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Il sera pour vous conbatu / L’omme armé 3v · Anonymous (Ockeghem? / Du Fay?)


*New Haven 91 ff. 44v-45 »Il sera pour vous conbatu / L’omme arme« 3v · Edition · Facsimile

*Rome 2856 ff. 156v-157 »Lom arme« 4v (+B; arrangement) Borton · Edition · Facsimile

This page with editions as a PDF

Edition: Perkins 1979 no. 34 (New Haven 91).

Text: Rondeau quatrain in the superius combined with a popular stanza in tenor and contratenor; full text in New Haven 91.


Il sera pour vous conbatu 1)
le doubte Turcq, Maistre Symon,
certainement ce sera mon,
et de crocq de arche abatu.

Son orgueil tenons abatu,
s’il chiet en voz mains, le felon.

Il sera pour vous conbatu
le doubte Turcq, Maistre Symon

En peu de heure l’ares batu
au plaisir Dieu, puis dira on:
“Vive Symonet le Breton
que sur le Turcq s’est enbatu!”

Il sera pour vous conbatu
le doubte Turcq, Maistre Symon,
certainement ce sera mon,
et de crocq de arche abatu.

Tenor and contratenor:

L’omme armé doibt on doubter
– et l’omme armé.
On a fait partout crier
– a l’assault –
que chescun se doibt armer
d’un haubregon de fer.
L’omme armé doibt on doubter.


He will be attacked by you
the feared Turk, Master Symon,
 – certainly this will surely happen –
and put down by hook or crook.

We hold that his pride will be humbled,
if he falls in your hand, the felon.

He will be attacked by you
the feared Turk, Master Symon.

In a short time you will have beaten him
to God’s pleasure, then it will be said:
“Long live little Symon le Breton
who has fallen upon the Turk!”

He will be attacked by you
the feared Turk, Master Symon,
 – certainly this will surely happen –
and put down in every way.


The armed man is to be feared
– and the armed man.
Everywhere the cry is raised
– charge! –
that everyone must protect himself
with an iron shirt.
The armed man is to be feared.

1) Line 1, the intended meaning must be ”par vous”

Evaluation of the sources:

This three-voice double chanson can be found in the Mellon chansonnier (New Haven, Breinecke Library, MS 91), which was made in Naples in the mid 1470s. Here it appears without any indication of its creator, but it is very carefully copied with a couple of small insecurities in the contratenor only and with a complete text underlay in all voices including repetitions. Obviously, it was important that the subtle interplay of the words in the different voices was presented accurately.

In an Italian source from the 1480s, Roma, Biblioteca Casanatense, ms. 2856, the song appears in a four-voice arrangement without text, “Lom arme”, ascribed to the unknown “Borton”. It retains the original’s three voice parts with a few changes forced by a newly composed “Bassus” (see the editions). The name on the top of the page has led many scholars to ascribe the original double chanson to Robert Morton who served in the Burgundian chapel in the years 1457-1476. It is difficult to understand why this elegant chanson composer should be associated with Borton’s clumsy arrangement. Only a fast tempo can disguise its infelicities.

Comments on text and music:

The poem sung by the upper voice is a rondeau quatrain in artful rich rimes, very close to equivoques. It is making fun at the aging singer of the Burgundian chapel, Simon le Breton. He is expected to go to war against the Turks who had overrun Constantinople in 1453 – and beat them to the delight of everyone and God. Tenor and contratenor present a popular song, a call to weapons against the “l’homme armé / armed man", a song that during this period became a touchstone for every musician to use in composing polyphonic masses – in fierce competition. The tune is carried by the tenor – with a short shift to the contratenor in bars 9-11. Its fanfare motives are constantly imitated between the two low voices, which gives the setting an enormous rhythmic drive.

The tempo is fast, and the text declamation is fast too and mostly syllabic with many syllables placed on minima note values – the beat being on the perfect semibrevis. Great care has been taken to make the words heard, the rondeau’s as well as those of the popular song. For stretches the staggering of motives cause the repeated words “L’omme” and “a l’assault” to produce a carpet of sound above which the rondeau text soars.

The “L’homme armé” tune is in simple ABA form. The rondeau’s first section is coupled with its A-section (bb. 1-7). In the second section the third rondeau line is delivered very fast (bb. 8-9) making its continuation (bb. 10-12) proceed without text – just sung on “mon / -ton” – in order to make space for the important lines in the popular song’s B-section: “que chescun se doibt armer / d’un haubregon de fer”. In accordance with the returning A-section of the popular tune, the last line of the rondeau refrain mirrors the opening line.

The joke has been constructed with finesse and precision. By integrating its three voices in a rhythmically sparkling triple time enlivened by hemiola effects it creates a sound picture unforgettable when heard only once.

In the vast literature on the “L’omme armé” complex of compositions it has often been remarked that the poor Simon – driven forward by the repeated shouts of “a l’assault" inserted into the song – was further ridiculed by attacking the Turks with a stalk of celery. This, however, is a misunderstanding of the rondeau’s fourth line “et de crocq de arche abatu”. The meaning of the phrase “de croq et de hanche” as used by Martin le Franc and Charles d’Orléans is simply “by any means”.

There has been much speculation about who among the colleagues of Simon le Breton composed this witty piece. Obviously, it is the work of a first-rank composer. The song has long been known under Robert Morton’s name, a younger colleague of Simon le Breton in the Burgundian chapel, but also Antoine Busnoys has been promoted as its composer. Alejandro E. Planchart prefers Guillaume Du Fay as the most credible creator of the song. (1) He was contemporary with Simon le Breton, and since the 1430s both men were canons at the cathedral in Cambrai. From the 1440s Simon had a house near Du Fay in Cambrai, where he often spent tine until he in 1464 retired from the Burgundian court and moved permanently to Cambrai. Du Fay had many opportunities to entertain his old friend with a new playful song on a theme that was becoming like a craze in the most ambitious mass music in the years around and after 1460. Its musical style, poetic language and technical perfection fits perfectly into Du Fay’ known works.

Leeman L. Perkins has pointed out the close relationship between “Il sera pour vous / L’omme armé” and Ockeghem’s »L’autre d’antan l’autrier passa«. (2) Ockeghem’s three-part rondeau is stylistically modelled on the double chanson as a sort of response:

- It turns the poetic text and the situation described upside-down. Instead of a mock attack and victory over the fearsome Turk “L’autre d’antan” sings of a defeat in a mock battle against a woman.

- It clearly alludes to the “L’homme armé” tune in its rhythmically distinct signals, and Ockeghem creates an illusion of the tune’s ABA form by quoting the opening imitation in the rondeau’s last line.

– Both chansons have a bright Mixolydian sound with the voices keeping entirely to hexachords on G and C.

– Both use the unusual mensuration “C3”: in “Il sera pour vous” on the tempus level designating tempus imperfectum with two perfect semibreves in each brevis and in  “L’autre d’antan” on the modus level designating minor modus with two perfect breves in each longa and doubled speed. If “Il sera pour vous” had been notated in double note values their similarity would have been visually more striking:

Ex. 1, “Il sera pour vous conbatu / L’omme armé” (in doubled note values).

Ex. 2, Ockeghem, “L’autre d’antan l’autrier passa”.

In fact, the two songs are so close that one could suspect that Ockeghem was the author of both. This could explain the use of “C3” in “Il sera pour vous”. In his early Missa L’homme armé Ockeghem had used the tune in the same shape notated in tempus imperfectum cum prolatione perfecta, graphically written as a C with a dot inside. (3) In the mass this sign means that the notes has to be augmented or sung in doubled note values. To avoid any ambiguities, he may have chosen the equivalent “C3" for the chanson setting of the tune, which does not evoke any associations with augmentation.

Of course, the two songs may have been brought forth more or less simultaneously. For example, when Ockeghem in June 1462 or in February-March 1444 visited Du Fay in Cambrai and stayed in his house. (4) Who knows what the two musical dignitaries discussed over bottles of fine Burgundian wine.

Much has been made of the song belonging to the Burgundian court circles with references to the call for a crusade against the Turks late in the 1450s. It could just as well be a French creation making fun at the Burgundian craze for crusade. We must not overlook the fact that the aging, serving in the Burgundian chapel for ages, Simon le Breton, may have been chosen as its target just because “Breton" and “Simon” rimes and is easy to fit into a short-lined rondeau.

Still, no firm evidence can support any ascription to Ockeghem or Du Fay, so we must let the song remain anonymous.

PWCH February 2023

1) Alejandro Enrique Planchart, ‘The Origins and Early History of L’homme armé’, The Journal of Musicology 20 (2003), pp. 305-357.

2) Cf. Leeman L. Perkins, ‘The L’homme armé Masses of Busnoys and Ockeghem: A Comparison’, Journal of Musicology 3 (1984) pp. 363-396 (at pp. 372-275).

3) J. Ockeghem (ed. Dragan Plamenac), Collected Works I-II. New York 1959-1966, vol. 1, pp. 99-116; Johannes Ockeghem (ed. Jaap van Benthem, Missa L’homme armé (Masses and Mass Sections, fascicle II,2). Utrecht 1999.

4) Cf. Craig Wright, ‘Dufay at Cambrai: Discoveries and Revisions’, Journal of the American Musicological Society 28 (1975) pp. 175-229 (att pp. 108 and 117). See also my introduction to Johannes Ockeghem, Missa Quinti toni. Edited with an introduction by Peter Woetmann Christoffersen (June 2021).