whole nicely with a double refrain in stanzas 3-4 (cf. ex. 11). He did not include neither the many fermatas nor the clues for the repeats of “Libera me”. The latter combined with the arranger’s care for tonal closure opens up the possibility that the Grand-Saint-Bernard version was meant as a stand-alone prayer for the dead.

Example 11, Grand-Saint-Bernard, Bibliothèque de l’Hospice, Ms. 7 (2038), ff. 60v-63v »Lugentibus in purgatorio«, bb. 168-185.

This semi-mensural setting exhibits several interesting traits: The combination of a modernized, ‘non-contrapuntal’, note-against-note style combined with two-part cadential figures; the importance of constant variation of the simple material (voice exchange); the use of two different settings, in Grand-Saint-Bernard 7 with a common ‘refrain’; and the differentiation in speech rhythm between the calm beginning with its first four syllables (breves) and the following faster pace (semibreves) in every line. All this was probably developed within the framework of the traditional monastic simple polyphony, but evidently its surface was influenced by the musical idioms of the secular church.

A two-part setting of the poem, which is found in a set of fragments containing primarily four-part mass music, plainchant invitatories and three-part polyphony without text in Lyon, Bibliothèque de la Ville, ms. 6632 fonds musicales, f. 12, was probably copied in Lyon around 1500. It is written in white mensural notation without any indication of the mensuration, and it is for equal voices at a low pitch with many crossings of voices. This setting in simple note-against-note polyphony shows the same ‘rush to the cadence’ as we found in the preceding songs, but it does not use the standard, mensural cadence patterns (cf. ex. 12, which shows the nearly complete final line of the song). It is much more varied rhythmically, because it uses no less than four different note values. It resembles the Amiens 162 version of the song in having only one setting for the five stanzas, it has a fixed refrain “O Maria”, and presumably the scribe tried to modernize it by adding a third voice, composed on the page, which should complete the harmony. As far as one can reconstruct the piece from the cut-down page, the added voice mostly muddles the sound in a rather incompetent way.

Example 12, Lyon, Bibliothèque de la Ville, ms. 6632 fonds musicales, f. 12 »Lugentibus in purgatorio« ending (the two original voices only).

The last song in this family takes the idea of different musical settings of the stanzas much further. In the MS Uppsala, Universitetsbiblioteket, Vokalmusik i Handskrift 76a, ff. 68v-73, we find »Kirie eleyson - Langentibus in purgatorio«, in which eight stanzas of the poem alternate two different settings for male voices – one for the odd and one for the even stanzas. Here the simple polyphony has become nearly completely disguised in white notation (see ex. 13b-c), without, however, any indication of mensuration. They include stock phrases from polyphony according to contrapunctus rules, but basically they are modernised simple polyphony with the voices moving note-against-note in contrary or parallel motion, mainly in thirds, and with many crossings of parts. If one imagines them in a black notation and without some of the embellishments, and articulated with fermatas, they would not be very different from the other settings of the text.

The transformation of this song into mensural notation was in reality easy. The general feeling of the music is that it should be sung in triple time. However, the arranger (and probably his customers too) had no knowledge of the rules for notating a song in mensural tempus perfectum with its augmentation of note values in order to fit into the pattern of perfections or of the use of coloration to produce hemiola effects. He just wrote it in a binary notation, in which values can only be halved or doubled, and left out mensuration signs.

The song opens with a “Kirie eleyson” in traditional simple two-part polyphony, rewritten in white notation, which keeps both voices within a sixth (ex. 13a). A performance might involve two alternating groups of singers who all sang the “Kirie” as a sort of ‘refrain’.

Example 13a-c, Uppsala, Universitetsbiblioteket, Vokalmusik i Handskrift 76a, ff. 68v-73, »Kirie eleyson - Langentibus in purgatorio« (“Kirie” and beginnings of stanzas 1 and 2).

It was entered into the MS Uppsala 76a by the manuscript’s main copyist along with secular chansons, some of them in the most modern, popular style. The small-format paper chansonnier was probably made in Lyons during the first decade of the 16th century – that is, during the same decade as Amiens 162. Many things points at that the manuscript was produced with sale at the book market of Lyons in view, and apparently this extended song for the deceased was included as a means to broaden its selling points.

Bone Ihesu dulcis cunctis

The Franciscan – in Amiens 162 turned Benedictine – set of verses for “Libera me” with prayers for the deceased exists in two contemporary, but very different settings. The original text is set for two voices in the MS Paris 10581, ff. 89v-101, in a luxurious small parchment manuscript, which belonged to a Clarisse abbey in Meaux. It is written in chant notation for equal voices, regularly built of repetitions, ababcde(a’)b, and the first five syllables of each line are kept in nearly perfect contrary motion followed by a cadential formula in parallel thirds (ex. 14). And like in Amiens 162, the manuscript contains careful clues for the repetitions of the responsory. It is a normal ‘modern’ simple polyphony setting, and its well-formed tenor tune became immortalized as the hymn “O come, 0 come, Emmanuel”.

Example 14, »Bone Jesu dulcis cunctis«, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Ms. lat. 10581, ff. 89v-101, stanza 1 (first two lines).

Also the three-part Amiens 162 setting »Bone Ihesu dulcis cunctis« (ff. 2v-10) is apparently written in chant notation, but it is most likely that it should be read in a semi-mensural way. It alternates passages written in notes shaped as virgae with fermatas above with passages in puncta without fermatas. This in itself does not indicate any rhythmic differentiation. But near the end of each stanza we find a ligature, which in the majority of instances has a stem upwards to the left, that is, as c.o.p. ligatures indicating that the two first notes are to be halved in value. In a semi-mensural logic the virgae and puncta are then to be understood as longae and breves, and the setting uses three note values. Probably the notation is meant to communicate an alternation between calm unmeasured notes and measured notes. The edition adopts the measured interpretation, supplemented by a single unmeasured stanza as example.

For a casual glance it looks similar to the later added three-part »O salutaris hostia« in chant notation (f. 1v). A crucial trait is, however, missing; namely the structural superius-tenor duet, which characterizes “O salutaris”. The equal upper voices (in the ranges a-f’ and d-e’ above a supporting “Tenor” A-b) are more like the self-sufficient duet in simple polyphony of »Lugentibus in purgatorio« (ff. 10v-13), and then – not quite. They move mostly in parallel thirds and sixths, but in the opening fermata-passage we find fourths between them (bb. 1 and 4, see ex. 15). Obviously this version of the music takes advantage of the supporting voice, which supplies the fundamentals; this happens only in these first chords. The remainder of the setting adheres in its upper voices to the style of the ‘modern’ simple polyphony. Parallel fifths were not avoided completely; they appear between superius 1 and the “Tenor” in bars 47-48, and in stanzas 1-3 and 8 between the same voices in bars 30-31. In stanzas 4-7 the tenor goes to a in bar 31 instead of f and thus avoids parallel fifths. This is the only real difference in the music of the eight stanzas, and later hands have not been at work in this piece except for the replacement of the name of St Bernardinus.

Example 15, »Bone Ihesu dulcis cunctis« (ff. 2v-10), stanza 1, bb. 1-13.

It is difficult to pinpoint one of the voices as carrying a pre-existent tune. Possibly the two superius voices take turns in presenting the tune like they take turns in taking care of the tenor and superius functions. Formally the setting is through-composed, but the first four lines are clearly parallel in two by two lines (riming abab), the first pair ending on C and D, and the second pair on D and D. The four remaining lines end on C/F, A, C and D respectively, creating a welcome variation in sound. The rhythmical formulation of the parallel pairs of lines (longae with fermatas followed by breves without) is obviously related to the procedures in simple polyphony with calm declamation followed by a more active drive towards the cadence.

If we look at a single stanza as a freestanding composition, its rhythmical disposition displays an amazing similarity to the motetti missales of the Milanese Ducal liturgy, especially to the motet cycle (or substitution mass) Ave domine Jesu Christe, which is anonymous in its source, but ascribed to Loyset Compere by Ludwig Finscher. At the point of the Elevation, which comes with the 7th motet “Adoramus te Christe” (Compère 1972, vol. 2, p. 35), (1) it has the same alternation between long note values with fermatas and shorter notes without – or alternation between free and measured rhythm (ex. 16). Something similar happens at Ad Elevationem “Adoramus te, Christi” in Compere’s Missa Galeazescha (Ibid. p. 16), and the same procedure is found in his Missa Hodie nobis de Virgine in the motet Sanctus - Verbum caro factum est, in which breves with fermatas appear at ”Verbum caro … nobis” (Ibid. p. 50, bb. 23 ff). The effect, however, is most impressive in Ave domine Jesu Christe, where fermata passages and normal measured homophony alternates. Loyset Compere and Gaspar Weerbecke, the two foremost early composers of motetti missales, may very well have experienced this sort of solemn singing during their youth in Northern France and Flanders.

Example 16, Anonymous (Compere?), “Adoramus te, Jesu Christe”, Milano, Archivio della Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, Librone 1 (olim 2269), ff. 167v-168, bb. 1-13.

Juxta corpus spiritus stetit

The closest relatives to this three-part song are again two-part settings found in manuscripts in Tübingen and Grand-Saint-Bernhard. MS Tübingen 96 has ff. 13v-16v + 10 a setting of five stanzas, which are identical to stanzas 1-3 and 9-10 in Amiens 162. It sets the same tune for two equal voices both covering an octave (c-c’) using only two note values, long and short, and no ligatures. The counter-voice is in near consequent contrary motion and produces no parallel perfect concords, and the form follows the tune without embellishment: A(a-b)AB(c-a’)A’(a’’-b). The triple time produced by the alternation of note values is alleviated by the careful placement of the words, which persistently in the tenor tune places a change of syllable on the b-flat in bars 3, 11 and 27 and thus establishes a pattern of 2-1-2-2-2-2 beats at the beginning of all A-lines and derived places (ex. 17). The song is a classic example of simple, 15th century euphonious polyphony in contrary movement.

Example 17, Tübingen, Universitätsbibliothek, MS Mk 96, ff. 13v-16v + 10 »Justa corpus spiritus stetit«, stanza 1, bb.1-8.

While the Tübingen version seems very regular, the one in the MS Grand-Saint-Bernard 6, pp. 208-223, has been adapted for use in the Augustinian monastery. The poem in particular has been revised during the copying. In its eight stanzas, corresponding to stanzas 1-6 and 9-10 in Amiens 162, Dominican saints have been replaced with saints more fitting for the Augustinian liturgy, and at its end a presumably alternative set of two-part prose verses for “Libera me” has been added in unmeasured two-part polyphony. The setting of “Justa corpus” shows up some musical elaborations. The 2nd note in the counter voice has been made into two descending minimae. This is repeated in both voices in bar 5, and hereby the arranger has put the spotlight on the automatic ‘voice exchange’ produced by the contrary motion in the contra (ex. 18). In bars 17-20 the counter voice has been directed towards the concord of a fifth in bar 20 instead of the octave. The most important changes, however, are the notation of bar 3 and all similar places as a single note followed by a c.o.p.-ligature and the removal of the bridging note g in bars 4, 12 and 28. This produces a different pattern at the beginning of every A-line of 2-1-2-1-1-2-3 beats, which underscores the triple time and tends to break up every line in halves – and further highlights the voice exchange. The reworking of the two-part setting seems to be a conscious effort to clarify and streamline the music, and it is done with more skill than demonstrated in the adaption of the text.

Example 18, Grand-Saint-Bernhard, Bibliothèque de l’Hospice Ms. 6 (1983) pp. 208-223 »Justa corpus spiritus stetit«, stanza 1, bb. 1-8.

Compared to the rhythmical distribution of the words in the two-part versions, the three-part »Juxta corpus spiritus stetit« in Amiens 162 (ff. 18v-28) had in its basic shape been made completely regular in triple time with its steady flow of 2-1 beat formations. The tenor tune is the same as in Tübingen 96 except for a couple of differences, and its three-part setting has obtained a smooth regularity with cadences every fourth bar. The highest voice is a counter voice to the tenor tune moving within a fifth (c’-g’) in contrary and parallel motion. The “Contra” completes the sound within a range restricted to a sixth (f-d’) above the “Tenor” (c-d’) often taking the fourth below the superius – in bars 21-24 like in all the cadences a sound of pure faulxbourdon is achieved (ex. 19). It is a late development of simple polyphony characterized by the use of only two note values, long and short, by the restricted ranges of the voices, and by the layout of the pages with the tenor written across the bottom of the openings.

Example 19, Amiens 162, ff. 18v-28, »Juxta corpus spiritus stetit«, stanza 7, bb. 1-8.

This description of the Amiens setting applies only to a single one of its ten stanzas. It is the seventh, a sort of default stanza, “Confessor N hereticos confutasti”, in which worshippers as occasion required could insert the name a local saint, preferably with a name of four syllables. This stanza has never been in use, and therefore it has not been changed in any way. It represents the original foundation for the bewildering multitude of differing details that we find in the nine active stanzas.

In this model stanza the lines of the poem have their maximal length; the first two lines with the rimes aa each consists of 7+8 syllables and the last two lines riming bb of 7+7 syllables. This regularity is not present in many of the active stanzas; the second halves of the lines variegate between six and eight syllables, and the music has to be adjusted accordingly by the singers. However, this was not possible when the song was performed from the big pages of Amiens 162 by a group of singers, probably with more than one singer on each part, and with singers trained only in plainchant. Therefore, each stanza had to be adjusted on the pages, and this happened in at least two stages.

The first adaption and introduction of variation in sound had presumably happened already before it was copied by Hand A. The interchange of notes in tenor and contra in bars 25-26, which appears in stanzas 1-3 and 10 and obscures the outline of the tenor tune from the beginning, was present in the exemplar. So were probably most of the first adaptions caused by the poem, but Hand A may have been involved too. The result of his work was a row of relatively homogenous stanzas with a bit of variation in sound and a passable adjustment of the notes in relation to the text, but still exhibiting some ambiguous points, which could hamper a performance.

Caulaincourt has tried to remedy these deficits by erasing and re-notating many notes, by changing pitches and by adding more notes to ligatures. An important objective was to clarify the distribution of the text, but apparently he also wanted to create variation in sound by changing some elements of the harmony. One point that he found disturbing was the note g, which in bars 4, 12 and 28 connects the two halves of the melody line of the A-lines; and it is exactly this note, which had been removed in the two-part version in MS Grand-Saint-Bernhard 6. It is imaginable that the harmonization of this g with its triad above was the main reason for his dislike. Obviously Caulaincourt’s familiarity with the use of scale inflections in polyphonic music was limited, and he found the progression involving an augmented fourth in the Contra caused by its b unacceptable. Every possible occurrence of this g-triad except for two in stanza 4 and those in the ad libitum stanza 7 have been changed. Some of his changes are consonant, but involve parallel fifths and octaves, while others are highly dissonant. It would have been so much easier just to sing a b-flat in the Contra, but his careful reworking of all these moments adds some spice to the otherwise quite bland singing of nine repeats of the music (for a detailed discussion, see ‘Notes on the reworked stanzas of »Juxta corpus spiritus stetit«’). In his work on the pages of Amiens 162 he disregarded the rhythmical elements of the notation. He replaced as a matter of course rhomboid notes with square notes and added notes to ligatures. Caulaincourt treated in his way the notation as plainchant, made the distribution of the words unambiguous, but had to rely on the singers’ knowledge of the basic pattern of the song – and probably his own instructions to them – in order to keep the three parts together. The stanzas copied by Hand A mirrored a contemporary aesthetic of harmonious music influenced by the art of counterpoint, but leaving details of the word setting to the performers. Caulaincourt’s reworking brought the words into line with monophonic liturgical singing, and he overlaid the music with reminiscences of traditional simple polyphony in momentary dissonances and the homely sound of parallel fifths and octaves.

Music for a confraternity

The picture of the desirable music for a confraternity, which MS Amiens 162 presents to us, displays music with roots far back in time as well as music entirely contemporary in its outlook. All of it was created on paper, it is ‘composed music’, but on the other hand all of it has strong affinities with the techniques of making music a la mente to adorn the liturgy. The extended two-part settings show up whole catalogues of traditional procedures reaching from the uses of basically parallel quintizans or fifthing techniques (Fuller 1978) through the improvising of a simple counter voice in contrary motion as described by Nicolaus Burtius (Burtius 1983, pp. 87-88) (2) to the flowering of discant technique without parallel perfect concords, but permitting short stretches of parallel thirds and sixths, in the teachings of Guillaume Guerson (Ferand 1961). Guerson’s Utilissime musicales regule printed around 1495 by Michel Toulouze in Paris enjoyed wide popularity and appeared in at least ten new editions and reprints before 1550, possibly because his manual appealed primarily to monastic singers. A song like »Quando deus filius virginis« (Amiens 162 D, ff. 13v-16) agrees perfectly with his prescriptions as do the other most ‘modern’ two-part songs.

Also the three-part settings have near parallels in music a la mente or sight singing. In his treatise of c. 1480, De preceptis artis musicae, Guilielmus Monachus described how the English sang what he called faulxbourdon (Monachus 1965, pp. 28-30). (3) The sight singing he demonstrates was probably a quite common procedure known in monasteries all over the continent as well. If we apply his methods to the tenor tune of »Juxta corpus spiritus stetit« (Amiens 162 D, ff. 18v-28), we get a sound and texture very similar to its original setting (ex. 20). There was not much work on paper left to create the only slightly more interesting result that we find in the actual setting (compare ex. 19).

Example 20, tenor tune of »Juxta corpus spiritus stetit«, stanza 7, sung according to the sight singing rules of Guilielmus Monachus; the sights for the upper voice are indicated on the single staff with black notes below the tune, and the sights for the contra above.

In the same chapter Monachus also describes the singing of gymel in predominantly parallel thirds, and he exemplifies how to do it with three voices (“tribus vocibus non mutatis”, that is, the voices of three boys; ex. 21). The keeping together of the upper voices, which circle each other in thirds, with the third voice furnishing simple harmonic support, and not least the simultaneous change of pace to halved values in this example is astonishing similar to the procedures we found in »Bone Ihesu dulcis cunctis« (Amiens 162 D, ff. 2v-10). The beginning of “Bone Ihesu” has been worked out on paper to present itself as composed music with fourths between the upper voices (cf. ex. 15). However, if we compare the next sections (bb. 14-36 for example, cf. the edition) with Monachus’ example, we find the same characteristic reliance on thirds and unisons. “Bone Ihesu” could very well have been created as an improvisation on paper according to the directions recorded by Monachus, which then was revised and equipped with performance details such as the many fermatas, and finally all eight stanzas were carefully written out in full. In this way untrained singers suffered no risk of encountering doubts during a performance.

Example 21, Guilielmus Monachus, De preceptis artis musicae, c. 1480, Ch. IV, “Regula ad componendum cum tribus vocibus non mutatis”.

In many ways »Bone Ihesu dulcis cunctis« complies with what Bonnie Blackburn has described as “a method of composition in which harmony rather than counterpoint is the guiding principle” (Blackburn 2001, p. 13). In her article, she traces the appearance of passages of fermata-chords in masses, motets and a few chansons from Machaut’s mass until around 1500. Such passages serve to give prominence to important words in the texts, and the fermatas not only suspend the regular pulse of the music but also tend momentarily to put the rules of counterpoint on hold. Without a pulse the rules recede in favour of the pure sound of consonant chords. The elevation motets with their uninterrupted rows of fermata chords in the Milanese substitution masses make an obvious point of departure. They have often been thought of as representing a typically Italian lauda style, and have been localized as a distinctive mark of a special Milanese style. The wide and primarily northern distribution of fermata passages however causes Blackburn to characterize this style with the universal term “the devotional style” (Ibid.). (4) In works of the later 15th century, the chordal passages become quite formulaic, and Blackburn rightly compares them to Monachus’ methods of automatic generation of four-part harmony whether composed or improvised (Blackburn 2001, p. 29).

Given the relationship of the three-part as well as the four-part settings in ‘devotional style’ with improvisatory practises, the idea immediately suggests itself that the sound and experiences of simple polyphony might be more linked with the professional art music than what we usually think. The use of fermata passages can be found in Amiens 162 in different sorts of music: in the funeral music, in the sequence “Stabat mater” and in the added Credo. Maybe it is a bit overdone here, but we must remember that it probably represents the efforts of a conscientious editor to communicate a repertory and its performance traditions to a body of singers not experienced in polyphonic singing. There cannot be much doubt that Hand A had access to a great pool of monastic music, and that the music he selected was similar to what could be heard in monastic institutions, in confraternities and secular churches outside the centres. His selection of pieces is traces of a probably widespread repertory, quite international in sound whether performed from written music, which was circulated by the different monastic orders, or sung by better-trained singers from a book of plainchant.

To pursue this idea a bit further, it is easy to find many other places in high art music of the 15th century where we experience the sound of simple polyphony. To mention just one example we can listen to Loyset Compere’s famous singer motet “Omnium bonorum plena” from around 1470. When he finally gets to his own name, it comes out from a passage in strict canon at the fifth and stands out in embellished parallel sixths (ex. 22); such passages in parallel two-part singing recalling contemporary simple devotional singing is common in art music. Here it comes just after an enumeration of heroes and friends from Ockeghem to Regis in four voices and mostly in brevis notes, which only miss the fermatas to be in devotional style. Such moments remind us that Johannes Tinctoris, who certainly is mentioned among Compere’s musical heroes, in his teaching of virtuosi singers in the Liber de arte contrapuncti (1477) stands besides the rich tradition of simple polyphony, which caters for the less skilled. His teachings cover the knowledge of building complex and interesting polyphony, but the sheer sounding solemnity of the simple traditions often inspired composers to some their most memorable moments. (5)

Example 22, Loyset Compere, “Omnium bonorum plena” 4v in Trento, Castello del Buonconsiglio, Monumenti e Collezioni Provinciali, Ms. 91 (1378), ff. 33v-35, bb. 249-254.

In Amiens 162 we find a tendency in the most ‘modern’ pieces towards a style without dissonances or parallels forbidden by the educated music of the time. It is seemingly in line with the period’s aesthetic preference for the incredible sweetness of consonant harmony reported by Tinctoris and many contemporaries (Wegman 2002, pp. 52ff). Apparently Caulaincourt did not put too much weight on this way of hearing music. His changes and corrections prove that he readily accepted momentary dissonances and ‘forbidden’ parallels, and that he even introduced such things in perfectly consonant passages. To ensure a clear delivery of the words of the texts was of greater importance to him – and more surprisingly so was a certain variety in sound in the many repeated stanzas of “Juxta corpus”. At these points Caulaincourt, whose position in church and national policies was quite conservative, was in agreement with humanistic thinkers and new tendencies in art music (Wegman 2005, pp. 167ff).

In addition to giving us a solid basis for discussing a sort of music still highly viable in the years around 1500, a music which musicology mostly has disregarded, the repertory of Amiens 162 documents quite intimately an activity of a strong personality. The manuscript permits us to take part in Caulaincourt’s efforts to establish a musical institution to support the monastery in a difficult situation. The additions to the repertory and the many changes in the music are probably all results of the decisions he made in order to create the best possible foundation for the activities.

At the start of this introduction I mentioned that part of the impetus for the creation of the confrérie Ste Barbe and the music collection probably consisted of a cool strategy for gathering support and capital for the church building in Corbie. This must not, however, make us forget that these funeral and commemorative songs were crucial to alleviate some of the worst human fears. What happens to the soul after the disintegration of the physical body? This thought was a torture to the living in the late 15th century, when the confidence in the promises of the universal church had worn quite thin. It seemed safer to people to rely on activities, on which they themselves might have some influence. Rich persons and families could found masses and services where the intercessory prayers were helped towards heaven by costly performances of polyphony by professional singers and choirboys. This helped to expand the economic foundation for the ‘big’ church music during the second part of the century. For less affluent people the solution was to unite in brotherhoods whose primary duty it was secure funeral rites for its members and the necessary prayers afterwards individually and collectively during the services for the patron saint. The presence of the music manuscript in the Corbie confraternity was tangible evidence that the prayers would be sung, and it enabled the confraternity to offer a service to its community and members, which in dignity and solemnity of sound was not inferior to that of any institution in France. Moreover, the special character of its repertory permitted this to happen without any investment in especially educated singers.


1) See also Finscher 1964, p. 92, and Merkley 1999, p. 338.

2) 2nd book, ch. 6 “de contrapuncto praticorum: qui vltramontanis et maxime gallicis est in vsu”.

3) Ch. IV “Ad habendum veram et perfectam cognitionem modi Anglicorum”.

4) Jesse Rodin expresses his uneasiness concerning the whole concept of a special Milanese style in his book Josquin’s Rome, Hearing and Composing in the Sistine Chapel, New York 2012, pp. 163-170.

5) See further my articles ‘Improvisation und schriftliche Komposition’ (2013) and ‘Alexander Agricola’s Vocal Style – »bizarre« and »surly«, or the Flower of the Singer’s Art?’ (2007).