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“Nous bergiers et nous bergieres”

This bouncy entertainment shows up first in a layer of shepherd songs in the manuscript Florence117 (ca.1515-1520) without composer attribution.[1] It appears again in a thoroughly garbled state on page 249 of the manuscript Copenhagen 1848 (Lyon, ca. 1525) after which it was printed by Scotto in Venice in 1535 in Il primo libro de la canzone francese.[2] A loosely rhymed chanson à refrain, the musical setting makes extensive use of voice pairing as well as shifts between duple and triple meter, and could well have been based on a pre-existent popular melody.[3]

What makes this interesting for us is the assignment of “Nous bergiers” in the Copenhagen manuscript to one “Tomas Janequin,” an attribution known only from this source and from a possibly derivative lute-arrangement dated a decade late.[4] Our confidence in the Copenhagen scribe, however, is not enhanced by the confused presentation of the chanson: the copyist seems to have been under the impression that he was working with a piece for three voices, and enters the piece without the bass part, giving performers little hope of making musical sense of what remains. In addition, only the middle of the remaining three voices is texted, which means that where there is voice pairing featuring the tenor (untexted) and the bass (lacking), those segments of the text are missing altogether.

How much credence should be accorded a scribe whose level of familiarity with his material was clearly not optimal? Not a lot, obviously, from Lesure and Merritt, who exclude “Nous bergiers,” and Christoffersen agrees.[5] The argument is threefold: (1) the name is wrong; (2) there are no concordant attributions from printers in whom we have particular confidence, like Attaingnant; (3) the style is wrong. Weighty arguments, making our editors understandably reticent. And yet…

I think we can agree that there was never a composer named Tomas Janequin. There was necessarily a composer, however, and a rather adept one at that. Was our Lyon scribe possibly confusing Janequin with Thomas Crequillon? Crequillon was an almost exact contemporary of Janequin, but is nonetheless not a promising candidate. Connected with the Hapsburg court, his works begin appearing in print only in the 1540’s, and his style tended more to counterpoint than the transparent clarity which marks “Nous bergiers.” While the Copenhagen scribe was clearly using sources which encompassed pieces by Janequin[6], no other works by Crequillon figure in Cop 1848 with which “Nous bergiers” might have been confused.

Thus the Lyon collection has the last name right, but the first name botched? By the time the Copenhagen manuscript was being assembled (ca. 1525 according to Christoffersen), our scribe could hardly have avoided hearing, or at least hearing about, the ubiquitous “Battle of Marignan” and occasionally, in that connection, the name of that piece’s composer.[7] That the battle chanson was enjoying extensive popularity in courtly and musical circles in the 1520’s does not mean, however, that the name of the composer – especially in the years before it began to appear regularly on the covers of printed music books – had achieved anything close to house-hold-word status. On the contrary, as testify large numbers of surviving manuscripts (not to mention a significant amount of early printed music) composer attribution frequently fell by the wayside, and our scribe, who as we have seen, was subject to the occasional error, may have been unfamiliar with Janequin’s first name and simply got it wrong.

That leaves the question of style. Christoffersen is absolutely correct when he notes that “Nous bergiers” and the two pieces in Cop1848 accepted by Lesure and Merritt have little in common. LM1 “Reconfortez” and LM8 “Assouvy suis” both smack of the old-fashioned Rhetoriquer style–linear and even a bit pompous–in contradistinction to “Nous bergiers,” which is light, feisty and almost dance-like. The amount of voice-pairing present in “Nous bergiers” is certainly not typical of many of Janequin’s later chansons and the direct and transparent texture, with its en bloc shifts from duple to triple are a far cry from the linear, imitative textures Janequin employs in LM1 “Reconfortez le petit cueur de moy.” “Nous bergiers” looks old-fashioned, but in a different way than “Reconfortez” and “Assouvy”, and its playful duets would be at home with “popular” arrangements by Févin and Compère.

Nevertheless! If there is anything that is true about Janequin’s style, it is that it absolutely resists categorization. Labelling a piece as “typical Janequin” is always dangerous, since the very next example we examine (absolutely authenticated with multiple concordances and from a trusted printer) may be totally different, vertical where its counterpart was linear, homophonic where it’s predecessor was imitative, serious where it’s mate was flippant, short instead of long, triple instead of duple and so on, ad infinitum. If we are to reject “Nous bergiers” because it uses voice-pairings, then perhaps we need to review our take on LM13 “Je ne fus jamais sy aise” which starts things rolling with exactly the same technique. And what should we make of LM23 “La plus belle de la ville,” a chanson a refrain in the same transparent texture, to say nothing of LM20 “Ma fille ma mere.” Shall we toss out LM19 “De labourer je suys cassé” because of shifts from duple to triple and back?

If “Nous bergiers” is by Janequin, how do we explain it’s checkered transmission history? Getting “Nous bergiers” to Florence (and on the way, to Lyon as) is certainly not insurmountable. I propose booking passage in the entourage of Lorenzo II de Medici, on his way home from the Loire valley in June of 1518 after his marriage to Madelein de la Tour d’Auvergne. Albert Seay has identified two chansons which were written particularly for this event[8] and there is every reason to believe that the nuptials were celebrated with a full accoutrement of musical accompaniements, both sacred and secular. June of 1518 is two and a half years after the presumed first sucesses of Janequin’s “La guerre” at court, and a success of the dimensions of “La guerre” may well have carried in its orbit a handful of collateral contributions, of which “Nous bergiers” was one.

  1. No. 42, ff 50v-51.
  2. RISM1535-8. The missing tenor part for the Scotto edition has recently surfaced at the University of Virginia: see Paul Walker and Rya Martin “A long-lost partbook…” Notes 7/I (2014) 35-61. The chanson also apears (anonymously) in the later manuscript Munich 1503a and in a series of lute arrangements printed in Milan 1536, 1536-11 and 1546-9. There are a number of other settings which bear textual and musical resemblances, including by Regnes in Attaingnant 1535sup nr 1 (a3), Gallus in Susato 1543-5 f.14v (a5), Gombert in Susato 1545-13 f.2v (a5) reprinted by LeRoy&Ballard f.36 in 1572-2, Certon (a6) in DuChemin 1570 pp 101-102 and in the manuscript Uppsala 76c, ff. 113-114v (a6).
  3. Transcribed Christoffersen1994:205-207.
  4. Sultzbach 1536-16
  5. Christoffersen 1994:I, p. 203
  6. LM1 “Reconfortez” (no.168, pp276-77) and LM8 “Assouvy suis” (no.35, p.71) are both anonymous in Cop1848 but have attributions to Janequin in subsequent Attaingnant prints.
  7. “La guerre” was known in Italy by 1522, so it would certainly have been the topic of conversation in Lyon previous to that.
  8. See Seay1973:326