O rosa bella (2) 3v · Anonymous
Appearance in the five chansonniers:
Editions: Morelot 1856, App. 1; Fétis 1869, Vol. V (1876), p. 332; Lederer 1906, p. 399.
Text: Two stanzas of an Italian strophic poem, adapted from a ballata by Leonardo Giustiniani (1385-1446) and corrupted by francophone copyists.
O rosa bella, o dolce amica mea,
O dio d’amoura et quest d’amara,
O beautiful rose, o my sweet friend,
O god of love, and this love,
(1) The last half of the line is missing in the MS, added according to Il Fiore de la canzonete, (cited from Dunstable 1953, p. 187).
Further on the text, its sources and editions, see Fallows 1999 p. 545.
Evaluation of the source:
This arrangement of Bedyngham’s (or Dunstable’s) cherished Italian song builds on the original superius and tenor parts – the last one transposed up an octave – with a new “Concordans”. It is only found in the Dijon Chansonnier. The original parts are closely related to the versions of the song in the Wolfenbüttel Chansonnier (ff. 34v-36, no. 27) or in Pavia, Biblioteca Universitaria, Ms. Aldini 362 (ff. 41v-43).
The pages are as always beautifully written by the Dijon scribe, but the song exhibits some errors, which would make a performance less satisfactory, and no attempt at correcting the errors is visible on the pages. In the superius there is a minima too much in bars 6.2 ff, which in Dijon look like a conventional cadence figuration: a dotted mi:a’ - smi: g’ - br: g’ - mi: f’. In the original superius the two first notes are both smi; probably the first one had lost its stem, and the scribe (or his exemplar) misread it for a dotted figure in coloration. In bar 36 ff some notes are written a tone too high (g’-a’-f’-e’-f’-d’); this change fits perfectly the transposed tenor in thirds and sixths, but the new Concordans shows that it was not intended. A missing stem on an intended mi d’ in bar 39 again displaces the superius part, and at the end of the Concordans we meet a dissonant tone repetition on a in bar 45.3. These errors show that the scribe did not spend any work and consideration on this piece after adding it to his collection. Maybe the attraction of this piece to the scribe primarily depended on its sound, its use of two high, intertwined voices over a supporting voice, which did fit into and augmented his repertory of such distinctive songs.
Comments on text and music:
The sound of two high voices over a supporting part was so important to the arranger that he wanted to transform voice parts from one of the most popular songs from the middle of the 15th century into this rather curious arrangement. Probably motivated by the imitations and close melodic relations between these voices through most of the song, he kept the original superius in place and simply transposed the tenor up an octave. The tenor with its relatively narrow range now became the highest voice for long stretches. However, in the famous “O” prelude, the tenor was only a supporting part for the melisma in the superius, and it is difficult to hear its harmony-dependent line in bars 1-7 as an attractive upper voice. But starting in bar 8 the close imitations make the arrangement musically interesting. This transformation was possible because rather few fifths occur between the original pair of structural parts (fifths are transformed into fourths by the transposition). The original contratenor often crossed above the original tenor and took position a fifth above it (see the edition of the Wolfenbüttel version, bb. 7-8, 14, 15, 23, 36, 39, 41, 44-45 and 48; only to mention the critical fifths) producing fourths when the tenor was transposed. He (or she – wanting a piece for two female voices) had to compose a new supporting voice, which completed the harmony below the high voices in a contrapuntally acceptable way (e.g. legitimizing the fourths between the upper voices resulting from the transposition in bb. 3-4, 16, 22, 32 and 37), and modernized most cadences according to the conventions in the 1460s. The arranger knew the original contratenor very well and reused some of it especially in the start of the second section.
The new supporting part is called “Concordans” in the Dijon Chansonnier, and it is of course in concord with both upper voices, but it cannot be left out in a performance. Contrary to the original contratenor, which after all played a more active role in the music (see bars 7 ff), but could be silent, this is an essential part of the arrangement
PWCH June 2008