“Une Deesse en ce temps cy”

This chanson shows up in the second book of Jacques Moderne’s Le difficile de chansons (RISM 1544-9) with an attribution to “Iennecquin.” It is the only attribution to Janequin in the collection, which is otherwise a rich source of works by Henri Fresneau, thought to have been a townsman of Moderne in Lyon. Samuel Pogue allowed the attribution to Janequin to stand, although he expressed some surprise that Janequin set a text containing what he viewed as a typically Lyonnais reference to “planting the May.”[1]

Francois Lesure, on the other hand, is not impressed at all. Never particularly appreciative of Moderne’s relaxed attitudes toward borrowing and editorial loose ends, Lesure clearly deems this isolated reference as insufficient, and puts “Une Deesse” outside of the good company Unfortunately, Lesure, usually a model of clarity and precision, does so in this case in a way that creates some loose ends of his own. His first reference to the work is in the general introduction to the Chansons polyphoniques, in which he simply states that the editors regard the piece as “doubtful” without elaborating their reasons (other than inferring Moderne’s general untrustworthiness.)[2] In his revue of Pogue’s book on Moderne, Lesure goes further. First he states rather baldly that the second volume of the Difficile series belongs in 1540, and not 1544, and then he goes on to identify the real author of “Une Deesse” as “Clemens” (non Papa), but gives no printer, date or name of collection as a basis for this assertion.[3]

Lesure’s skepticism about Moderne is understandable, as the Lyon printer’s track record on Janequin is less than impressive. It starts in 1532 with the (certainly unauthorized) transformation of Janequin’s theatre piece about the Battle of Marignan into movements for the mass, continues with a couple of misattributed borrowings from Attaingnant’s 1538-11,[4] and then steals (reprints) massively in 1540 and 1541, when 27 chansons, including some of the big program chansons, were pirated from Attaingnant. Aside from reprints of his own pirated editions, publications of Janequin by Moderne tail off after this, comprising mostly instrumental arrangements in tablature of some of the more popular works. All in all, not an authoritative source for Janequin attributions.

Making a case for “Une Deesse” is not made any easier by the fact that the chanson has survived only in incomplete form (the superius and tenor voices are preserved in Augsburg[5] and the altus in Paris[6]) which puts paid to any really secure stylistic analysis. This being so, all that can be done is to marshal what little evidence exists and see if it leads anywhere. From the point of view of genre, text, cleffing, tessitura, and general harmonic, melodic and rhythmic practice, there is nothing in “Une Deese” which screams for exclusion. Pogue’s point about the Lyon connection in the text seems a bit stretched on two grounds. First, texts did travel in this period: courtiers, merchants and churchmen put things in their kits and moved about the country, and composers, ever hungry to find clever new texts to set, were unlikely daunted by vague local references. Second, it seems likely that the relatively generic phrase “planter le mai” (ms. 10-11) had other and broader meanings not confined only to Lyon and to the tradition to which Pogue refers where a tree, it’s branches decked with laudatory verses, was planted in front of the house of a deserving townsman.

Bearing in mind the essential untrustworthiness of attribution by style, especially in cases like this where the material is incomplete, there are some features in “Une Deesse” which do not exactly run in its favor: (1) Janequin frequently alternates duple and triple time for rhetorical effect, but seldom begins with triple time unless it is the primary meter through the course of the whole chanson; (2) except when letting birds chirp or dogs bark, long chains of semi-static eighth notes like those found in the tenor in measures 7-8 are not a Janequin hallmark; (3) The voice leading, as in the altus in measure 11, is occasionally less than elegant; (4) the amount of voice crossing is somewhat over the mean for Janequin; and (5) the piece ends with a third in the final chord, instead of the far more frequent (at least for Janequin) open fifth. All of this is patently unfair, both in the light of the missing bass part, and what has been previously maintained about the necessity to allow room for the variety of Janequin’s compositional approaches. Nevertheless, until some happy archival discovery provides us with the missing bass line, or a confirming concordance, it looks like “Une Deesse” is condemned to remain on the outside looking in.

  1. Pogue1969:67, note 2.
  2. Lesure/Merritt1965:Vol I, p. vi.
  3. Lesure1969:233. This attribution is not corroborated by Bernet Kempers 1961.
  4. “Une fillette bien gorrierre” (Clemens) and “Laras tu cela “ (Bon Voisin).
  5. Augsburgs Staats und Stadt bibliotek, Tonk Schl 132-133.
  6. Bnp Res Vmc 13.