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Fors seulement l’actente que je meure 3v · Ockeghem, Johannes

Appearance in the group of related chansonniers:

*Dijon ff. 28v-29 »Fors seulement l’actente que je meure« 3v Okeghem PDF · Facsimile

*Laborde ff. 99v-100 »Fors seulement l’actente que je meure« 3v PDF · Facsimile

*Leuven ff. 54v-56 »Fors seullement l’actente que je meure« 3v · PDF · Facsimile

*Nivelle f. 6 »[Fors seulement l’attente que je meure]« 2v [3v] (only S and C of second part) PDF · Facsimile

*Wolfenbüttel ff. 43v-45 »Fors seullement l’atente que je meure« 3v PDF · Facsimile

Other sources:

Paris 1597 ff. 36v-37 »Fors seullement l’attente que je meure« 3v · Facsimile
Rome XIII.27 ff. 104v-105 »Frayres y dexedes me« 3v · Facsimile
Sankt Gallen 461 pp. 2-3 »Fors seullement« 3v · Facsimile

Reworkings, citations, and use in other compositions: see Meconi 1994, pp. 30-31, and Fallows 1999, p. 164.

Editions: Ockeghem 1992, p. 62; Droz 1927, no. 25 (Dijon); Picker 1981, p. 1 (Dijon); Gutiérrez-Denhoff 1988, no. 35 (Wolfenbüttel); Goldberg 1992, p. 446 (Laborde); Ockeghem 1998, p. VII (Wolfenbüttel).

Text: Rondeau cinquain; full text in Dijon, Laborde, Leuven, Wolfenbüttel (Nivelle) and Paris 1597; also found in Berlin 78.B.17 f. 69, ed. Löpelmann 1923, p. 89; London 380 f. 251; Paris 1719 f. 34, ed. Françon 1938, p. 269; Paris 1722 f. 72v; Jardin 1501 f. 115.

After Dijon and Laborde:

Fors seulement l’actente que je meure,
en mon las cueur nul espoir ne demeure,
car mon maleur si tresfort me tourmente
qu’il n’est douleur que pour vous je ne sente, (1)
pource que suis de vous perdre bien seure.

Vostre rigueur tellement m’y queurt seure
qu’en ce parti il fault que je m’asseure,
dont je n’ay bien qui en riens me contente

fors seulement l’actente que je meure,
en mon las cueur nul espoir ne demeure,
car mon maleur si tresfort me tourmente.

Mon desconfort toute seule je pleure
en maudisant, sur ma foy, a toute heure
ma leaute qui tant m’a fait dolente.
Las, que je suis de vivre mal contente
quant de par vous n’ay riens qui me demeure

fors seulement l’actente que je meure,
en mon las cueur nul espoir ne demeure,
car mon maleur si tresfort me tourmente
qu’il n’est douleur que pour vous je ne sente,
pource que suis de vous perdre bien seure.

1) Laborde, line 4 "qui n’est ...”

After Leuven and Wolfenbüttel:

Fors seullement l’actente que je meure,
en mon las cueur nul espoir ne demeure,
car mon malheur si tresfort me tourmente
qu’il n’est doleur que par vous je ne sente, (1)
puisque je suis de vous perdre bien seure. (2)

Vostre rigueur tellement me court seure
qu’en ce parti il fault que je m’asseure, (3)
dont je n’ay bien qui en rien me contente

fors seullement l’actente que je meure,
en mon las cueur nul espoir ne demeure,
car mon malheur si tresfort me tourmente,

Mon desconfort toute seulle je pleure
en mauldisant, sur ma foy, a toute heure
ma loyaute qui tant me fait dolente.
Las, que je suis de vivre mal contente
quant de par vous n’ay riens qui me sequeure (4)

fors seullement l’actente que je meure,
en mon las cueur nul espoir ne demeure,
car mon malheur si tresfort me tourmente
qu’il n’est douleur que par vous je ne sente,
pource que suis de vous perdre bien seure.

Except for solely the expectation that I shall die,
no hope remains in my weary heart,
for my misery torments me so harshly
that there is no sorrow I do not feel because of you,
because I am very sure of losing you.

Your strictness torments me so much
that I must protect myself in this relationship
where I do not have anything at all to be content with

except for solely the expectation that I shall die,
no hope remains in my weary heart,
for my misery torments me so harshly.

I lament all alone my distress
cursing, by my faith, at all times
my faithfulness, which has made me so unhappy.
Alas, how I am sorry to be alive,
when because of you I have nothing left to me

except for solely the expectation that I shall die,
no hope remains in my weary heart,
for my misery torments me so harshly
that there is no sorrow I do not feel because of you,
because I am very sure of losing you.

 

 

Except for solely the expectation that I shall die,
no hope remains in my weary heart,
for my misery torments me so harshly
that there is no sorrow I do not feel because of you,
because I am very sure of losing you.

Your strictness torments me so much
that I must protect myself in this relationship
where I do not have anything at all to be to be content with

except for solely the expectation that I shall die,
no hope remains in my weary heart,
for my misery torments me so harshly.

I lament all alone my distress
cursing, by my faith, at all times
my faithfulness, which has made me so unhappy.
Alas, how I am sorry to be alive,
when because of you I have nothing left to comfort me

except for solely the expectation that I shall die,
no hope remains in my weary heart,
for my misery torments me so harshly
that there is no sorrow I do not feel because of you,
because I am very sure of losing you.

1) Wolfenbüttel, line 4, “qui n’est ...”
2) Wolfenbüttel, line 5, “pource que suis de ...”
3) Wolfenbüttel, line 7, “qu’il fault qu’ainsy comble de dueil je meure”
4) Wolfenbüttel, line 16, “... voust n’est riens ...”

Evaluation of the sources:

It soon becomes clear that only the version in the Leuven and Wolfenbüttel chansonniers (and probably that in the Nivelle chansonnier too) represents the song in the shape composed by Ockeghem. It is this version that Ockeghem refers to in his reuse of its musical material in his Missa Fors seullement and in his use of its tenor in the double chanson »Fors seulement contre ce qu’ay / Fors seullement l’actente«; also the later sources for the chanson (Paris 1597, Rome XIII.27 and Sankt Gallen 461) transmit this version.

The rondeau must have been in circulation for some time before it reached the Dijon scribe. His exemplar seems to have been slightly corrupted, and it caused him some deliberations. His exemplar’s most striking trait was its change of the rhythmic figure, which runs though all three voices and consists of a dotted semibrevis followed by two semiminimae, into the less characteristic figure of a semibrevis plus two minimae. In the superius it also had three bars in coloration (bb. 12-14), which in these surroundings may be interpreted as triplets and not as minor color, which was more common and was used interchangeably with dotted figures in the Leuven and Wolfenbüttel chansonniers and in the later sources. Moreover, its placement of the text in the superius was misleading; the text underlay does not fit the repetition scheme of the rondeau as it ignores the medial cadence. Apparently, the exemplar’s copyist was unaware of the special function of the highest voice, which was placed on the right-hand side of the opening, as the tune carrier and likewise of the long duos between superius and the contratenor. This indifference brings the words out of step with the music. The second line “en mon las cueur" starts in bar 12, while the third, "car mon maleur", appears already in bar 23.2. As a consequence, the fourth line "qu'il n'est douleur" comes in bar 36.2 and runs into the second section of the song.

The Dijon scribe used the same exemplar for the Dijon and Laborde chansonniers. In Dijon he probably just copied his exemplar exactly and put in the curious accidental flat before the e’ in bar 5 without thinking much about it. The later copy in Laborde is identical, but here he was aware of the consequences of this accidental. The e’-flat presupposes a key signature of one flat. Therefore he assigned such a key signature to the tenor and contratenor parts (the last named “Concordans” in Laborde), but in the first staff of each voice only (bb. 1-24.2 and 1-29.1 respectively). Moreover, he added a key signature of one flat to the last staff of the superius (bb. 58-71). Thus the spurious accidental convinced the Dijon scribe that the B-rotundum should be regarded as the default choice for the tenor and contratenor of “Fors seulement” – not a good choice for a performance (cf. the edition of the Laborde version).

In the scholarly literature the Dijon/Laborde version has been regarded as the authoritative source for this song – presumably owing to the ascription to “Okeghem” in Dijon. Richard Wexler’s edition of Ockeghem’s collected works uses Dijon as its “Main source”. In reality this edition leans more on Wolfenbüttel, but retains the e’-flat and the text version from Dijon (cf. Ockeghem 1992, pp. lxiv). This view of the sources cannot be maintained. The music of the Leuven/Wolfenbüttel version must be regarded as closer to the original concept. The Dijon scribe’s knowledge of the name of the composer may not have been dependent on his exemplar, as he did not repeat the ascription in Laborde.

In the Nivelle chansonnier the main scribe entered the song on ff. 4v-6. The two folios before f. 6 are missing in the manuscript. The tenor and contratenor of the second section of the rondeau are all that remain, and they are similar to the Leuven/Wolfenbüttel version.

In the Wolfenbüttel chansonnier the main scribe copied the song with only a single writing error in the tenor. His exemplar, however, seems to have been missing the seventh line of the poem, and he himself had to supply a line, which is not found in any other source: “qu’il fault qu’ainsy comble de dueil je meure” (that I must in this way die overflowing with sorrow). This line fits the mood of the poem, but does not bring anything new, and it repeats the last words of the poem’s opening line “je meure”, which was considered an inept procedure. It was probably a hasty repair.

However, the Leuven chansonnier – copied after an independent exemplar – transmits the best and most coherent version of poem among the musical sources, and its music is identical to that of the Wolfenbüttel chansonnier with only a few variants. Except for some ligatures the main differences appear in the superius bb. 12-14 of which Leuven brings the simplest version. This passage, which accompanies the tune in the high tenor, is the most variable element in the setting along with bb. 28-29 in the concordans – also different in Dijon and Laborde.

The later sources for the song are similar to the Leuven/Wolfenbüttel version with some differences in the use of ligatures and coloration. They all reverse the placements of the superius and tenor parts in order to have the highest voice placed on the left side of the opening. The idea behind the exceptionally high tenor voice (see further below) was apparently lost at some stage in the song’s transmission away from the ‘Loire Valley’ chansonniers. In Paris 1597, copied around 1500, both the upper voices have had the refrain laid under the music, and its fourth line is repeated in the superius in order to facilitate the underlay of the opening duo of the second section. Before that, the final bar of the first section (b. 41) has been prolonged by a semibrevis (with fermata) in the superius and contratenor voices.

Comments on text and music:

The poem is a love complaint in a female voice, a rondeau cinquain written with aspirations of the style of the rhétoriqueurs in rich rimes léonines. It takes a line from Alain Chartier’s famous Complainte as its point of departure (cf. Higgins 1984 p. iii and Higgins 1987 pp. 144 ff); its entire opening line is borrowed (Complainte line 182). In the musical sources some rime words are repeated in a way that do not really open up new meanings: “meure, demeure, seure, seure, asseure, pleure, heure, demeure/sequere”, and in the secondary set: “tourmente, sente, contente, dolente, contente”. The repeat of “seure” in line 6 is fine as it there is part of the stock phrase “courir seure”. In Dijon/Laborde the final word of line 16, “demeure”, is surely wrong; Leuven, Wolfenbüttel and all other sources have “sequeure”. The collection of poetry, MS Paris 1719, is the only source that repairs the repeat of “contente” by ending the line with the word “sustente”. However, this source interchanges lines 6-8 with lines 12-14. This interchange, which does not change much in the meaning, demonstrates the static nature of the poem.

The unusual structure of the song with its high voice part, which in the early sources is placed at the tenor’s position on the right half of the openings and in the later sources is regarded as the upper voice positioned at the left, has been widely discussed in the scholarly literature, latest in a detailed analysis by Vincenzo Borghetti, ‘Fors seulement l’actente que je meure: Ockeghem’s rondeau and the gendered rhetoric of grief’, in Early Music History 31 (2012), pp. 37-85 (Borghetti 2012), which summarizes the earlier discussions. After a careful discussion of the sources, their naming of the parts, and the gender issues in the transformation of Chartier’s male complaint into the female voice of the rondeau, Borghetti reaches the conclusion that for the early copyists the “... chanson’s highest voice still looked and sounded closer to a proper tenor than to a superius – a feminised tenor, but still a tenor” (p. 75).

However, no one seems to have looked closely at the structural design of the song and wondered why the contratenor (range A-f’) was constructed as it is. In fact, nobody seems to have commented on the song’s most unusual feature, its low supporting voice. The song opens with a duet between the superius (range a-c’’) and the contratenor, which here functions as a tenor and sings in the range d-e’. When the highest voice comes in (the tenor, range c’-f’’), the contra hurriedly descends to A (b. 10-11), and after six bars of rests, while the superius and tenor sing their duet, the contra keeps to the octave A-a. Only when the high tenor comes to a short rest, the contra moves up again, to f’ in bb. 28-29, in a short duet with the superius; as soon as the tenor sings again, the contra moves back to the low octave (bb. 30.2-33). This principle is followed all through the song; the contra keeps a distance of up to two octaves and a third between itself and the high tenor.

The reason for this is of course that the tenor part was composed an octave lower, and that the contratenor was designed never to cross the low tenor, except when it rested. This explains the evident ‘tenor-ness’ of the highest voice, which Borghetti takes such pains to define. Ockeghem has from the beginning created the two upper voices in invertible counterpoint, imagining the tenor part in its normal, low range, but at the same time keeping an eye on its function as the highest voice in the composition, an octave higher. That the tenor in his mind sounded in its low position, can be experienced in his reuse of the material in Missa Fors seullement. Here the tenor invariably cites the chanson tenor in its low position; and in the Kyrie, the superius and the tenor render the voices of the chanson in a normal position. Also Ockeghem’s double chanson »Fors seulement contre ce qu’ay / Fors seullement l’actente« may refer to this concept of the original; even if the borrowed voice is notated in its high position in its earliest source, MS Paris 2245, a transposition of a fifth only downwards may have been enough according to the composer’s sound picture.

When conceiving the two upper voices in invertible counterpoint, Ockeghem had to take special care of concords of fifths, which invert into fourths, and their relation to the supporting voice. The very few fifths and fourths between superius and tenor in “Fors seulement” are nearly all unaccented (cf. bb. 14.2, 20.2, 23.2, 53.2, 63.2 and 67.2), and most are supported by the contratenor. The accented fourth/fifth in bar 26.1 is supported by the contratenor’s g, and thus consonant in either position. However, the contratenor rests in bar 59, and in low position the tenor forms an unsupported dissonant fourth with the superius on the beat.

This shows that Ockeghem in his final redaction of the song did choose the high version of the tenor. He could easily have changed the first note in the superius in bar 59 into e’,shading the tenor in sixths or thirds, and have made the song performable with the tenor in either high or low position without the slightest discord. However, this note c’ cannot be regarded as an error common to all sources. Ockeghem quoted bar 59 of the superius twice in his Missa Fors seullement (Credo, tenor bb. 115-116 and 153-154, cf. Jaap van Benthem’s edition, Ockeghem 1998, pp. 21-23), and both times he retained the leap c’-f’ of the superius.

Ockeghem probably composed “Fors seulement” with its tenor in normal position, taking care to maintain the possibility of inverting the upper voices, and he referred to this version of the song in his own further explorations of its musical material. In his final version of the song, however, he certainly decided on the high tenor, feminizing it in a spectacular way.

The not very reliable exemplar, which the Dijon scribe used for his copying of “Fors seulement” into the Dijon and Laborde chansonniers, was also used for the next song in both chansonniers, Busnoys’ »Joie me fuit et douleur me quert seure«, which is closely related to “Fors seulement”. The two rondeaux also appear side by side in the collection of song poetry, MS Paris 1719, just in reverse order. Busnoys’ song probably was a response to Ockeghem, in which he tried out a wider range of sound possibilities using the themes and techniques set forward in “Fors seulement”. Ockeghem’s double chanson »Fors seulement contre ce qu’ay / Fors seullement l’actente« may then represent his reaction to the contribution of Busnoys – see further the discussions of these songs.

PWCH June 2016, revised June 2017