Tant fort me tarde ta venue 3v · Basiron, Philippe
Appearance in the five chansonniers:
Paris 4379 (IV) ff. 73v-74 »Tan fort me tarde« 3v
Rome 2856 ff. 3v-4 »Tant fort« 3v Phelippon · Facsimile
Citation, see Fallows 1999 p. 380.
Edition: Goldberg 1997, p. 415 (Laborde).
Text: Rondeau cinquain; full text in Laborde. This poem was also set by Gilles Mureau (see further below). After Laborde:
Tant fort me tarde ta venue
De joye mon plaisir se desnue,
Tant fort me tarde ta venue.
Or est ma sante certes nue,
Tant fort me tarde ta venue
Your appearance so strongly holds me back
My pleasure strips off any joy,
Your appearance so strongly holds me back.
Certainly my sanity is gone,
Your appearance so strongly holds me back
Evaluation of the sources:
The Laborde scribe apparently was well aware of the exceptional character of this chanson. He showed great care in the copying of his exemplar, and consequently his copy stands – as far as we can discern – without any errors or uncertainties in text or music.
It is conceivable that the textless version, which opens the slightly later Ferrarese chansonnier, Roma, Biblioteca Casanatense, MS 2856, with the ascription to “Phelippon”, were edited after an exemplar very similar the version found in Laborde. The scribe wanted to eliminate all use of coloration in dotted rhythms, but overlooked one instance in the contratenor at bar 37.2. Likewise both fermatas and the note repetition in the superius in bar 32, at the rondeau’s medial cadence, were removed, and several ligatures were changed. Near the end of the contratenor the revision went astray: The two identical passages involving coloration, at bars 44.2-46.1 and 46.2-48.1, were reduced to mostly semibreves and only one dotted figure; the value of a brevis is missing, and the passage is not performable as it stands.
The version in Paris 4379, which has a text incipit only, is also very close to the music of Laborde, and it might be copied after the same exemplar as was used for Rome 2856, but now with fewer changes and errors. However, the mensuration has been changed into the more modern tempus imperfectum diminutum. Paris 4397 is a collection of fragments of manuscripts from the Biblioteca Colombina in Seville, and its fourth section probably originally belonged at the end of the Spanish chansonnier in Sevilla, Biblioteca Capitular y Colombina, MS 7-1-28 from the 1490s, cf. Fallows 1992b.
Comments on text and music:
Basiron’s chanson is a setting of a rondeau cinquain, which was also set to music by his slightly older colleague in Chartres, Gilles Mureau (c1442-1512). With great probability Mureau was the author of the poem, an artful literary creation in rime équivoque, whose construction demands a one-line refrain following the couplet, not the half refrain as is usual in poems made for music. The sense of the unhappy love song in a female voice does not permit a stop in the refrain after three lines (see further the edition of Mureau’s song). Basiron has made it possible to respect Mureau’s formal layout of the poem and to perform his own setting with a short one-line second couplet. But this is as far as his respecting the intended meaning of the poem reaches; his setting seems rather like a travesty of a lovesick courtly song.
Before setting Mureau’s poem he had made another song modelled on the same poem, »Je le scay bien ce qui m’avint«, which is also in the Laborde chansonnier. Apparently Basiron realized that the musical ideas presented in this song could be exploited to greater effect in a setting of the original poem. The elements in question are first and foremost the use of canonic imitation, the passage in staggered descending thirds and fifths (bars 40 ff), and the drawn out ending in short segments (bars 48 ff – see the edition).
Basiron’s »Tant fort me tarde ta venue« is written for a superius and tenor of relatively restricted ranges, d’-d” and f-g’ respectively and a wider-ranging contratenor (c-f’), which often lies above the tenor. The opening presents a short canon with the tenor in the lead and at the distance of a semibrevis, which in bar 5-6 changes into a brevis-distance, followed by a free run to the cadence on “-nue”. The idea of ‘chopping up’ a triad with rests and letting single notes and short segments sound in alternation or staggered dominates the setting. All the following lines are in flexible canon with distance varying between a whole and a half bar. The tenor leads in the beginning, but this is reversed in the third line, placing the upper voice in the lead until the end. To prevent mechanical tedium in the setting, which builds on nothing but the motives presented in the opening, a ‘chopped’ triad on G followed by conjunct motion up and down, he varies the technique in an imaginative way:
The second line (bb. 11-23) starts like the first, but then prolongs the semibreves with dots, which have the effect of displacing the feeling of a steady beat. This effect is strongly supported by the contratenor, which enters in minima-syncopation already in bar 14. The displacement of the beat and the staggered descending thirds create a floating ‘kaleidoscopic’ passage, quite memorable. Furthermore, it makes a contrast to the following third line (bb. 24-32), which is the only one without ‘chopping’ and presents a straight canon starting on A before reverting to the fifth G-D.
The rondeau’s second section starts as a variation of the song’s opening, now with the superius in lead. A lively canon in complementary rhythms leads to a cadence on A, which connects directly to the fifth and last line, in which the idea of ‘chopping’ is developed into a sort of antiphony between the upper voices on a F-triad (bb. 42 ff – in diminution by minima-motion). Here the contratenor has to function as structural counter voice to the resulting monophony of the upper voices.
The canon technique displayed in this setting is extremely simple. Basiron has discovered that everything works out painlessly if he keeps the canonic voices within the range of a fifth (occasionally a sixth) and lets the countertenor take care of the rest below or in between the canonic duet. Passages in fauxbourdon-style, which characterized the sound in “Je le scay bien”, are mostly absent, and the single fauxbourdon-cadence to A in bar 40-41 is gracefully handled with the contratenor in dotted minimae.
The setting was made with close attention to the text. The ‘chopping’ patterns are made to fit the words: “Tant / fort / me tarde” or “pour / compter / ma / desconfort” etc. The resulting effect of stammering and word repetitions can only have been designed to make fun of Mureau’s sincere love poem, turning it into a travesty of courtly affectation. But it is quite funny, and also effective if performed on instruments (but then the irony and fun is dismantled). This may be the reason that the song became known outside the Loire Valley and for its placement as the opening number in the textless chansonnier Rome 2856.
Maybe Basiron’s irreverent setting also gained Mureau’s rondeau a place in the popular song repertory. Its refrain is paraphrased in a strophic song, which was printed in two popular anthologies from the second decade of the 15th century. The popular song reuses its first line and many of the original words, but now the female speaker is rather bored with her lover, she cannot be content with only one lover (cf. Jeffery 1971, vol. 1 pp. 174-175). We do not know upon which tune the popular version was sung. Basiron’s setting probably was not able to provide one.
In addition to his own song, “Je le scay bien”, Basiron presumably was inspired by a song by an older composer, Caron’s »Helas, que pourra devenir«, which was well known in Basiron’s region as it is confirmed by its appearance in the Dijon and Wolfenbüttel chansonniers; and in the Laborde chansonnier Caron’s setting appears with the rondeau quatrain »Helas m’amour, ma tresparfaicte amye«, which probably was the original text. Caron’s music shows the same exploration of canon technique and has a spectacular passage in staggered descending thirds and triads in dotted values sung by all voices, and Caron’s setting might likewise treat the poem ironically. However, in terms of the use of canon at the fifth, rhythmical flexibility and sheer craftsmanship, Caron’s song is much more accomplished. The same could be said of the relation between Basiron’s song and an alternative source of inspiration, namely Johannes Tinctoris’ song »Helas, le bon temps que j’avoie«. This song is also strongly influenced by Caron’s “Helas”, uses the same technical elements, and is possibly also composed with the poem “Helas m’amour, ma tresparfaicte amye” as its original text. Basiron follows Tinctoris in placing the rhythmical disruptive passage in descending thirds and triads in the rondeau’s first section, which weakens the impact of the overall formal layout (see further the comments on Caron’s and Tinctoris’ settings). Tinctoris was at some time in the 1460s a colleague of Gilles Mureau at the Chartres Cathedral, and Basiron would have had the same opportunities to get to know his music as with Mureau’s.
While the two songs by the older composers, Caron and Tinctoris, both are technical complex and skilful, but exhibiting a weak coordination between poetic text and music (this could, however, be an ironic stance), Basiron’s simplification of the technical parameters enables him to include the words in the music, and this makes it considerably easier to hear what happens in the song – and why it is funny.
Concerning the identification of Basiron with the “Phelippon” indicated as the composer in Rome 2856, see Paula Higgins, ‘Tracing the Careers of Late Medieval Composers. The Case of Philippe Basiron of Bourges’, Acta musicologica 62 (1990) pp. 1-28.
See also the article ‘The chansons of Basiron’s youth and the dating of the ‘Loire Valley’ chansonniers’.
PWCH July 2012, revised August 2016