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La plus dolente qui soit nee 3v · Anonymus

Appearance in the group of related chansonniers:

*Dijon ff. 52v-53 »La plus dolente qui soit nee« 3v Edition · Facsimile

*Leuven ff. 56v-57 »La plus dolente qui soit nee« 3v Edition · Facsimile

Other musical sources:

Bologna Q16 ff. 148v-149 »La plus dolente« 3v · Facsimile (304)
Cape 3.b.12 ff. 106v-107 »Non nobis Domine« 3v
Florence 2356 ff. 64v-65 »Benedicite« 3v
*Prague D.G.IV.47 f. 198 »Magistralis nimphula Maria beata« 3v · Edition · Facsimile
*Uppsala 76a ff. 9v-10 »Benedicite Dominus nos« 3v · Edition · Facsimile

This page with editions as a PDF

Use of material in other compositions and quotation of poem by Molinet, see Fallows 1999, p. 237.

Edition: Droz 1927 no. 45 (Dijon).

Text: Rondeau cinquain; full text in Dijon and Leuven.

After Dijon:

La plus dolente qui soit née
et aussi la plus fortunée
je suis, sans avoir point de joye,
pourquoy, sur ma foy, je vouldroie
que la mort me fut tost donnée.

De tous lieux suis habandonnée,
car Fortune m’a destinée
d’estre tousjours ou que je soie

la plus dolente qui soit née.

Ma douleur est desordonnée,
et suis en tel point demenée 1)
que esjouir je ne me pourroye, 2)
et si n’ay riens qui me resjoye
parquoy doi bien estre nommée

la plus dolente qui soit née.

The most sad ever born
and also the most unlucky
I am, without having any joy,
therefore, by my faith, I could wish
that death soon was given to me.

Everywhere I am abandoned,
because Fortune has destined me
to be always where I will be

the most sad ever born.

My hurt is excessive,
and I have reached the point
where I cannot have pleasure,
and when nothing can please me,
I ought by that really to be called

the most sad ever born.

1) Leuven, line 13, “... point atournée”
2) Leuven, line 14, “qu’esjouir ne me ...” (error)

Evaluation of the sources:

This song was entered in the Dijon and Leuven chansonniers by their main scribes after similar but different exemplars. Only details in music and text separate the two versions. However, the end of the song went wrong in the Leuven copy. Probably in its exemplar the two semibrevis in superius 1 in bars 22-23 had been changed into two minimae, which makes the song three minimae shorter. The scribe has tried to revise the other upper voice to make it fit by changing a’ into a minima and the two following notes into semiminimae, while the low voice, “Concordans”, remained unchanged, that is, identical to the Dijon version – and the parts do not fit each other anymore.

The most characteristic feature of this song, besides its simple and highly catchy unison canonic imitations in its equal high voices, is its disregard of the normal positioning of the cadences in the mensural pattern. The triple time has everywhere been overruled by the continually shorter distances between the entries of the two canonic voices. In the first line this poses no problem as the second voice enters after three beats, and the canonic imitation cadences in bar 6 in the normal way. For the next two lines the distance has been shortened to two beats, and even after the canon becomes freer in the third line, the middle cadence in bar 15 arrives one beat early. In the rondeau’s second section the distance between the entries is further reduced to only one beat and accordingly the refrain ends with a cadence placed on the second semibrevis of the perfection. The poem is constructed in such a way that the short couplet as well as the tierce must end with a short, one line refrain. This assures that the song in a complete performance ends absolutely regularly, on the beat.

That the version in Dijon with the displaced cadences is the original one is confirmed by an anonymous mass, which was added on empty pages to a manuscript containing theoretical treatises and songs copied by the young Franchinus Gaffurius (1451–1522) in Lodi in the years 1472-74, Parma, Bibl. Naz. Palatina, Fondo parmense, ms. 1158, ff. 34v-38. (1) The incomplete three-part mass (Kyrie, Gloria and first live of Credo) is built on “La plus dolente” using a similar disposition of the voices and an extensive dependence of canonic imitation at the unison between the upper voices. In addition to being based on motives from the song, it quotes its polyphonic structure including all three voices. Kyrie I quotes the beginning of the song, and the whole second section of the rondeau in the Dijon version is quoted literally at the end of Gloria (bb. 158-167, see ex. 1).

Example 1, Anonymous Missa [La plus dolente], Gloria, bars 158-167

The irregular cadencing has been preserved in the mass where it directly quotes the song, namely at the cadence in Kyrie, bar 11, and the cadences at the end of Gloria. In a few instances in the mass, also the contratenor takes part in the imitations; this does not happen in the song where the contratenor has a more restricted and supportive role. See further the edition of the mass.

In the Italian chansonnier of the late 1480s, MS Bologna, Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale, MS Q16, the rondeau appears with text incipit only. Here we find the shorter but still irregular ending, which the scribe of the Leuven exemplar seems to have had a vague idea of (ex. 2).

Ezample 2, Anonymous, La plus dolente, MS Bologna Q16, ff. 148v-149, bars 21-24

There can be no doubt that the rondeau had a much wider circulation that what the few sources with French text indicate, and it must have been widely known long before it reached the ‘Loire Valley’ chansonniers. Its music is found as Latin contrafacta in sources geographically stretching from Bohemia to Italy and spanning several generations from the late 1460s to the first decade of the 16th century.

It appears as a table blessing »Benedicite Dominus nos« in the Italian MS of the early 1480s in Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, Ms. 2356, and in the French MS, Uppsala, Universitetsbiblioteket, Musik i Handskrift 76a, from Lyon around 1510. They have some differences from the Dijon version especially in the lowest voice, and their endings (similar to the one in Bologna Q16) have been prolonged by three bars, which brings the music to a cadence on the mensuration’s primary beat (see the edition and ex. 3).

Example 3, Anonymous, Benedicite dominus nos, MS Uppsala 76a, ff. 9v-10, bars 21-27

The song is found with other variants as “Non nobis Domine” in the Italian MS from around 1500 in Cape Town, The South African Library, MS Grey 3.b.12, and as »Magistralis nimphula Maria beata« in the Bohemian Strahov Codex (Praha, Památník Národního Písemnictví, Strahovská Knihovna, MS D.G.IV.47), which was compiled in the second half of the 1460s. (2) At the start of the original rondeau’s second section, the Strahov version attempts to let the concordance voice take part in the imitation (bars 16-18) without complete success, see the edition. (3)

The convoluted relationships between the compositions using material from “La plus dolente” can be interpreted in more than one way. The rondeau may have come in existence around 1460 or maybe even earlier. Different traditions of transmissions had then evolved, the Dijon version being one, Bologna Q16 may represent another that influenced the faulty Leuven copy and also formed the basis for the Latin versions, which expanded the ending of the piece. The three-part mass was created at an early date based on the Dijon version.

However, the picture drawn by the sources reminds of Busnoys’ rondeau »Quant ce vendra au droit destaindre« and its relationship with the four-part Missa Quant che vendra and the contrafacta. This rondeau was in a four-part version incorporated in the Credo of the mass as “Et in spiritu sanctus”, and it is credible that the young Busnoys composed the song as well as the mass building on it. (4) The quote of the second part of “La plus dolente” at the end of Gloria in the three-part mass suggests that we could have a similar situation here. The composer of the rondeau might also be the author of the mass; like in the case of Busnoys, who else but the composer of the original song would have an interest in maintaining its irregular features This could explain the persistence of the mass in holding on to the displaced cadences also in the mass. And it is thinkable that the rondeau was quoted in extenso later on in Credo or Sanctus – possibly in a prolonged version that could have formed the basis for the Latin texted versions.

Comments on text and music:

A desperately sad song in elegant rich rimes in a female voice. As described above it is set in music for two equal high voices (d’-f’’ and a-f’’) and a supporting voice in the tenor range (d-d’) perfect for a performance by women or by the boys in a choir school and their master. Most lines opens in canonic imitation at the unison in the upper voices, and the temporal distance between their entries is gradually diminished. This feature is underscored by the progression in the displacement of the cadences in comparison with the normal pattern: on the perfection’s third beat in bars 14 and 15, and on its second beat in bars 19, 21 and 24.

All cadences are to the finalis on D except for the one dividing the fourth line in bar 19 on A. The melodic material is simple, stock phrases in Dorian, which easily lend themselves to canonic treatment. The short motives seem chosen to fit the words of the poem, also in the lowest voice; of course, this is most evident in the refrain. The poem is carefully constructed in such a way that it works best with a short, one line refrain after the first couplet and the tierce. This assures, as mentioned above, that the rondeau in a complete performance ends with a normal cadence on the perfection’s first beat.

The main impression of the song is simple and easy elegance with short and catchy phrases returning in different combinations. The opening imitation returns in varied shapes at the start of the second section (b. 16) and again as the final line (b. 21), and it creates an audible round form, subtly reinforced by the short refrain in a complete performance.

The rounded form, which is quite rare in a rondeau, and the melodic material is closely related to a contemporary song, Robert Morton’s »N’aray je jamais mieulx que j’ay?«, which appears in all the ‘Loire Valley’ chansonniers and was a long-lived international hit song. Musically “La plus dolente” borrows the opening unison imitation from “N’aray je jamais”, and its final line and thereby the round form is very close to Morton’s. Furthermore, the middle cadence in Morton’s song (bb. 13-14; see the edition) is placed just before the final line in “La plus dolente” (bb. 20-21). The songs are of equal length (24/25 bars) and both set sad rondeaux quintains.

“La plus dolente” seems to be a female answer to the love complaint of “N’aray je jamais”. Especially the second line of “N’aray je jamais” is telling: “Suis je la ou je demouray” (am I there where I must remain) is developed in the couplet of “La plus dolente”, the feeling of abandoned entrapment, but with a refined turn leading to the short refrain.

There cannot be much doubt that this female song was derived from Morton’s hit song. It has nothing of the refined balance of its model; its goal was rather the ear-catching effectivity of the interwoven high voices. As such it was a success, but it had probably its widest circulation with a selection of Latin prayers.

PWCH August 2023

1) Cf. Francesco Saggio, ‘Il codice Parmense 1158. Descrizione del manoscritto ed edizione delle musiche di Gaffurio’, in Davide Daolmi (ed.), Ritratto di Gaffurio. Lucca 2017, pp. 73-103 (at pp. 75-76). A facsimile of the MS can be found at

2)Pawel Gancarczyk, ‘The Dating and Chronology of the Strahov Codex’, Hudební věda 2006, ročník XLIII, číslo 2, pp. 135-145 (at p. 141).

3) “Magistralis nimphula” has also been published in Jaap van Benthem, ‘Rescued by Transplantation. An unorthodox approach to ‘lost’ chansons by Johannes Tourout in polyphonic sources from Bohemia’, Hudební věda 50 (2013) pp. 221-238 (at pp. 235-236). This score is so heavily edited that it is difficult to recognize the source; e.g. also the entry of the concordans in bar 16 has been silently removed.

4) See further the discussion of »Quand ce vendra« at