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MS Florence 2794


Helas m’amour, ma tresparfecte amye 3v · Isaac, Heinrich
Helas que devera mon cuer


*Florence 229 ff. 5v-6 »Helas que devera mon cuer« 3v Henricus Yzac PDF
Florence 27 ff. 138v-139 »Helas« 3v
Petrucci 1501 ff. 55v-56 »Helas« 3v Yzac
Rome XIII.27 ff. 76v-77 »Hellas« 3v Ysach
Segovia f. 177 »Elaes« 3v Ysaac
Verona 757 ff. 20v-21 Without text 3v

For later sources and intabulations, see Brown 1983, I p. 209.

Editions: Brown 1983, II no. 6 (Florence 229); Hewitt 1942 no. 50 (Petrucci 1501); Isaac 1907, p. 75.

Text: Incipits only in all sources. The incipit in Florence 229 “Hellas que devera mon cuer” is a conflation of the two first lines of “Helas, que pourra devenir / mon cueur ....”, a rondeau cinquain, which appears in full with Caron’s setting in Dijon and Wolfenbüttel; also in Berlin 78.B.17 ff. 130-130v, ed.: Löpelmann 1927 p. 232. A different rondeau quatrain, »Helas m’amour, ma tresparfecte amye«, is found complete in Laborde with the same music by Caron; also in Berlin 78.B.17 ff. 156v, ed.: Löpelmann 1927 p. 294. For editions and translations of these poems, see the setting by Caron.

Evaluation of the sources:

The scribe of Florence 229 has entered this song with a few scribal errors. It is carefully attributed to Heinrich Isaac, and the superius and contratenor parts have been furnished with text incipits, which are more extensive than in any other source (they have variations of “Helas” only). There cannot be any doubt that the scribe associated “Helas” with the most widely circulated text (or text incipits) for Caron’s song. Consequently, Howard Mayer Brown has supplied the upper voices with this rondeau cinquain text in his complete edition of Florence 229. However, as Brown’s edition demonstrates, this poem can only be brought to fit the music by heavy editorial intervention. The short lines require word repetitions, while other lines are cramped owing to the discrepancy between the music’s four phrases and the five lines in the poem. As was the case with Caron’s song, where the rondeau quatrain poem preserved in the Laborde chansonnier matched the music better, it matches the more regular music of Isaac even better. It is probable that it was the Laborde version of Caron’s song that inspired Isaac as well as Tinctoris. This is the reason for the reconstructed version of Isaac’s reworking of Caron’s “Helas” as »Helas m’amour, ma tresparfecte amye« (see the edition).

Comments on text and music:

Reworking of Caron’s rondeau “Helas”. The relationship between the songs by Isaac and Caron has been analysed by Allan Atlas in The Cappella Giulia Chansonnier. Roma, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, C.G.XIII.27 (Musicological Studies Vol. XXVII/1-2), New York 1975-76, Vol. 1, pp. 174-177, and by Howard Mayer Brown in ‘Emulation, Competition and Homage: Imitation and Theories of Imitation in the Renaissance’, Journal of the American Musicological Society 1982, pp. 1-48, at pp. 15-21. Both of these descriptions are a bit misleading as they only describe certain aspects of the songs; Atlas primarily comments on the likeness of the upper voices, and Brown discuss the rondeau’s first section only, and puts Isaac’s reworking in a very positive light. Brown may be right that “[...] Caron’s second and third phases [...] suffer from that composer’s chief fault, a certain rhythmic woodenness caused by his too consistent movement in minims. In the equivalent passage [...], Isaac did not keep quite the same notes, but he preserved the main outlines of the melodies and brought them to life by making explicit the potential for sequences in his model, and, again, by increasing the variety of the rhythms.” (p. 19). But Caron had a reason for his “woodenness”. It sets off brilliantly what happens at the beginning of the second section of the rondeau: When the staggered descending thirds and triads in dotted values sung by all voices suddenly suspend the steady beat of the preceding long melisma. In a way, Isaac missed the point of Caron’s rondeau, when he streamlined it into a regular, systematic music typical of a younger generation. Every imitation is neat and preferably involving all three voices, the intervallic strict canons at the fifth are changed into diatonic canons, and its rhythm is steady without exciting surprises - and the whole is quite elegant. The music has been moved a generation onwards.

See also the “Helas”-settings by Caron and Tinctoris.

PWCH August 2012