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Au travail suis que peu de gens croiroient 3v · Ockeghem / Barbingant

Appearance in the group of related chansonniers:

*Dijon ff. 62v-63 »Au traveil suis que peu de gens croiroient« 3v Barbinguant · Edition · Facsimile

*Leuven ff. 31v-32 »Au travail suis que peu de gens croiroient« 3v · Edition · Facsimile

*Nivelle ff. 69v-70 »Au travail suis que peu de gens croirient« 3v Okeghem · Edition · Facsimile

*Wolfenbüttel ff. 62v-63 »Au traveil suis qui peu de gens croiroient« 3v · Edition · Facsimile

Editions: Ockeghem 1992, p. 93 (Nivelle); Gutiérrez-Denhoff 1988, no. 51 (Wolfenbüttel); Ockeghem 2002, pp. VI-VII.

Text: Rondeau quatrain; full text in all four sources.
After Leuven and Dijon:

Au travail suis que peu de gens croiroient,
on le peult bien qui veult apercevoir, (1)
maiz c’est pour ce que je ne puis veoir (2)
ma maistresse ainsi qu’aultres feroient.

Bien envieulx certes aulcuns seroient
se de sa grace du bien povoie avoir. (3)

Au travail suis que peu de gens croiroient,
on le peult bien qui veult apercevoir.

S’il m’avenoit grant douleur porteroient,
car veoir mon bien leur feroit recepvoir
mal si tresgrant que, s’il duroit pour voir,
je suis tout seur que de dueil creveroient.

Au travail suis que peu de gens croiroient,
on le peult bien qui veult apercevoir,
maiz c’est pour ce que je ne puis veoir
ma maistresse ainsi qu’aultres feroient.

I am in such trouble that few people would believe it,
even if one who wished to could easily perceive it,
it is because I cannot visit
my mistress, as others may do.

Very envious, certainly, some would be,
if I could enjoy her favour.

I am in such trouble that few people would believe it,
even if one who wished to could easily perceive it.

If that should happen, they would feel great agony,
because to see me receive my gift would give them
such great pain that, if it really lasted,
I am quite certain that they would die of grief.

I am in such trouble that few people would believe it,
even if one who wished to could easily perceive it,
it is because I cannot visit
my mistress, as others may do.

1) Nivelle, line 2, “on le puet certes aparcevoir”
2) Wolfenbüttel, line 3, “... que ne puis voir”.
3) Leuven, line 6, ”se par sa ...”, Wolfenbüttel “... ung bien povoye ...”.

Evaluation of the sources:

The text and music of this famous song is found only in four of the ‘Loire Valley’ chansonniers. Nivelle attributes it to Ockeghem, while the Dijon scribe put the name of Barbingant above his copy. It was entered into the chansonniers by their respective main copyists as part of the scribes’ original plans for their content (see further the descriptions of the single manuscripts). They all transmit the same version of the song with very few errors in text and music. However, details show that all the scribes had access to different exemplars. Dijon and Nivelle are quite close. Their differences concern coloration, ligatures and decorative notes (see e.g. superius bb. 9-10); in a few cases these differences influence the text underlay (contra bb. 11-14). In Wolfenbüttel bars 9-10 in the upper voice have a third variant of decoration, and bars 12-14 in its contra have been recomposed in a quite skilful way; maybe some notes were left out in its exemplar. Leuven brings a faultless copy that has a few unique features: In superius bars 6-7 it reverses the durations of the c''-notes (brevis-semibrevis –> semibrevis-brevis), which while creating a elegant syncopation breaks up the song’s basic rhythmic idea. The semibrevis e' in the contratenor is broken up into a dotted figure (e'-c') and in bar 20 the third note is an a, while all the others have the note g, which most probable is wrong.

The distribution of sources and the nature of the differences clearly indicate that the song was created some time before its entrance in the chansonniers, probably in the early 1460s, and that it quickly obtained great popularity and a wide circulation in the milieu around Ockeghem (and Barbingant) with the small differences in transmission as natural consequences.

Comments on text and music:

A love complaint in rich rimes léonines, close to équivoques. The music fits the tone of the refrain perfectly, the distress of the hapless lover who sees other admirers obtaining access to the adored female. Here the music's elegant lyricism accords well the meaning of the words. Less so in the following couplet and tierce when his malicious joy gets the upper hand in gloating over what grief would befall his rivals if the lady should look to his side.

“Au travail suis” is composed for a high-range voice (c'-e''), which carries most of the melodic interest of the song, and a tenor and contratenor in the same range an octave below (c-f'). The first and last lines involve canonic imitation at the octave between superius and tenor. The opening presents the very characteristic motive, which clearly defines the Hypodorian mode on a, in all three voices. The continuation is so short that it does not leave the contratenor time (and notes) to finish the first text line after its modified entry. In the fourth line the tenor opens the imitation (bb. 16 ff), and at the end all three voices participate in a stretto-like canonic rush to the cadence.

The mensuration is perfect, and tenor and contratenor come in after the perfection’s three beats, and in the piece as a whole the perfections add up nicely. However, the notation hides a much more refined play with the rhythm in performance. The words “Au travail suis” cannot help sounding as if the music starts with an upbeat in all three voices and displaces its main accent. The first line wavers between triple and triple time, and after the voices all have come to a standstill on the brevis in bar 6 (Leuven disregards the effect), the feel of the mensuration has changed into tempus imperfectum. The middle lines (bb. 6-15) could be re-barred in double time. In this way the cadence to G in the third line (b. 15) falls on a strong beat, not on the perfection’s last semibrevis. But there is no time to dwell on the cadence note, the tenor “restarts” the perfection with the words “ma maistresse” by quoting the opening of an older song by Ockeghem, »Ma maistresse et ma plus qu’autre amye« (bb. 16-17), and the superius follows it an octave higher after one beat extending slightly modified the quote by two bars. By modifying the rhythmic feel in the preceding lines and shortening the cadence the composer sets the stage for the quote – highlighting its entrance. (1)

The chansonniers Dijon and Nivelle are equal in credibility when it comes to composer attributions. The question of authorship has been touched on many times in the literature without any clear consensus. I prefer to attribute this song to Ockeghem for the following reasons:

– “Au travail suis” emphatically quotes an early song by Ockeghem written around 1450, »Ma maistresse et ma plus qu’autre amye«. Ockeghem later used this bergerette as model for his four-part Missa Ma maistresse of which only the two first sections have survived (ed. in Ockeghem 1959, vol. 1, and Ockeghem 2002).

– The tenor of “Au travail suis” is quoted complete transposed down a fifth in the Kyrie of Ockeghem’s four-part Missa Au travail suis, which otherwise is freely composed on the song’s opening motive (ed. in Ockeghem 1959, vol. 1, and Ockeghem 2002). The transposed song is placed in a very low tenor, which co-operates with a bassus in the same range, often crossing above the tenor, in a way retaining the voice disposition of the song. The triple time of the song has in the mass Kyrie been transformed into double time (tempus imperfectum) and thereby the performed version of the song tenor has been recreated in the Kyrie including the upbeat beginning, the stop at the end of the song’s bar 6 (end of Kyrie I), the shortened final note in the G cadence in bar 15 (end of Christe), and the sudden entry of the quote from “Ma mastresse”. The mass and the rondeau could very well have been composed during the same period and participate in a complex web of self-references.  

– The attributions in Dijon and Nivelle are not really equal in weight. In Dijon the attribution to “Barbinguant” comes among a series of songs, of which several have Busnoys’ name attached. In Nivelle “Au travail suis” appears under Ockeghem’s name on ff. 69v-70 in a series attributed songs, one by Du Fay, two each by Delahaye and Ockeghem, and directly preceding “Au travail suis” we find Barbingant’s »Esperant que mon bien vendra« (ff. 68v-79; see further the description of the MSS). This implies that the Nivelle scribe (or his exemplar) was conscious of the identities of the two different musicians.

– The ‘Loire Valley’ chansonniers contains two French chansons by Barbingant, which attest to his standing in the millieu. »L’omme banny de sa plaisance« was widely circulated and Barbingant’'s authorship was confirmed by Tinctoris in Liber imperfectionum notarum musicalium of 1474-75, »Esperant que mon bien vendra« is found only in the Dijon, Leuven and NIvelle chansonniers. The two songs are closely related in style (see the editions), very unlike “Au travail suis”, and they must be dated quite a bit earlier.

– A quote from “Au travail suis” opens Loyset Compere’s quodlibet rondeau »Au travail suis sans espoir de confort« whose superius consists of textual and musical quotes of well-known chansons. Six songs are used. The other five are two by Du Fay, two by Ockeghem and Hayne van Ghizeghem’s megahit »De tous biens plaine est ma maistresse«. In view of the close relation between Ockeghem and Compere, it seems most probable that the younger composer considered “Au travail suis” as a song by the leader of the French court chapel.

PWCH June 2021


1) David Fallows preferred Barbingant as the composer of “Au travail suis” and proposed that the quoting was the other way round, that Ockeghem in “Ma maistresse” quoted Barbingant. The more than ten years between the sources as well as between the stylistic profiles of the songs make this hypothesis untenable; see David Fallows, ‘Johannes Ockeghem. The changing image, the songs and a new source’, Early Music 1984, pp. 218-230 (at 223-225).