Fors seulement contre ce qu’ay / Fors seullement l’actente 3v · Ockeghem, Johannes
Cop 1848 p. 427 »Fort seulement« 3v
Florence 2439 ff. 52v-53 »Fors seulement l’actante que je meure« 3v J Ockeghem
Paris 1596 ff. 7v-8 »Fors seulement contre ce qu’ay promis« 3v Facsimile
Sankt Gallen 461 pp. 4-5 »Fors solament« 3v Ockengem Facsimile
Edition: Gombosi 1925 no. 10 (Florence 2439); Picker 1981 p. 5; Ockeghem 1992 p. 64 (Paris 2245); Goldberg 1992 p. 449.
Text: Rondeau cinquain; double chanson; the text for the upper voices is complete in Paris 1596 and Paris 2245; the contra has the tenor tune and in Paris 2245 the refrain text of Ockeghem’s »Fors seulement l’attente que je meure« (see the comments on this song); this rondeau is also used in Florence 2439.
After Paris 2245:
Fors seullement contre ce qu’ay promys
Mon vouloir j’ay tout en cela soubmis
fors seullement contre ce qu’ay promys.
Se cuide avoir en terre des amys (5)
fors seullement contre ce qu’ay promys.
Except only for what I have promised
I have submitted my wishes entirely to this,
except only for what I have promised.
If I believe that I have some friends in the land
except only for what I have promised.
1) Paris 1596, line 2, “entre tous ..."
2) Paris 2245, line 4, “... desir voir dez ...” (a syllable short); Paris 1596, “J’en ay dessus voyre de …”
3) Paris 1596, line 7, “… sera soubmys”
4) Paris 1596, line 8, “garder je veul ordre, sens et prudance”
5) Paris 1596, line 10, “Je cuide”
6) Paris 1596, line 11, “... fiance remys”
7) Paris 2245, line 13 missing, supplied from Paris 1596.
8) Paris 1596, line 14, “Car je seroye … desmys”
9) Paris 2245, contratenor, lines 2-4, the line endings are missing.
Evaluation of the sources:
It is most probable that the version in the earliest source, the French MS Paris 2245 from the 1480s, represents the original concept of the chanson. Here it appears as a double chanson, which combines the tenor tune as well as the rondeau text from »Fors seullement l’actente que je meure« with a new poem in the upper voices. Paris 2245 alone combines the two poems. The slightly younger MS Paris 1596 (1490s) has “Fors seullement contre ce qu’ay promys” in all three voices; in comparison with the upper voices, the text is copied quite cursorily below the lowest voice. The northern MS Florence 2439 has the refrain only from “Fors seullement l’actente” in the highest voice (the lowest voice has text incipits for both sections of the refrain), while the remaining sources have the first two words only.
Moreover, in its “Contra” voice Paris 2245 notates the quotation from the original song in the same high range, c’-f’’, as in the model’s tenor. All the later sources notate this voice as it sounds in the low range of F-bb. However, compared with the tenor of “Fors seullement l’actente” as it appears in the MSS Dijon, Laborde and Wolfenbüttel, the original C1 clef has in Paris 2245 been changed into a G3 clef. This allows for an easy visual transposition a fifth downwards by just exchanging the G3 clef with a C3 clef. That the performer has to go down an extra octave soon becomes evident when fourths begin to crop up between the contra and tenor parts. On the other hand, it seems probable that it was known in the milieu where Paris 2245 originated that the original tenor might be thought of an octave below the notated pitch (see further the comments on »Fors seulement l’actente«). A warning has been added in the upper voice, where the word “Canon” has been entered to the left of the painted initial. Just above the initial we furthermore find the word “Royal”. These words seem to have been added after the decoration of the manuscript; this also applies to the composer attribution added in clumsy letters above the music.
Basically, the MSS Paris 2245 and Paris 1596 bring the same version of the music; there are many differences in the use of ligatures, coloration and decorative figuration, but few real variants (for example, in the superius b. 19.2, Paris 1596 has a’ instead of c’’). The main difference consists in the transposition of the cantus prius factus by removing the ambiguity of the canon, transforming it into the low “Basis”-part, and of the adding of a new final note, G (bb. 63), which does not belong to the model. In bars 15-17 the Paris 2245 version adheres closely to the original tenor part as presented by the Wolfenbüttel chansonnier, with three repeated top notes and the two semiminimae in bar 17, which produce parallel fifths with the upper voice. In Paris 1596 the repeated notes have been combined into a dotted brevis, and the semiminimae have been replaced by a minima e, which eliminates the parallels. This, too, points at Paris 2245 as the original concept, while the version in Paris 1596 represents a revision; the errors in its Basis – bars 33 and 48 are missing – make a performance after Paris 1596 difficult.
The rondeau cinquain of the upper voices in Paris 2245 lacks a line in the tierce. This line can be supplied from Paris 1596, and it appears to fit into the poem. The two versions of the poem are quite different (see above), and also in this case Paris 1596 seems to represent a revision of the earlier version. For example, Paris 1596 reverses the meaning of line 8 by changing two small words “garder je veul ordre, sens et prudence” (I do want to preserve order, sense and prudence) thereby eliminating the apparent inconsistency of this line.
Comments on text and music:
The double chanson juxtaposes two poems. The contra sings the high tenor from Ockeghem’s »Fors seullement l’actente que je meure«, a rondeau cinquain in which a woman deplores her fate with an unfaithful lover (“Except for solely the expectation that I shall die, no hope remains in my weary heart ...”). However, it changes completely the female tenor’s sound and expression by indicating that it has to be sung an octave and a fifth lower than notated. This brings the unhappy woman into the bass range, F-bb. The two upper voices in normal ranges (d’-d’’ and d-f’) sing another rondeau cinquain, “Fors seullement contre ce qu’ay promys”, in which a man rather ambiguously declares that he has good friends, will be well received everywhere and shall obtain a “belle aliance”, but that he do not want to preserve order, sense nor prudence, all except only for what he has promised.
The poet has put himself into a difficult spot – he is most likely identical with the composer. The job he has set for himself incorporates, while creating an answer to the female complaint, to reuse the opening words “Fors seullement”, and he has to apply a different set of rime words in rimes léonines in order to live up to his model; here he uses the syllables “mys/mis” and “ance/ence” as the two sets of rimes. Writing within these restraints, the meaning of the poem has become quite opaque.
In particular it is difficult to understand the meaning of the poem, if we presume that it was intended for a normal rondeau performance, that is with a repeat of the first half of the refrain after the couplet, and a complete repeat of the refrain at the end. If we in stead propose that the song was created with short refrains of only one line in mind, in the same manner as much artful poetry, the opening line changes its meaning during the poem in a refined way: The fateful promise (of love/marriage or a political commitment) keeps him from all the good prospects enumerated in lines 2-7, but it restrains him from disorder, madness and shame (lines 8-9), and acknowledging his friends and their advise, he concludes that he would have renounced all honour except only for what he has promised (lines 10-16).
Richard Wexler proposed (in ‘Ockeghem and Politics’, Tijdschrift van de Koninklijke Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis 47 (1997) pp. 5-32, at p. 23) that this poem was penned by the duke Louis d’Orléans in 1484, and that it was set to music by Ockeghem with a “Canon royal” (transposition at the twelve) as a tribute to the future king Louis XII. However, as mentioned, the words “Canon” and “Royal” as well as the name of the composer are later additions to the pages of Paris 2245, and the few lines quoted by Wexler as indicative of the duke’s authorship do not reflect the complexity of the text. Therefor it seems safer to assume that the words were designed for this song by its composer, and that it happened a couple of decades earlier, in the 1460s.
In his original setting of “Fors seullement l’actente que je meure” Ockeghem avoids any disruptive formal cadences in the setting of the tenor’s first three poetic lines (bb. 10-36) keeping up the flow until the medial cadence. The composer of the double chanson, conversely, introduces a full stop in the upper voices after the first line (bb. 9-10), which the pre-existing tune on its part ignores. If the first lines alone of both poems are performed as the song’s recurrent short refrain, this refrain will end in bar 10 with a two-part perfect cadence on the mode’s finalis – the lowest voice having ended earlier (see the edition). This is an exact parallel to the two-part ending of a performance of the music of the full refrain music according to the MS Paris 2245; this is what we hear it in the song’s opening refrain and its tierce. The music does support an interpretation with short refrains.
The upper voices, superius and tenor, are composed as counter voices to the pre-existent low contra. They are clearly dependent on the cantus firmus, but still give the impression of being elegantly and freely flowing. However, the main occupation of the composer seems to have been the slightly grotesque performance of the “Fors seullement l’actente” tune and text at a very low pitch and the juxtaposition of the poems. If the rondeau cinquain by Busnoys, »Joie me fuit et douleur me queurt seure«, was an ingenious response to Ockeghem’s »Fors seulement l’actente que je meure« (see further the discussions of the two songs), in which Busnoys demonstrated that a wider palette of sound was possible within the framework set out by Ockeghem, then this double chanson may be Ockeghem’s answer to the game of Busnoys. Here the female song does not sound as a regular tenor an octave lower, but sings in a real bass voice. The fascination with the combination of “Fors seullement” and a low range sound comes into full flowering in Ockeghem’s impressive five-part Missa Fors seullement.
PWCH July 2016