La plus mignonne de mon cueur 3v · Guillaume Du Fay
Appearance in the five chansonniers:
– both versions in one PDF package
Editions: Randel 1983 pp. 69-70 (Nivelle); Gutiérrez-Denhoff 1988 no. 46 (Wolfenbüttel); Dufay 1995 no. 80 (Nivelle).
Text: Rondeau quatrain; full text in Nivelle and Wolfenbüttel, and in the anonymous setting in Dijon; also found in Berlin 78.B.17 f. 97v (no. 202), ed.: Löpelmann 1923 p. 156, London 380 f. 246, Jardin 1501 f. 67 (no. 59). After Nivelle:
La plus mignonne de mon cueur, (1)
Des bonnes estez la meilleur,
la plus, mignonne de mon cueur
Quant j’ay desplaisir ou douleur (2)
La plus mignonne de mon cueur,
1) Nivelle, line 1, “Ma plus ...”
Most darling of my heart,
Of the good you are the best,
most darling of my heart,
When I feel grief or pain
Most darling of my heart,
The poem is also found in a completely different anonymous setting in the Copenhagen and Dijon chansonniers, and in the Italian MS Bologna Q16.
Evaluation of the sources:
The two sources for Du Fay’s rondeau transmit different interpretations of how it should sound; and both sources seem to belong to traditions of transmission, which somewhere along the road have been corrupted to some degree. This may indicate that the chanson had been in circulation long before it reached the two scribes.
It is evident that the song’s G tonality to some extent was coloured by fluctuations between B natural and B flat. The question is how much? The Wolfenbüttel scribe (or his exemplar) takes the easy way out and prescribes b-flat in both upper parts and a flat at the beginning of the lowest voice. The Nivelle scribe put a flat in the first staff of superius 2 where no Bs at all occur and in the first and fourth (the last) staff of the lowest voice. Taken at face value these flats do not impart any important meaning, maybe only that some tonal colouring is to be expected. It may be significant that in the rondeau’s second section, where an e-flat is introduced and where the contrapuntal rules bring b-flats about in the upper voices’ duet, the lowest voice carefully avoids touching on any Bs.
The uncertainty of the scribes is apparent. But both has produced performable, but quite different, versions of the song as regards key signatures. Differences in ligatures and details moreover cause differences in text underlay and phrasing.
The middle cadence (and the point of repeat for the two couplets) is only marked vith fermatas in the upper voices in Nivelle. If these fermatas signify a prolongation of the cadence tones, the second section s will start effortlessly in the rhythmical pattern already established, but a sure transition along with the lower voice will be difficult to accomplish. The Wolfenbüttel version probably was notated likewise at some point in its genesis, but without fermatas, only a signum. A copyist along the road was not satisfied with its displacement of the strong beat and tried to repair the music by prolonging the static harmony in bars 8-9 and thereby bringing the second section in line. Later a better solution was probably brought in from another line of transmission, which clarified bars 17-18 with semibrevis rests – but the now superfluous prolongation of bars 8-9 was retained. In my transcriptions I propose to use the Wolfenbüttel interpretation of the middle cadence in both versions, and to ignore the prolongation of bars 8-9 in a performance of the Wolfenbüttel version.
In Nivelle the two high voices are placed in the locations of superius and tenor on the opening ff. 55v-56, but they are not labelled, only the third voice, located as a contratenor, is labelled “Concordans”. In Wolfenbüttel the voices are arranged in exactly the same way on the pages, but the voices on the right-hand page are mechanically labelled according to their location as “Tenor” and “Contra”. Without doubt the labelling of the parts in Nivelle is the most authoritative of the two sources.
See also the comments in Fallows 1995, pp. 215-219.
Comments on text and music:
Du Fay has set the poem’s worshipping of the beloved for two equal high voices and a “Corcordans” (Nivelle, see above). The two-part structure of the equal voices is entirely self-sufficient and uses movement in parallel thirds (text line 1), unison canon (line 2), and free polyphony with the 2nd voice raising an octave above the first and exchange of the superius and tenor roles (lines 3-4). The Concordans (in accordance with whichever voice takes the tenor function) generally supports and colours this duet from below, but in the second section of the rondeau it lays between the upper voices and in fact for a moment (b. 28) is the highest sounding voice.
In this succinct setting of the rondeau quatrain the varied technique more than fulfils the demands for a viable rondeau setting. The contrast between the exuberant unison canon (bb. 6-15) and the much greater distance between the upper parts in the second section is accentuated by the introduction of the E-flat in bar 24, which for a time really moves the song into cantus mollis.
All this works just as well in the Wolfenbüttel version, which has key signatures of one flat all through the song. But it cannot be denied that the greater contrast between an only slightly coloured cantus durus in the first section of the rondeau in Nivelle and the cantus mollis in the second is somewhat levelled out in the Wolfenbüttel version. For example the E-flat comes up earlier in Wolfenbüttel (b. 20) by virtue of the contrapuntal rules, and with less effect.
In comparison with the anonymous setting of the same poem in Copenhagen and Dijon Du Fay’s is a masterpiece – even if it has become a bit tainted during transmission.
PWCH May 2009