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Jamais si bien ne me peut advenir 3v · Anonymous

Appearance in the five chansonniers:

*Dijon ff. 51v-52 »Jamais si bien ne me peut advenir« 3v  PDF · Facsimile

*Laborde ff. 84v-85 »Jamais si bien ne me peut avenir« 3v  PDF · Facsimile

*Nivelle ff. 61v-62 »Jamais si bien ne me puet advenir« 3v  PDF · Facsimile

*Wolfenbüttel ff. 64v-65 »Jamais si bien ne me puelt advenir« 3v  PDF · Facsimile

Editions: Droz 1927 no. 44 (Dijon); Gutiérrez-Denhoff 1988 no. 53 (Wolfenbüttel).

Text: Rondeau cinquain; full text in all sources; also in Jardin 1501 f. 85.

After Dijon and Laborde:

Jamais si bien ne me peut advenir
fors que la mort me viegne tost querir,
si cessera ma grant douleur soudaine,
car de dangier et d’annoy suis tant plaine
que je ne scais que doie devenir.

Las, je ne puis avoir ung seul plaisir,
ains languiray, loing de mon vray desir,
en souhaitant que ma fin soit prouchaine.

Jamais si bien ne me peut advenir
fors que la mort me viegne tost querir,
si cessera ma grant douleur soudaine.

Or est ainsi que il me fault mainctenir
celant mon dueil, mes larmes retenir,
faisant semblant que soie toute saine,
dont mon las cueur seuffre en moi tant de paine
que se la mort me venoit detenir.

Jamais si bien ne me peut advenir
fors que la mort me viegne tost querir,
si cessera ma grant douleur soudaine,
car de dangier et d’annoy suis tant plaine
que je ne scais que doie devenir.

Never can anything so good happen to me
as that Death soon comes to seek me;
in this way my heavy pain will stop,
for I am so much in danger and worry
that I do not know what might happen.

Alas, I cannot enjoy a single happiness,
because I so yearn, far from my true desire,
wishing that my end might be near

Never can anything so good happen to me
as that Death soon comes to seek me;
in this way my heavy pain will stop.

Now, it is so that he shall keep me
hiding my hurt, keep back my tears
making it look like I am totally well;
and so my poor heart suffers so much pain
as if death had caught me.

Never can anything so good happen to me
as that Death soon comes to seek me;
in this way my heavy pain will stop,
for I am so much in danger and worry
that I do not know what might happen.

Evaluation of the sources:

The four sources for this song show a remarkable consistency in text and music as long as we consider the two upper voices only. The four versions of the poem have a few differences in spelling, and only in Wolfenbüttel two textual variants turn up: In line 3 it has “grevaine” in stead of “soudaine”, and the last line ends “... me venoit tost quenir”, which is a scribal error as it duplicates the rime words of line 2. Concerning the music, there are a few divergences in the use of ligatures. However, it soon becomes quite obvious that in this chanson the correlation between the words and ligatures is of lesser importance. For example, in the second line of text and music (bb. 14-22) it would not be possible to accommodate the words, if one had to respect the phrasings implied by the ligatures.

Taking the contratenor in account, we find two different versions of the song: One with high contratenor (c-f’), which often lies above the tenor, and one with a low contratenor (G-b), which keeps below the tenor. The high contra version is found in Nivelle and Wolfenbüttel. This version must have had been quite widely circulated, because it was copied during a period spanning some years into the two chansonniers with the use of two different exemplars, in Nivelle by the main scribe and in Wolfenbüttel by the secondary scribe on an empty opening with painted initials waiting for the song. Some differences in the contratenors separate the two sources. Compared to Nivelle, Wolfenbüttel has a different solution for the way it connects lines 2 and 3 (bb. 23-24): Where Nivelle moves below the unison upper voices and changes the harmony with a brevis g followed by a rest, Wolfenbüttel reverses the rest and the brevis and starts the next line in unison with the tenor – the Wolfenbüttel solution seems a bit more elegant. In bar 43 Wolfenbüttel omits a passing minima c’, which in Nivelle creates parallel fifths with the upper voice, and in the final cadence Wolfenbüttel postpones the sounding of the fifth in the harmony. Also, the Wolfenbüttel has no notated inflections of the note e, but the musicians have to supply them anyway, especially in the song’s second part.

The song with the low contra appears only in what in reality is a unique source, as the Dijon scribe copied it into the Dijon and Laborde chansonniers after the same exemplar. The two copies exhibit a common error in the tenor in bar 7 with the ligature ending on the note a instead of g. Their differences consist in the placement of a few ligatures, and the scribe has in Laborde reversed the rhythm of the contratenor in bars 40-41.1, and in addition he has added a modest embellishment to the final cadence in the upper voice.

Comments on text and music:

A woman deplores her relationship with her absent lover in rich rimes léonines. The rondeau cinquain is set for a high voice (bb-d”) and a tenor (f-eb), which form a self-sufficient framework; the rondeau could originally have been created as a two-part composition.

This duet shows a remarkable motivic unity. Its basic unit is presented by the upper voice in bars 4-5. It consists of a c.o.p.-ligature f’-g’-a’, which produces a characteristic rhythm of two semibreves followed by a brevis. This motive then opens line 3 in the superius (bb.24-26) combined with the same brevis d’ as in bar 3, and it again opens line 4, the start of the second section, a fifth higher, where it is imitated by the tenor an octave below (bb. 38-41). Given the shortness of the melodic lines, it is apparent that lines 2-5 must start with the words set syllabically, and that the ligatures in the motive’s appearance in lines 1, 3 and 4 must be understood as visual markers, which emphasizes the importance of this motivic unity.

The tenor carrying this exercise in unity is a solid construction consisting as regards the first four musical lines entirely of a display of the hexachord on f (hexachordum molle). It only leaves this sound space, when the song reaches its emotional climax at the start of line 5, at “Je ne sçay / que se la mort” (bb. 48 ff). Here it changes to a fictive hexachord on b (in the un-transposed system a simple mutation from durum to naturale), before returning to a safe haven for the final cadence. The musical construction of the two-part framework works very well in combining a sense continuity and inevitability in the woman’s complaint with a carefully planned curve of tension. This must have been the song’s main attraction.

Problems crop up with the addition of the high contratenor. For most of the time it weaves confidently around the tenor, occasionally going above the upper voice, and along the road it participates in an abundance of concords, which involve diminished fifths (bb. 7.2, 17.1, 21.2, 50.1, and 55.2), an augmented fourth and a small seventh (bb.21.2 and 41.2) as well as two parallels (bb. 43.2 and 46-47). Most of the diminished fifths resolves correctly into thirds and should not be corrected with the help of implied accidentals. The really problematic spot appears in bars 40-42, where the emotional semitone recitation in the upper voice is a must. Instead of sending the contratenor to its lowest pitch, c, and thus avoiding any problems, the composer choose to use the dissonant movement from a to f as a springboard for a foray above the superius – involving the contratenor’s highest pitch, f’.

We cannot know if the high contratenor belonged to the original concept of the song, or was an attempt to lighten the somewhat heavy-footed low contratenor. But it certainly looks as if someone found that the many irregular concords and contrapuntal errors were a bit too much. Deciding that the problems could not be eliminated by a combination of small revisions and fictive hexachords (musica ficta), this person composed a new low contratenor with a key signature of two flats, which removes any doubts. At the same time, the many leaps in the new voice part eliminates the linear flow of the high part, and it could not avoid some harsh clashes in the harmony, for example in bar 29. This version was known to the Dijon scribe around 1470, and probably before the high version was copied into Wolfenbüttel.

The extraordinary consistency of the transmission of the two upper voices seems to indicate that this interpretation of the story as a re-composing of the contratenor is the correct one. The three exemplars used for the preserved versions must have been quite close to each other as regards their dates and places of origin. That the four sources not in any voice quite exceptionally transmit a signum congruentia at the rondeau’s medial cadence also discloses that all of them might not be far removed from a common ancestor. The song may have been regarded as a valuable experiment in motivic unity, which, however, was marred by a not very experienced and somewhat old-fashioned contratenor. The immediate problems could be solved by furnishing the song with a low contratenor, which came to be fashionable early in the 1460s. The poem depicting a woman depressed until death because of an unfaithful lover is highly representative of literary conventions of the mid 15th century; the author could very well be a musician starting his career in the circles domineered by masters like Ockeghem («Fors seulement l’actente que je meure«) and Busnoys (»Joie me fuit et douleur me queurt seure«).

PWCH August 2016