“L’espoir que j’ay”

In 1937, French organist and composer Jean Alain (1911-1937) wrote a piece which has become a staple of the organ repertory called “Variations on a theme by Clement Jannequin.”[1] The theme has since been identified as stemming from a chanson entitled “L’espoir que j’ay” published by Attainangnant without attribution on folio iii of Trente et une chanson musicales (RISM 1529-2) immediately following a chanson (LM9 “My levay”) attributed to Janequin.

Alain is often— and unfairly— assigned responsibility for moving “L’espoir que j’ay” from its anonymous status to the Janequin canon. Credit for this salto, however, belongs to the Alsatian composer Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin (1821-1910), who in 1853 included a harmonization of “L’espoir que j’ay” in his Echos du temps passé: Recueil de chansons, noëls, madrigaux, brunettes, etc., du XIIème au XVIIIème siècle, suivis de chansons populaires.[2] Although Weckerlin’s adaptation for solo voice and piano ranges far afield from the Attaingnant original, the musical and textual parentage is clear enough, and Weckerlin reinforces the venerability of his inspiration by adding a familiar and respected name[3] to his chanson source, identifying his model as a “Chanson de Clément Jannequin.

Why did he do so? The simplest explanation is that he did so by mistake. 29 of 31 entries in Trente et une chanson are attributed, among which five are identified as being by Janequin (or Jennequin, variant spellings in one and the same print not being foreign to sixteenth century practice) and in a moment of carelessness, Weckerlin confused the chansons which were attributed to Janequin with one which was not.

A more intriguing scenario is that Weckerlin was well aware that no attribution to Janequin appears on folio iii, but that he had reason to believe that the attribution to Janequin on the facing page (folio ii verso) also applied to “L’espoir que j’ay”. This is the so-called “piece-after-rule” in which 16th century composer attributions apply to subsequent pieces until a new attribution is introduced. For this phenomenon (which occurs in 16th century prints often enough to be noticed but not consistently enought to be relied on) to enjoy a degree of credibility, a corroborating concordance would provide welcome reinforcement.

Unfortunately, no such concordance is known to exist. Equally damaging in the case of “L’espoir que j’ay” is that the chanson, as it appears in Attaingnant’s collection, has a series of features which are not in the least characteristic of Janequin’s usual procedures, including (1) an initial chord containing a non-diatonic tone, in this case, the Eb in the altus; (2) the direct juxtaposition of triple (altus, measures 9 and 11) and duple meter (the remaining voices in the same measures); (3) the presence of a third in the final chord not part of a plagal cadence; and (4) an overall structure (AABA) in which the initial material is repeated both at the beginning and again as a conclusion. I am normally reticent in the extreme about using stylistic criteria in establishing authenticity for the creative and wide-ranging Janequin, but in the case of “L’espoir que j’ay” I am forced to admit that if something should one day turn up in support of Weckerlin’s attribution, I would be more than a little surprised.

  1. “Variations sur un thème de Clément Jannequin” (AWV99) Edited by Helga Schauerete-Mauabouet in J. Alain, Complete Organ Works, Vol. I, Bärenreiter, 2011.
  2. Durand, Schoenewerk & Co., Paris.
  3. Janequin was a la mode in Paris in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s, thanks in large part to concerts directed by the Prince of Moscow. (See article in the Legacy section)