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Nul ne s’i frocte a ma maistresse 3v · Magister Symon

Appearance in the five chansonniers:

*Copenhagen ff. 36v-37 »Nul ne s'i frocte a ma maistresse« 3v PDFFacsimile

*Dijon ff. 138v-139 »Nul ne s'i frocte a ma maistresse« 3v PDFFacsimile (Phot. 280-281)

– both versions combined in one PDF package

Other sources:

Perugia 431 ff. 68v-69 »Nul nesi fronte« 3v Magister Symon

Edition: Jeppesen 1927 no. 31 (Copenhagen).

Text: Rondeau quatrain, full text in Copenhagen and Dijon, also in Berlin 78.B.17 ff. 112v-113 (no. 270), ed.: Löpelmann 1923 p. 192; after Copenhagen and Dijon:

Nul ne s’i frocte a ma maistresse,
a tous le vous fais assavoir;
car trop chierement comparoir
le vous feroit a grant destresse.

Dictes trestous: “Je la vous lesse”,
de vous advertir j’ay devoir. (1)

Nul ne s’i frocte a ma maistresse,
a tous le vous fais assavoir.

Car plaine est de toute rudesse,
ouvriere a faire gens doloir,
murdriere sans pitié avoir;
au bref: Vella d’elle se qu’esse!

Nul ne s’i frocte a ma maistresse,
a tous le vous fais assavoir;
car trop chierement comparoir
le vous feroit a grant destresse.

No one should approach my mistress,
this I proclaim to all of you;
for she will let you pay too dearly
for it by great distress.

You shall all say: “I leave her to you”,
it is my duty to warn you.

No one should approach my mistress,
this I proclaim to all of you.

For she is so extremely hard,
a master of hurting people,
a murderess without pity;
in short: Look here, this is how she is!

No one should approach my mistress,
this I proclaim to all of you;
for she will let you pay too dearly
for it by great distress.

1) Copenhagen, line 6, “car de vous …”.

Evaluation of the sources:

The Dijon scribe has copied the two versions into the Copenhagen and Dijon chansonniers using the same exemplar. The numerous errors in the Copenhagen version, not up to his standard in this manuscript, must be due to haste or carelessness on his part. The error in the tenor in bars 20.2-21 may be a result of his wish to join the repeated notes on a (possibly created by a change of staff in the exemplar) into a dotted semibrevis – and then he inadvertently applied the rhythmical figure on the wrong notes. Just like in the contratenor bars 26.2-27 the rhythmical errors look quite plausible in the single voices, but they cannot fit the other voices.

The exemplar used by the Dijon scribe presumably had a key signature of one flat in alle three voices as can be seen in Dijon. During work on this version he probably noticed that naturals were needed in the superius in bars 33-34 (at the start of the rondeau’s second section) and therefore decided on the very common layout with flats in the lower voices only in his next copy – the difference in sound between the two versions is minimal. The version in MS Perugia 431 with the corrupt text incipit “Nul nesi fronte” is completely without signatures. This gives the song a distinctively Mixolydian flavour in performance even if some flats still will crop up as results of the voice leading.

Comments on text and music:

This rondeau‘s most remarkable trait is its text, an unusual harsh denunciation of the faithless or unresponsive mistress. Its tone is quite aggressive, either in order to vilify the female gender or to scare possible contenders away. The music is completely dissimilar. Its tune has a certain melancholy charm, but has trouble to rise above the ordinary in its additive use of common formulas. The music’s range is quite narrow with a tenor never exceeding the octave and an upper voice only reaching the ninth in the final phrase; the contratenor is conventionally placed in the same range as the tenor.

When this song is mentioned in the musicological literature, it usually happens only to point out that the first words of the poem cite the devise “Nul ne s’y frotte” of Antoine (1421-1504), the Grand Bâtard de Bourgogne and half-brother of the Burgundian duke Charles le Téméraire. This devise can be found in many libraries as part of an Exlibris in the famous volumes of illuminated manuscripts prepared for the Burgundian military commander, first chamberlain and passionate bibliophile. (1) Moreover, the poem’s connection to this devise is often viewed as a confirmation of the identification of the “Magister Symon” who is mentioned as the composer in the younger Italian MS Perugia, Biblioteca Comunale Augusta, Ms. 431, with Symon le Breton. He was a singer at the Burgundian court chapel for more than 30 years and since 1435 a canon at the Cambrai Cathedral, where he spent his last years. He seems to have been a close friend of Guillaume Du Fay; he died in 1473. (2) However, it seems highly unlikely that a faithful Burgundian court employee should have been involved in this song, which at best parodies the devise of one of the most powerful figures of the Burgundian state, turns it on its head, or – even worse – implies derogatory remarks on the famous womanizer.

In fact, the words “Nul ne s’y frotte” were well known throughout France long before the time of Antoine Le Bâtard. For example, it was the devise of members of the noble family Créqui de Hémont in Picardy since the eleventh century (3), and the words formed the last part of a proverb “A femme sotte nul ne s’y frotte”, which was sufficient widespread to be included in Gabriel Meurier’s Trésor de sentences dorées et argentées of 1568. (4) This popular saying is much closer in content to the rondeau than the noble devise, and it is far more probable that something like this was what the author had in mind when he began his angry poem. With this in mind the Burgundian connection of the quote wears rather thin, likewise the identification of the Italian ascription of “Magister Symon” with Symon le Breton.

PWCH November 2009

1) Cf. Ph. Lauer, ‘Déchiffrement de l’ex-libris du Grand Bâtard de Bourgogne’, Bibliothèque de l’école des chartes 84 (1923), pp. 298-305.

2) Cf. David Fallows, ‘Simon le Breton’ in Grove Music Online (November 2009) and Fallows 1999, pp. 719-720.

3) Cf. Nicolas Viton de Saint Allais, Dictionnaire encyclopédique de la noblesse de France, Vol. II, Paris 1816, p. 269.

4) Here quoted after the edition by N. Bonfons, Paris 1581, p. 11.