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N’aray je jamais mieulx que j'ay 3v · Morton, Robert

Appearance in the group of related chansonniers:

*Copenhagen ff. 2v-3 »N'araige jamais mieulx que j'ay« 3v Edition · Facsimile

*Dijon ff. 116v-117 »N'araige jamais mieulx que j'ay« 3v Edition · Facsimile

*Laborde ff. 57v-58 »N'aray je jamais mieulx que j’ay« 3v Edition · Facsimile

*Leuven ff. 3v-4 »N'araige jamais mieulx que j'ay« 3v Edition · Facsimile

*Nivelle ff. 1v-2 »N'aray je jamais mieulx que j’ay« 3v Edition · Facsimile

*Wolfenbüttel ff. 6bisv-7 »N'aray je jamaiz mieulx que j’ay« 3v Edition · Facsimile

Other musical sources:

Berlin 78.C.28 ff. 17v-18 »N« 3v
Cape 3.b.12 ff. 121v-122 »N'aray« 4v + C
Escorial IV.a.24 ff. 130v-131 »N'aray je jamais mieulx que j’ay« 3v · Facsimile (134)
Florence 176 ff. 53v-54 »N'aray jamais mieulx que j’ay« 3v Mortom
Florence 2356 ff. 57v-58 »[N']aray je jamais« 3v
Munich 9659 f. 1 »N'araige jamais mieulx que j’ay« 2v [3v] (S and start of T missing) · Facsimile
New Haven 91 ff. 29v-30 »N'aray je jamais mieulx que j’ay« 4v C “si placet” Morton · Facsimile
Paris 15123 ff. 109v-110 »N'araye jamais mieux que y’ay« 3v · Facsimile
Paris 2973 ff. 32v-33 »N'aray je jamais mieulx que j’ay« 4v + C · Facsimile
Paris 4379 ff. 14v-15 »N'aray je jamais mieulx que j’ay« 3v morton
Uppsala 76a ff. 7v-8 »N'aray je jamais mieulx que j’ay« 3v · Facsimile

This page with editions as a PDF

Citations, and use of material (masses by Josquin, Ghiselin and Obrecht), see Fallows 1999, p. 291.

Editions: Jeppesen 1927 no. 3 (Copenhagen); Morton 1981 no. 6 (Dijon); Obrecht 1983 XIV, p. xxiii (Nivelle); Gutiérrez-Denhoff 1988 no. 7 (Wolfenbüttel); Perkins 1996 pp. 192-193 (Dijon).

Text: Rondeau cinquain, full text in the six chansonniers and Paris 2973, Paris 4379, Paris 15123, and New Haven 91. The refrain is also in Jardin 1501 f. 72. The poem according to Laborde:

N’aray je jamais mieulx que j’ay?
Suis je la ou je demouray, (1)
m’amour et toute ma plaisance?
N’arez vous jamais souvenance (2)
que je suis vostre et le seray? (3)

Ne faictez sur moy plus d’essay (4)
car vous cognoissez bien de vray (5)
que je suis navré a oultrance. (6)

N’aray je jamais mieulx que j’ay?
Suis je la ou je demouray,
m’amour et toute ma plaisance?

Je me rens et si me rendray, (7)
autre deffanse n’y mectray,
car vous avez trop grant puissance (8)
et si povez prandre vengence; (9)
mes dictes moy que je feray.

N’aray je jamais mieulx que j’ay?
Suis je la ou je demouray,
m’amour et toute ma plaisance?
N’arez vous jamais souvenance
que je suis vostre et le seray?

Shall I never fare better than I do,
am I there where I must remain,
my love and all my pleasure?
Will you never remember
that I am yours and shall stay so?

Do not put me to more tests,
for you know well the truth,
that I am wounded beyond all hope.

Shall I never fare better than I do,
am I there where I must remain,
my love and all my pleasure?

I surrender and shall surrender myself,
I shall offer no other defence,
because you have too great power
and can take vengeance;
but tell me what I shall do.

Shall I never fare better than I do,
am I there where I must remain,
my love and all my pleasure?
Will you never remember
that I am yours and shall stay so?

1) Copenhagen, Dijon and Leuven, lines 1-2: “N’araige jamais ... / Suige la ...”
2) Copenhagen, Dijon, Leuven and Nivelle, line 4 “… cognoissance”
3) Copenhagen, Dijon and Leuven, line 5, “que je suis tout vostre et seray?”
4) Copenhagen and Dijon, line 6, “Ne faictes de moi …”; Wolfenbüttel lines 6, “Ne faictes plus sur moy d’aissay”
5) Leuven and Wolfenbüttel, line 7, “car vous sçavez bien ...”; Wolfenbüttel, “... que je say”
6) Nivelle, line 8, “que je suis esmeu …”; Wolfenbüttel, “durement navray a oultrance”
7) Wolfenbüttel, lines 12-16 are missing; Nivelle line 12, “Vostre suis, a vous …”
8) Copenhagen, Dijon, Leuven and Nivelle, line 14, “… de puissance”
9) Dijon and Nivelle, line 15, “et povoir de prendre …”

Many further differences in spelling.

Evaluation of the sources:

The widely circulated rondeau, which at an early date acquired an extra contratenor (labelled “si placet” in the Mellon chansonnier, New Haven 91), appears in three different versions in the related chansonniers, all for three voices. It was copied by the main scribes of the Laborde, Leuven and Wolfenbüttel chansonniers and twice by the Dijon scribe (in Dijon and Copenhagen), and a later hand (B) added it on the first, originally blank, pages of Nivelle. It is ascribed to Robert Morton in slightly later sources of Italian provenance (Florence 176, New Haven 91 and Paris 4379), but appears without any attribution in the early MSS.

Laborde and Wolfenbüttel transmit a version, which is not found in any other source. (1) It is distinctive by the contratenor’s turning back to b-flat in bar 2 in stead of dropping to d and by its decorative semiminimae in bars 10 and 20 in the same voice. Both copies could easily have been made after the same or identical exemplars. The differences are minimal and conventional: Wolfenbüttel has the flats before f” in superius bars 4 and 21, which are also found in Dijon and Copenhagen (signalling the high, fictive hexachord on c” – extra manum), and a b’-flat in bar 11, which indicates the possibility of performing bars 11-12.1 with lowered e’ and b in the tenor (like Nivelle); else the differences concern mainly errors of the Wolfenbüttel scribe (see the edition). Laborde seems to transmit the most confident wording of the poem; the Wolfenbüttel scribe lost track of the lines during the copying of the poem’s first couplet and refrained from copying the tierce.

Dijon and Copenhagen were certainly copied after the same exemplar. Their differences are of the sort often created by the Dijon scribe during work: a few errors in text and music, and he did not use much coloration at dotted figures in Copenhagen. Finally, they share an error in bar 20.2. The Leuven chansonnier has this error too, and its version of the song could very well be copied after an exemplar identical to the one used by the Dijon scribe – with similar scribal liberties. Leuven also uses the contractions of words in the first lines of the text “N’araige jamais … / Suige la …”, which the Dijon scribe also preferred in Delahaye’s »Comment suige de vostre cueur«. Among the many sources for these lines, this spelling is found only in the presumably Burgundian fragment Munich 9659. Copenhagen and Leuven share an error in the poem’s line 14, which misses a syllable at “et povez ...”. This error may go back to a common exemplar, which the Dijon scribe corrected in his first copy, “et povoir de ...”, like in Nivelle, and then forgot about in his second copy in Copenhagen.

At the end of the repetition of the first line of music as the last line in the setting (see further below) this version insists on an exact repeat (bb. 22-23 = bb. 5-6.1). The “normal” version of the song (here represented by Laborde/Wolfenbüttel and Nivelle) has a melodic variant in the tenor, four minimae g’-a’-f’-d’, which appears in most sources. This inconsistency was observed by several copyists and remedied in different ways in the MSS Berlin 78.C.28, Florence 176 and Uppsala 76a. (2) And instead of the dotted semibrevis in the contratenor in bar 3, the Copenhagen/Dijon and Leuven versions are enlivened by a livelier diminished figure. The same details all appeared also in the slightly later Italian chansonnier Paris 4379/Sevilla 5-I-43 (including the error in the contratenor in bar 20.2) – copied under Morton’s name. The Dijon and Leuven scribes’ exemplars thus seem to represent an individual strain in the song’s chain of transmission.

In Nivelle the song was added by hand B in a version differing from the two others. It seems a bit smoother and well balanced with more passing notes in its melodic contour (S bb. 8 and 11, T b. 13), the superius is modified at the beginning (b. 3.1), which is balanced by another change in bar 20, and flats are clearly indicated in the tenor and superius in bar 11.

The later sources draws a picture of this song just as shimmering as the one presented by the six related chansonnier when we look at details. Like the other rondeau by Robert Morton in the Copenhagen chansonnier »Le souvenir de vous me tue« it must have been in circulation for an extended period before it entered the chansonniers, and different traditions of transmission had formed among the available exemplars.

Comments on text and music:

The despairing, but elegant, love complaint gets a concise musical setting formed as an inverted curve of tension, which accords perfectly with the questions posed in both sections of the rondeau’s refrain. For the opening question “N’aray je jamais mieulx que j’ay?” the superius line quickly rises to the top note of the song (f” in b. 4) cadencing an octave above its initial note, and this gesture is repeated slightly modified for the last question in line 5 (bb. 19-24). Thereby its rounded form, unusual for a rondeau, becomes clearly audible, especially as the setting for a rondeau cinquain is so short. The structural duet between superius and tenor in quite high ranges is introduced by a unison imitation, which in a subtle way is transformed into a bridge to the last line. It happens when the cadence to A in bar 18 is prevented/sabotaged by the g in the contratenor (b. 15.3) and the superius just sinks down to d’, while the tenor rises above it – supported by the contratenor – with a quote of the superius’ first line (the two rising fourths can also be found in the tenor bb. 12.2-13) and sets the scene for the final question.

The middle lines have a touch of imitation at the fifth in bars 11.2-13, which Copenhagen/Dijon and Leuven interpret with natural Es and Bs, while Nivelle (and Wolfenbüttel) introduces flats in this passage. The last solution supplies a welcome change in tonal colour.

The contratenor in a range a fifth lower than the tenor is – as often seen – the least stable part in the manuscript transmission. In particularly the Laborde/Wolfenbüttel version its Lombardic rhythms give the flow of the song a smooth variety with a minima followed by a dotted semibrevis (or a syncopated figure, bb. 3, 5, 8, 12, 16, 17) at the beginning of brevis units. In Copenhagen/Dijon and Leuven this characteristic has been diluted by embellishing figures or more syncopations, but it is retained in the final cadence (b. 22), also by Nivelle.

Another rondeau cinquain »La plus dolente qui soit nee«, which is found in Dijon and Leuven, seems to be a female love complaint derived from Morton’s hit song, see further the edition and comments.

PWCH June 2010, revised August 2023

1) The remarks concerning their relationship to Nivelle in Morton 1981, p. 79, are incorrect.

2) See also David Fallows’ comments on Paris 2973 in Thibault & Fallows 1991, pp. CV-CVI.