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Ma maistresse et ma plus qu’autre amye 3v · Ockeghem, Johannes

Appearance in the group of related chansonniers:

*Laborde ff. 9v-11 »Ma maistresse et ma plus que autre amye« 3v · Edition · Facsimile

*Leuven ff. 34v-37 »Ma maistresse et ma plus qu’autre amye« 3v · Edition · Facsimile

*Wolfenbüttel ff. 27v-29 »Ma maistresse et ma plus grant amye« 3v · Edition · Facsimile

Other sources:

Cambridge R.2.71 f. 4v »Ma maistresse et plus qu’autre amye« 2v [3v] (1st page only) Okeghem
Escorial IV.a.24 ff. 123v-124 »[Without text]« 3v (First part only)
Paris 4379 f. 42v + Sevilla 5-1-43 f. 100-101 »Ma maistresse« 3v
Tongeren f. 1Av »Ma maistresse« 1v [3v] (S only, only 1. part)
*Trento 93 ff. 375v-376 »[Without text]« 3v · Edition · Facsimile

This page with editions as a PDF

Reworkings, citations, and use in other compositions: See Fallows 1999 p. 271-272.

Editions: Gutiérrez-Denhoff 1988 no. 22 (Wolfenbüttel); Ockeghem 1992 p. 75 (Wolfenbüttel); Ockeghem 2002, pp. IX-XV..

Text: Bergerette, possibly by Chartier; full text in Laborde, Leuven and Wolfenbüttel; also found in Berlin 78.B.17 ff. 100-100v, ed.: Löpelmann 1923, p. 162; Jardin 1501, f. 71.
After Laborde and Leuven:

Ma maistresse et ma plus qu’autre amye, (1)
de mon desir la mortelle ennemye,
parfaicte en biens s’oncques maiz le fut fame, (2)
celle seulle de qui court bruit et fame (3)
d’estre sans per, ne vous verraige mye?

Helas, de vous bien plaindre me devoye,
s’il ne vous plaist que briefment vous revoye, (4)
m’amour, par qui d’aultre amer n’ay puissance.

Car sans vous voir en quelque part que soie, (5)
tout quant que voiz me desplaist et ennoye,
jusquez alors je n’auray souffisance. (6)

Incessament mon dolent cueur fremoye (7)
doubtant qu’en vous pitie soit endormye (8)
que ja ne soit, ma tant amée dame,
mays s’ainsi est, si malheureux me clame (9)
et ne quiers plus vivre heure ne demye.  (10)

Ma maistresse et ma plus qu’autre amye,
de mon desir la mortelle ennemye,
parfaicte en biens s’oncques maiz le fut fame,
celle seulle de qui court bruit et fame
d’estre sans per, ne vous verraige mye?

My mistress and my more than any other beloved,
deadly enemy of my desire,
perfect in virtues as any woman ever was,
she alone whom standing and fame hold
to be without peer, shall I never see you?

Alas! I should well have to complain of you,
if it does not please you to see me briefly again,
my love, by whom another love has no power.

For without seeing you, wherever I may be,
all that I do see displeases me and annoys me,
until then, I shall not be satisfied.

Ceaselessly my grieving heart weeps,
fearing that in you pity might have gone to sleep,
that it will never happen, my most beloved lady;
but if it is so, I hold myself so unhappy
that I do no wish to live another hour, not even a half.

My mistress and my more than any other beloved,
deadly enemy of my desire,
perfect in virtues as any woman ever was,
she alone whom standing and fame hold
to be without peer, shall I never see you?

1) Wolfenbüttel, line 1, ”... plus grant amye”.
2) Laborde, line 3, “...s‘oncques le fut ame”; Leuven, “... si oncques le fut fame”; Wolfenbüttel, “...s’onques
maiz le fut femme”.
3) Leuven & Wolfenbüttel, line 4, “...qui [cueur –drawing] bruit ...”.
4) Leuven, line 7, ” brief je vous voye”; Wolfenbüttel, ”brefvement vous voye”.
5) Laborde, line 8, “... voir quelque ...”.
6) Leuven, line 11, “ne que alors je ...”, Wolfenbüttel, “ne jusque alors ...”.
7) Wolfenbûttel, line 12, “... Cueur larmye”.
8) Laborde, line 13, “... que prière soit endormye”.
9) Laborde & Leuven, line 15, “... est malheureux”; Wolfenbüttel, “... est si malheureux”.
10) Laborde, line 16, ” je ne requier plus ...”; Wolfenbüttel, ” que plus ne quiers ...”

Evaluation of the sources:

At the end of his Liber de arte contrapuncti (Book III, chapter VIII, 1477) Tinctoris praised the “varietates” found in a short list of masses, motets and chansons, among them a “Ma maistresse” by Jo. Okeghem. (1) That this song really is the anonymous bergerette in the three ‘Loire Valley’ chansonniers, is confirmed by a fragment of a French chansonnier in Cambridge, Trinity College Library, MS R.2.71, which includes the first page of its superius and tenor with “Okeghem” written at the top of the page.

In its oldest source, Trento, Museo Diocesano, Ms. 93, the song was entered among a mixed repertory, which fills out three fascicles added to the main corpus. The paper used for these fascicles was produced early in the 1450s. The main part of this codex was most probable copied in Munich in the years 1450-53, and Johannes Wiser brought it to Trent in 1455 when he was appointed to the post of succentor at the cathedral. This means that Ockeghem’s song already had obtained a wide circulation in the middle of the 1450s and that it must be counted among his earliest preserved works.

The song is copied without any text or title, neither are any opening mensuration or hexachordal signatures indicated. To make the music performable, the musicians had to add text and sing according to the hexachordal positions implicit in the voice parts. The text was easily available, and a hexachordal reading of the music works smoothly (see the edition).

If we compare its music with the later ‘Loire Valley’ chansonniers, Trento 93 is very close to the version preserved in the Wolfenbüttel chansonnier. Apart from a few ligatures and some coloration the differences consist in a unique variant in the superius of Wolfenbüttel bar 28.1-2, which produces parallel fifths with the contratenor, and a brevis instead of two semibreves in bar 59, also unique for Wolfenbüttel. In two other cases the variants in Wolfenbüttel (tenor, b. 29.1-2, brevis instead of semibrevis and rest, and contra, b. 5.1-2, brevis instead of two semibreves) are shared by the Laborde and Leuven chansonniers respectively. The main difference, of course, is that Wolfenbüttel has a hexachordal signature of one flat all the way through the contra, in tenor the flat appears during the refrain, and the superius introduces the one flat signature in bars 20.3-35 – and this source has the complete text.

Leuven chansonnier transmits basically the same version as Wolfenbüttel with one-flat signatures in tenor and contra in the first section, and a flat signature appears in the superius in bars 18.3-35. There are many differences in the use of ligatures and coloration – the notation of Leuven uses more ligatures than the other sources – and it has many musical variants, some of which are unique in the group of older sources consisting of Trento 93 and the ‘Loire Valley’ chansonniers (S, bb. 18.3, 39.2-3 and 43-44; T, bb. 3.1, 5.1 and 28.1-2; C, bb. 9.1, 19.1, 45, 46-49 and 56-57).

The Laborde chansonnier, on the other hand, seems to lean towards Trento 93 as regards its interpretation of hexachordal signatures. It is probable that the scribe’s exemplar did not have any signature flats. Flats are added tentatively at the start of tenor and contra in very weak ink, and in the first systems only. Otherwise, Laborde’s version of the song differs in several aspects from the Trento 93, Wolfenbüttel and Leuven versions. It uses coloration and ligatures much more sparingly, and it has its own selection of unique variants (see for example, S, bb. 23.2-3, 26.1-2, 31.3, 33.2-3, 48, 63, and 66.2-67.1; T, bb. 24.3 and 26.3; C, bb. 7.1 and 12.1).

The French fragment naming Ockeghem as composer (Cambridge R.2.71), appears to be very similar to the version found in Leuven. It shares with Leuven the variants in bar 18.3 in the superius and in bar 5.1 in the tenor, which do not appear in other sources. The chansonniers of Italian origin are quite close to Wolfenbüttel, but introduce their own variants. The most important is that the French text is missing. The version, which today is spilt between the two fragments in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, ms. nouv. acq. fr. 4379 and Sevilla, Biblioteca Capitular y Colombina, MS 5-1-43, has text incipits only, and all three voices have a one flat signature in both parts of the song; the textless version of the first section only in Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial, Biblioteca y Archivo de Musica, MS IV.a.24, is transposed down a fourth. A fragment in Stadsarchief Tongeren has the superius of the first section without text and is notated an octave lower.

The diverse picture drawn by the sources shows that “Ma maistresse” had enjoyed a wide circulation long before it appeared in the ‘Loire Valley’ chansonniers. Decades of recopying have resulted in the many differences of details, different interpretations of its hexachordal signatures and the variations in pitch level, all of which, however, does not affect the song’s musical identity.

The very high and quite uncomfortable tessitura of the song, which is found in most sources with the superius ranging between c' and g'' and tenor and contra placed a fifth lower (f-c''), and the uncertainty concerning its hexachordal signatures are indications that the song originally existed in a ‘clefless’ notation: That is, without c- or f-clefs and using formations of fa-clefs alone to indicate the hexachordal structure, three or two flats in each voice are typical. This means that the song was not notated at a fixed pitch, but could be performed at any convenient pitch. Fa-clef notation seems to have been used by composers around Binchois during the second quarter of the century and in Central France in the 1450s and the early 1460s (for example by Ockeghem, Barbingant and Le Rouge). However, general knowledge of the notation soon faded away, and the songs were then transmitted in fixed-pitch notation using standard c- and f-clefs. (2)

“Ma maistresse” may have appeared in two different standard combinations of fa-clefs as shown in examples 1-2. To accommodate the ranges of the voices without the possibility of clef changes, they were probably notated on six-line systems. The formation in fifths only produces voices a fifth apart with a flat more in the lower voices (ex. 1), perfect for songs involving canonic imitation at the fifth. The variant shown in ex. 2 does not generate the extra flat in the lower voices. A piece notated in fa-clefs can as mentioned be performed at any pitch; the total range of 16 steps in “Ma maistresse” permits it to vary its pitch within an octave (F-g' ... f-g''). If letter clefs were imagined, two sets of such clefs were available a fifth apart, c1 in superius and c3 in tenor and contra, or at a lower pitch using c3 and f3.

Ex. 1                        Ex. 2


The versions in Trento 93 and Laborde support the hypothetical reading in ex. 2. C-clefs on the first and third lines (c1 and c3) have been introduced, and all the fa-signs have been eliminated, as they indicate Fs and Cs only and thus become superfluous. Wolfenbüttel and Leuven correspond to the formation of ex. 1, both opening without a flat in the upper voice and having one flat in the lower voices. (3)

The composer has designed the music in an ingenious way in order to make it work perfectly in whatever interpretation is preferred. The crucial point is the extended ending to line 3, bars 14-18, the middle point in the bergerette‘s first section. Here superius in all versions is firmly placed within the C-hexachord. The lower voices in Trent/Laborde keep to G-hexachords an octave apart, with the tenor in the lowest position, and in Leuven and Wolfenbüttel they sing in F-hexachords. This makes a clear difference in sound. Ockeghem has made this possible by consciously restricting the voice ranges within this passage to make them fit both interpretations. In bar 18 the music evidently turns towards F, so to modern ears the preceding combination of C- and G-hexachords in Trent/Laborde seems to be most in accordance with Tinctoris’ praise of the song’s diversity in sound and procedure.

Comments on text and music:

This male unhappy song in rich rimes léonines about the unattainable lady will sound enchanting sung at a lower pitch than notated in most sources – a fourth or a fifth lower will be perfect. The musical setting is, as Tinctoris pointed out, very varied, maybe to a degree that is characteristic of a very young composer.

It starts in strict canonic imitation at the fifth in the upper voices, set off by the forced false relation between contra and superius in bar 2, a memorable opening. The second line “de mon desir la mortelle ennemye” is formed as a long series of cadential formulas, where the voices exchange functions. It starts in the tenor ending on c' (b. 8), the superius takes the formula to g', then c'' and finally to f''. The tenor moves in canon into the next line and ends on c'' (b. 12) in a sort of overspill. Rhythmically, the cadential formulas move the feeling of the strong beat to the third semibrevis in each perfection, and all three voices ascend through their entire ranges. This was a spectacular effect that inspired later songs, although without going as far as here. The remainder of line 3, “parfaicte en biens s’oncques maiz le fut fame” forms a strong contrast by being static within narrow ranges, between G and C, where the tenor and the contra exchange places to vary the sound. The second part of the refrain plays out in graceful polyphony with snatches of imitation on F-, Bb- and C-hexachords, before coming together in a forceful delivery of the final question“ne vous verraige mye?” (shall I never see you?).

The repeated couplets form a perfect contrast to the first section. The mensuration changes to tempus imperfectum diminutum, which with the beat on the breves calms the rhythmic flow, and it opens in homorhythmic declamation of the words. A free canon at the octave between superius and tenor leads to a Phrygian ending on A.

Ockeghem later quoted the opening words and the superius tune in his rondeau »Au travail suis que peu de gens croiroient«, where it starts the fourth line in octave imitation between tenor and superius. He also composed a mass on the superius and tenor of the bergerette, Missa Ma maistresse, of which only the Kyire and Gloria have survived (ed. in Ockeghem 1959, vol. 1, and Ockeghem 2002).

PWCH November 2021

1) “Omnis itaque resfacta pro qualitate et quantitate eius diversificanda est, prout infinita docent opera, non solum a me verum etiam ab innumeris compositoribus evo presenti florentibus edita. ... Et plures ac alie in his motetis quam in cantilenis Ma maistresse Jo. Okeghem ...” (cf.

2) Concerning fa-clefs, see my article ‘On chansons notated in fa-clefs – and the question of pitch in 15th century secular music’.

3) Remark that none of the main sources exhibit a signature flat at the start of the highest voice. It is unfortunate that the song in the Ockeghem collected works has been published with a one flat key signature in the upper voice (Ockeghem 1992 p. 75). This obscures the opening imitation at the fifth typical of its time, and has distorted discussions of its music and its relations to other pieces.