Attaingnant and Du Chemin: Competition or Cooperation?

The year 1549 marks the last time that Pierre Attaingnant printed new music by Janequin, and the first time that Nicolas Du Chemin did so. It was the end of one era and the beginning of a new, or so it would seem. What we observe, however, is not a tidy parting of the ways with the one printer and a clean start with the other, but rather a period of transition where Janequin’s works continue to be published by both printers. This applies not only to works by Janequin: in the two or three-year period between the start of music printing by Du Chemin and the death of Attaingnant, significant amounts of music are shared, effectively raising the question—what exactly was the relationship between the two publishing houses?

What would seem to be Nicolas du Chemin’s very first print appeared on the 15th of May 1549.[1] This was Janequin’s 28 Pseaumes, a collection that Janequin had every reason to hope would be financially rewarding. Exactly one week later, on the 22nd of May, Pierre Attaingnant brought out Trente & ungyesme livre … de la facture et composition de Maistre Clement Ienequin, containing thirty previously unpublished chansons by the master. Are these brand-new works just out of the composer’s bulging briefcase? Or are these works, long since remunerated, that Attaingnant has been sitting on, petulantly waiting for the right moment to steal Du Chemin’s psalm-collection thunder? Or, after thirty-plus years of loyal cooperation with Attaingnant, does Janequin have one foot in each camp? What seems clear is that something is going on that involves both printers. On the 3rd of December 1549, Attaingnant published a collection of old favorites under the title Second livre contenant xxix chansons esleues. In the same year, Du Chemin printed the Second livre du recueil contenant xxvii chansons antiques, containing twenty-three of the same chansons as the Attaingnant print. On the 14th of February 1550, a volume with the title Premier livre des chansons esleves was printed by Attaingnant where eighteen of thirty selections are shared with a Du Chemin collection from 1551 with the title Premier livre du recueil. Again on the 1st of July, 1550, Attaingnant printed the Tiers livre contenant xxviii chansons esleves, in a collection where twenty-three of twenty-eight chansons were identical to those found in Du Chemin’s Tiers livre du recueil from the same year.[2]

A certain amount of repertorial duplication can be reasonably attributed to error or carelessness. This would seem to be the case with LM148 “Quand contremont,” a charming small jewel that pledges love and devotion until rivers run upstream, fish fly, and crows start clothing themselves in white. Originally published in Attaingnant’s 31 livre of May 22, 1549, it turns up again in a collection of “new” chansons printed by Du Chemin sometime before the 24th of July of 1550,[3] together with six other chansons by Janequin that in fact had not been previously published. It may have been that Janequin or Du Chemin was inordinately fond of “Quand contremont.” What is more likely is simply that when Janequin went to his pile of unpublished chansons, he failed to notice that one of them no longer belonged to that category, an error repeated by those responsible for enforcing the letter of the royal privileges.

A more comprehensive explanation is needed, however, for the other fifty-eight chansons that Du Chemin and Attaingnant share in this period. How does it happen that the same repertory shows up in collections from both the old, established Attaingnant and the new guy in town, Du Chemin? The cut-to-the chase, Occam’s-razor answer is: “Simple. They were stolen.” Noting that the monopoly on printing privileges ceased to exist after the death of Francis I, Attaingnant biographer Daniel Heartz states that Du Chemin “pirated” nearly the entire second volume of the Chansons esleves.[4]

What we now would call “theft” certainly occurred in the early days of printing, and with not overly much imagination, we can construct a scenario in which Nicole Regnes could have been at the center of an uncomfortable publishing dispute. Charged by his new employer (Du Chemin) with assembling a series of anthologies with a nostalgic profile,[5] Regnes put together collections from what he knew best and what was most readily available—namely a cross-section of works previously printed by Attaingnant. Having become aware of what was happening, and having obtained no satisfaction from his protests, Attaingnant then sought to pull the rug from under Regnes and Du Chemin by publishing his own versions of this material, preferably in advance of the competition. The contours of competing collections of previously published material can easily be read into the titles that have survived, and if we remain conscious of the fact that what has survived is surely not all that was printed, then it is possible to construct a printing chronology where all three units of both series were printed sometime in late 1549 and early 1550.[6]

Before we decide, based on a rich flora of reprints and parallel publishing, that sixteenth-century music printers were by and large thieves and men of little honor, a couple of caveats deserve to be considered. The first is that our modern perceptions of ownership of creative activity were only in their first stages of development. Credit and remuneration systems for printed works could only be worked out post-Gutenberg, and it took several generations before a sense of what was appropriate and what was not became generally accepted. When a printer published a piece of music originally from a collection by another printer, it was not necessarily with the intention of defrauding either the composer or the original publisher. Quite possibly the editor considered that he was doing the composer a service by making his works known to a larger audience, and that he was doing the general public a service by taking upon himself the economic risk of publishing the piece anew, especially if the piece was not currently available (out of print, or from a far-away publisher). Not all reprintings were of this noble flavor, perhaps, but a knee-jerk cry of “thief” is a bit facile. In the case at hand, for example, we really have no hard evidence as to which of the two versions of the 1549 Second livres came first. We know that Attaingnant’s version is dated the 3rd of December 1549. We have no way of knowing whether Du Chemin’s edition, also dated 1549, came in the months before Attaingnant’s version, or in the weeks after. Perhaps it was Attaingnant who was the thief?

The second caveat is that theft is not the only alternative. There is also consent, coincidence, and cooperation. Coincidence may cover a number of small or isolated incidents, but it is clearly not applicable when two collections in a row share the same works. Consent, on the other hand, is a perfectly viable alternative. Instead of imagining that Du Chemin and Attaingnant scowled at each other and crossed to the opposite side of Rue St. Jacques to avoid meeting, we can permit ourselves a fantasy where one of them visits the shop of the other with a mutually beneficial business proposition upon which they then reach agreement.

Indeed, it is not impossible to imagine a set of circumstances where Janequin’s entire transition from Attaingnant to Du Chemin, including the parallel editions, was a result not of conflict, competition, and questionable ethics, but of cooperation and mutual benefit. In 1547, Attaingnant was growing old, and had been through a heart-wrenching period where he lost both his wife and his son-in-law. Under these conditions, it would only be natural for Attaingnant to be asking himself questions about how much longer he wanted to stay in business. If Attaingnant the music printer held Du Chemin the book printer in respect, and if Attaingnant saw the contours of the end of an institution, his institution, then at some point Attaingnant could very well have suggested that if he (Du Chemin) would consider helping to carry this tradition further, then he (Attaingnant) would do what he could to help.

In the same spirit of loyalty and honesty, Attaingnant may at some point have told Janequin that while he (Janequin) was in full composing vigor and ready for new challenges, he (Attaingnant) was old and tired, and couldn’t promise Janequin the kind of support and opportunities that he had given in the past. In 1545, Attaingnant had published just ten chansons by Janequin. In 1546, none at all. In 1547 the number rose to seventeen, then fell back to only one chanson in 1548. When Janequin arrived in Paris in 1549, he clearly had with him a sizable cache of unpublished chansons, because in that same year, Attaingnant published forty-two of his chansons, all of them brand new. This may be construed as a sign of renewed vigor and extraordinary effort on the part of both men. Or, as I am disposed to think, this was a body of work that Janequin had been accumulating as part of his Parisian nest egg, and that Attaingnant agreed to publish as a closing gesture in a long friendship, together with a friendly and well-meant counsel that whatever more he had ready, it could be offered, with his blessings, to Nicolas du Chemin.

The last Janequin chanson that Pierre Attaingnant published came from his presses on the 10th of November 1549, and was entitled “Cent bayses au departir, bouchette friande.” The “hot lips” part of the title is not, perhaps, particularly relevant, but “One hundred kisses at our parting” is not totally inappropriate for ending a working relationship that had lasted the better part of twenty years and in which around 180 chansons saw the light of day. Attaingnant died sometime at the end of 1551 or the beginning of 1552.[7] His widow issued sporadic volumes until 1558, but the strength and vigor of Attaingnant’s establishment died with him.

  1. Du Chemin normally dated his collections with the year of publication only. Janequin’s 28 Psalms collection is an exception, since Janequin’s preface is dated the 15th of May. In the Lesure/Thibault catalogue of Du Chemin’s music prints, the editors have assigned the 28 Psalms catalogue numbers 1 and 2, which can be taken to imply that this collection was Du Chemin’s first. Some (or all, for that matter) of the remaining collections dated 1549 may have preceded the 28 Psalms, not to mention the possibility that some of Du Chemin’s first efforts have been lost (a 1. livre … chansons novelles, for example, or a 1. livre … chansons anciennes).
  2. The Attaingnant Tiers livre prints two old favorites by Janequin, LM82 “Plus ne suys” and LM93 “Si de bon cueur.” Du Chemin adds to these LM100 “Ouvrez moy l’huys.” Nothing reliable about a possible chronology for the two prints can be abstracted from these additions.
  3. The chanson is in the 6. livre. The following 7. livre is dated July 24, 1550.
  4. Daniel Heartz, “Parisian Music Publishing under Henry II: A Propos of Four Recently Discovered Guitar Books,” The Musical Quarterly XLVI, no. 4 (October 1, 1960): 452.
  5. In the contract between Du Chemin and Regnes of October 10, 1548, Regnes is charged with procuring a sizable amount of music by the 31st of December 1548. The contract can be understood to mean that this was music of Regnes’ own making, but a reading that sees Regnes as a collector of possible pieces accords better with his modest production as composer.
  6. The titles and numbering of the collections named above show that both editors were intent on presenting a series of anthologies. The impression that the volumes that have been preserved appear in the wrong order (the surviving Attaingnant prints run no. 2, no. 1, no. 3, while the surviving Du Chemin prints run no. 2, no. 3, no. 1) is perhaps more apparent than real. Both printers would have numbered their series consecutively, retaining the original titles both in cases when they published versions in two and in four volumes, and in reprinted versions when stocks ran low.
  7. Heartz, Pierre Attaingnant, Royal Printer of Music, University of California Press, 1969, p. 166.