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On a grant mal par trop amer / On est bien malade 4v · Busnoys, Antoine

Appearance in the five chansonniers:

*Dijon ff. 180v-181 »On a grant mal par trop amer / On est bien malade« 4v Busnoys (unicum); PDFFacsimile (Phot. 364-365)

Editions: Maniates 1970, pp. 276-279; Brown 1983, pp. 423-425; Maniates 1989 no. 29.

Text: Rondeau quatrain in the upper voice and a popular chanson in the three lower voices; full text:


[O]n a grant mal par trop amer.
Je my levay ung matinot, (1)
m’en entray en ung  jardinot,
mais dieu scet s’il me fut amer.

Car mon cueur se cuida pasmer
quant point n’y vit son amyot.

On a grant mal par trop amer.

Male Bouche m’en veult blamer,
lors que ung rousignol joliot
me dit franc en son jargonnot
que mon los n’en peut entamer.

On a grant mal par trop amer.

Tenor, Contratenor altus
and Contratenor bassus:

[O]n est bien malade pour amer trop.
Je my levay ung matinot,
m’en entray en ung jardinot.(2)
On est bien malade pour amer trop


One gets in great trouble by loving too much.
I got up one early morning
and went into a tiny garden,
but – as God knows – how bitter it was for me.

For my heart thought it would pass out
when it did not see its darling there.

One gets in great trouble by loving too much.

Male Bouche [the Slanderer] sought to blame me,
when a pretty nightingale
told me frankly in its jargon
that my repute could not be harmed by that.

One gets in great trouble by loving too much.


One gets really mad by loving too much.
I got up one early morning
and went into a tiny garden.
One gets really mad by loving too much.

1) Superius reads “Je lesseray ...”, which does not make any sense here. As the rondeau apparently was written on the basis of the popular song in the lower voices, the sentence has to start “Je my levay”.
2) Contratenor altus: “... en mon jardinot”.

Evaluation of the source:

The Dijon scribe copied this double chanson from an exemplar, which apparently was rather unambiguous. He only made one error, namely the first rest in the bassus part, which is one brevis too long, and he was clearly not sure about what to do with the last line of the rondeau’s refrain in the highest voice. Certainly, the line starts in b. 29, but the last word “amer” is spread out below the whole varied repetition of song’s first phrase (bb. 36-49). We cannot be sure that he realized how the rondeau form could be performed – and he did not mark the repetition point with a signum.

In double chansons building on a popular song with a refrain-line first and last (producing an ABA-form in the tenor) it is often difficult to decide how to perform the rondeau text in the superius part. Barret (1981, p. 1131) writes of Busnoys’ chanson that it “is extremely doubtful ... in view of the structural form that a performance of this piece as a rondeau was ever considered, although it might be possible, with some adjustment, if the lower voices were instrumental.” As the rondeau clearly was written upon the popular poem, it is highly thinkable that the rondeau too was designed with a short refrain, consisting of the first line only, which is nearly identical to the refrain line of the popular poem, and that the composer included this short refrain in his setting and thereby produced the overall ABA-form.

If we take this in account, a very satisfying formal design can be obtained in performance by singing the rondeau’s refrain in bb. 1-35 (S text 1), then jump to the beginning and sing the couplet until b. 17 (without the CB entry, S text 2a), repeat the opening line bb. 1-11 as a short refrain (S text 2b), and finally sing the tierce all through the setting ending with the short refrain – as indicated in my transcription.

Comments on text and music:

Busnoys created a quite ingenious formal construction for this double chanson, which combines what sounds like a popular tune as cantus prius factus in the tenor (G-Mixolydian) with a rondeau written with the popular song as model in the superius. Maybe we should designate it as an experimental setting exploring the possibilities of the chanson type.

The c.p.f. is imitated quite strictly in Contratenor altus and Contratenor bassus, a fourth higher and a the fifth below respectively (in C-Mixolydian), and it also puts its stamp on the upper voice carrying the rondeau text as the tune of the two Verse lines is imitated by it at the octave. As an indicator of the strict imitation in fifths the voices have different key signatures: without flats in the G-Mixolydian S and T, and with one flat in the C-Mixolydian CA and CB.

The popular stanza (c.p.f.) is designed with a Refrain line of 10 syllables first and last and two Verse lines of 8 syllables each. Accordingly Busnoys in his setting repeats the complete imitative structure of the first line (bb. 1-11) at the end with a prolonged and varied cadence (bb. 36-49). While the c.p.f. is imitated rather freely in the three lower voices during the Refrain line, the tune is imitated canonically in alternating core duos in the Verse lines: S-T and CB-CA (bb. 12-20), and T-S and CB-CA (bb. 21-35). Between every citation of the c.p.f. free passages are inserted in the lower voices, and the superius can sing the rondeau-quatrain’s last line above CB-CA’s last canon. In this way all part are ready for the nearly identical Refrain lines of the rondeau and the popular song.

The introduction of a B-flat in the popular tune’s second Verse line (bb. 21 ff) – and later as a consequence E-flat in CA and CB – creates all the tonal contrast one can expect of a second section of a classical rondeau setting.


The unusual and not readily recognizable repetition scheme could be the reason why this chanson was reworked twice – was “re-mixed” into more regular and modern settings of a popular tune. In both cases the rondeau layout was dropped, the same key signature without a flat appears in all voices, and the imitation pattern is more regular:

1. Florence 229, ff. 193v-194 “On est bien malade par amer trop” 4v, anonymous, ed.: Brown 1983 pp. 420-422.

2. St. Gallen 530 ff. 67v-68 “On en bien maldi pour amor trop” Organ tablature 4v, “Andreas busnois”, ed.: Marx 1992 p. 172.

See further the informative comparative examples from all three settings in Fallows 1999b ‘‘Trained and immersed in all musical delights’: Towards a New Picture of Busnoys’ pp. 32-35.

See further the structurally comparable four-part chansons in this repertory: Busnoys’ “Vous marchez du bout du pie”, Ockeghem’s “S’elle amymera / Petite camusette”, and the anonymous “Garison sçay /Je suis mire”.

PWCH April 2009