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Je ne vis oncques la pareille 3v · Binchois / Dufay

Appearance in the five chansonniers:

*Laborde ff. 43v-44 »Je ne vis oncques la paraille« 3v PDF · Facsimile

*Nivelle ff. 51v-52 »Je ne vis oncques la pareille« 3v Binchois PDF · Facsmile

*Wolfenbüttel ff. 38v-39 »Je ne vis oncques la pareille« 3v PDF · Facsimile

– all versions combined in one PDF package

Other sources:

Florence 176 ff. 50v-51 »Je ne vis onques« 3v
Florence 2356 ff. 72v-73 »Je novis oncqueste« 3v
Montecassino 871 p. 304 »Je ne vis onques« 3v Dufay
Montecassino 871 p. 377 »Je ne vis onques la parelle«
Munich 810 ff. 94v-95 »Jene vis« 3v
Paris 1597 ff. 40v-41 »Je ne viz oncques la pareille« 3v Facsimile
Paris 2973 ff. 60v-62 »Je ne veis onques la pareille« 3v
*Trento 90 f. 352v »Je ne vis onques la paraiille« 3v PDF · Facsimile

Citations and use in other compositions, see Fallows 1999 p. 216, and Bloxam 2006.

Editions: Dufay 1996 no. 91 (Nivelle), Binchois 1957 no. 57 (Wolfenbüttel), Gutiérrez-Denhoff 1988 no. 30 (Wolfenbüttel).

Text: Rondeau quatrain; full text in Laborde, Nivelle and Wolfenbüttel; also in Paris 1597 and Paris 2973; also found in Berlin 78.B.17, f. 93, ed.: Löpelmann 1923, p. 146; London 380 f. 246, ed.: Wallis p. 129; Paris 1719, f. 53v; Paris 1722, f. 72v.

After Nivelle:

Je ne vis oncques la pareille
de vous, ma gracieuse dame,
car vo beaulté est, sur mon ame,
sur toutes aultres nonparaille.

En vous regardant m’esmerveille (1)
et dis: “Qu’est cecy Nostre Dame?”

Je ne vis oncques la pareille
de vous, ma gracieuse dame.

Vostre tresgrant doulceur esveille (2)
mon esperit et mon oeil entame,
mon cueur donc puet dire sans blasme, (3)
puis qu’a vous servir s’apareille.

Je ne vis oncques la pareille
de vous, ma gracieuse dame,
car vo beaulté est, sur mon ame,
sur toutes aultres nonparaille.

Lines 9-12 in Wolfenbüttel:

Vostre tresgrant doulceur reveille
mon esperit, et mon oeil entame
mon cueur, dont puis dire sans blasme,
puis qu’a vous servir m’apareille.

I have never seen the equal
of you, my gracious lady,
for your beauty is, by my soul,
by all others unrivalled.

When I see you, I wonder
and say: Could this one be Our Lady?

I have never seen the equal
of you, my gracious lady.

Your perfect sweetnes rouses
my spirit and blinds my eye,
my heart then can say so without guilt,
because it is ready to serve you.

I have never seen the equal
of you, my gracious lady,
for your beauty is, by my soul,
by all others unrivalled.


Your perfect sweetnes rouses
my spirit. and my eye jolts
my heart, this I can say without guilt,
because I am preparing to serve you.

1) Laborde, line 5, “... voiant je me merveille”; Wolfenbüttel, “... voiant je m’esmerveille”;
2) Laborde, line 9, “... reveille”
3) Laborde, line 11, “... puis dire ...”
- in addition some variants in the spelling.

Evaluation of the sources:

As regards this chanson, it is easy to view the three related sources, Laborde, Nivelle and Wolfenbüttel, as a separate and homogeneous group transmitting slightly faulty versions of its music and text. (1) But if we scrutinize the efforts of the three main scribes of the respective MSS, we find a mixture of editorial interventions and flawed exemplars, which creates a far more complex picture. (2) In the following, the three ‘Loire Valley’ versions are compared to the ‘normal’ version of the song as transmitted by the majority of sources, here represented by its oldest source, Trento 90 (cf. the edition), which probably precedes the ‘Loire Valley’ MSS by at least a decade (mid-1450s, cf. Wright 1993); only variants illuminating the differences between the three MSS are included:

- 1. Superius, bar 4.2, Laborde and Nivelle have a semibrevis in stead of the characteristic formulation with two minimae c” found in all other sources except Florence 2356, and including Wolfenbüttel.

- 2. Tenor, bar 9, Laborde and Wolfenbüttel have a note repetition (brevis - semibrevis), which is not found in other sources including Nivelle. This reflects a tendency to subdivide the breves in the lower voices as heard in bar 1. Here (b. 1) the three MSS agree, but several other sources including Trento 90 have perfect breves in the Tenor or Contra, or in both.

- 3. Superius, bars 10.3-11.1-2, in all sources except the three ‘Loire Valley’ MSS the first note in bar 11 must be a minima g, which here owing to an error in a common ancestor is missing. Laborde and Wolfenbüttel let the voice leap upwards a fifth from the semiminima in the preceding bar (g-d’) and prolong the next note e’ to a semibrevis. The Nivelle scribe found this unacceptable and changed the dotted figure b. 10.3 into a semibrevis a, and recompensed by changing the prolonged second note in b. 11 into a dotted figure.

- 3. Contra, bar 15.1, in Nivelle the first note is missing; in Laborde this error has been amended by a semibrevis rest; Wolfenbüttel has a sembrevis G like all other sources.

- 4. Superius, bar 26.1, Laborde and Wolfenbüttel here show up an obvious and uncorrected error, as the first note is missing and thereby dislocates the final cadence. This error does not appear in Nivelle.

- 5. A one-flat key signature in the tenor supplemented by some accidentals along the road suffices for Trento 90; Nivelle comes without a signature in the upper voice and one flat in each of the lower voices (like Munich 810 and Paris 2379); Wolfenbüttel opens in the same configuration, but introduces the one-flat key signature in the upper voice in bar 5; Laborde shows flats in all three voices like the majority of sources.

- 6. Nivelle and Laborde seem to share a variant in the poem’s tierce: In Laborde lines 10-12 are: “...mon esperit et mon oeil entame, /mon cueur donc puis dire sans blasme, / puis qu’a vous servir s’aparaille”, which in Nivelle has been ameliorated to “... donc puet dire ...”. Wolfenbüttel is much closer to the probable original version of the lines: “...mon esperit, et mon oeil entame / mon cueur, dont puis dire sans blasme, / puis qu’a vous servir m’apareille” - this only needs to exchange “mon oeil” with “vostre oeil” in order to convey the intended meaning clearly.

The sum of these points must be that the three sources represent a local ‘Loire Valley’ tradition, but also that the songs had been circulating for a long period of time and in very many manuscripts. Their variants are contradictory and excludes common exemplars to some degree, even if the exemplars must have been closely related. Point 3 describes an error going back to a common ancestor, clumsily repaired by prolonging the second note in bar 11; here the Nivelle scribe was the only one who tried to emend the passage. Nivelle and Laborde share the text variant (point 6), a special declamation of the first line (point 1), and the error in the contra (which the Laborde scribe edited, point 3), but Laborde is closer to Wolfenbüttel in other details, for example by sharing an obvious error (points 4 and 2).

The only explanation for the relations between these sources is the existence of many interrelated sources circulating in the local milieu. How this affects the credibility of Nivelle’s ascription to Binchois weighted against the later and much farther removed MS Montecassino 871’s ascription to Du Fay, is difficult to decide. As the song apparently had been part of the local repertory for a long time, an exemplar even older than Trento 90 and carrying Binchois’ name could have instigated a local trandition, which though many generations of slightly corrupted copies reached the Nivelle scribe.

Comments on text and music:

The poem is an ecstatic worship of the gracious lady, who in lines 5-6 appears to the poet as the Blessed Virgin incarnated. The song was performed at the famous Banquet de Faisan hosted by the Burgundian duke Philippe le Bon in Lille in 1454. It was part of the entremetz du serf, where a boy of twelve years riding on a hart sang “Je ne vis onques”, while the hart held the tenor. (3)

The song is perfectly suited for such a two-part performance as the counterpoint of superius and tenor is self-sustaining without fourths. The ranges of the upper voices are a fourth apart, and they move mostly in parallel thirds and sixths; at the beginning of the 2nd section, the tenor sounds above the superius. To this structure is added a low contratenor, which, however, often crosses above the tenor, most audible in the final phrase bars 23-24.

In addition to its melodic grace, much of the charm of this widely circulated and often reworked song consists in its easy flow and concentrated expressiveness. The first and third text lines end without an articulated cadence to stem the flow of the quite short sections. And the opening of the second section is striking; the tenor raises an octave and sings above the superius, while the contratenor too opens above the upper voice - a reversal in sound.

PWCH December 2011

1) “... Niv and the closely related Lab and Wo (especially close in this particular case) ... and they contain variants that seem simply wrong in the light of a full collation.” (Fallows 1995, p. 255).

2) For enumerations of the variants, see Fallows 1995, pp. 256-259, Gutiérrez-Denhoff 1988, pp. 130-131 (NB errors in the readings of sources); concerning the ‘corrected’ version in Chansonnier Cordiforme, Paris 2973, see Thibault & Fallows 1991, pp. cxxiii-cxxv.

3) For a description of the occasion and comments on the confluence of secular and sacred expressions, see M. Jennifer Bloxam, ‘»I have never seen your equal«: Agricola, the Virgin, and the Creed’, Early Music 44 (2006) pp. 391-407; see also her ‘A Cultural Context for the Chanson Mass’ in Honey Meconi (ed.): Early Musical Borrowing. New York & London (Routledge) 2004, pp. 7-35.