Nicolle des Celliers de Hesdin and “Mon pere m’a tant battu”

In 1558, Guillaume de Morlaye, working with the editor Michel Fezandat in Paris, published a collection of lute tablatures[1] that includes a selection with the heading “CHANSON. Ianequin” at the top of pages 17v, 18, and 18v, and the text “Mon pere ma tant bat(t)u” under the initial staff. No chanson on this text by Janequin has survived, but five years previously, in 1553, Le Roy and Ballard published the only known vocal setting of the text, a three-voice version attributed to Nicolle des Celliers de Hesdin.[2]

These two versions share some thematic material, but they are not congruent. The three-voice vocal setting harmonizes a “popular” tune in the highest voice, and it appears not to be a downsizing of an existing four-voice chanson (there are no gaps in the imitation, no missing harmonic elements, and there is logical and consistent voice distribution), but rather appears to have been originally conceived for three voices in a style often practiced in the first decades of the century.[3] The intabulation for lute shares some thematic material and, while longer (forty-eight as opposed to forty-two measures) and with different final cadence tonalities (C instead of G), it remains within the normal scope of creative liberty for lute intabulatures, such that no definitive parentage between the two units can be proven or disproven.

This leaves us with several possibilities, the first being that the Le Roy and Ballard attribution to Hesdin in 1553 is incorrect, and the three-voice vocal setting was by Janequin. Le Roy and Ballard were just getting started in 1553, and the Tiers livre de chansons was possibly just their sixth or seventh publication, and was not in Adrian LeRoy’s area of special competence (instrumental music). As late as 1556, when publishing Janequin’s Premier livre of spiritual chansons, Le Roy and Ballard showed themselves perfectly capable of making a pig’s breakfast of several facets of their craft such that missing an attribution during their early days is certainly not beyond credence.[4] Arguing against this, however, is that in 1553, Janequin (who, as far as is known, was never an enthusiastic contributor to the three-voice repertory) was a resident of Paris and closely connected with the music printing industry. Add to this the fact that when Le Roy and Ballard reprinted the three-voice setting in 1578, they felt no compunction to alter the attribution to something other than Hesdin.

A second possibility is that it was Morlaye and Fezendat who were confused, and the material that served as the basis for the “Mon pere m’a tant battu” was Hesdin’s three-voice chanson. Fezandat was not one of the heavyweights of the music-printing industry, and given the licentious content of the text (“Mon pere m’a tant battu” recounts in humorous terms a father-daughter conflict about which of several suitors is preferable), Morlaye (or Fezandat) may have associated the piece with another well-known contributor to that genre, Clément Janequin. This line of thought, however, seems more convenient than convincing. Fezandat was acquainted with Janequin. Fezandat had participated in 1553 in the reprinting of the Ronsard Amours supplement, in which Janequin was represented, and in 1556 he published three of Janequin’s chansons in two different collections.[5] Further, it should be noted that Janequin was hardly alone in setting ribald texts, that predilection having been shared with more or less all the active composers of the Parisian school.

A third possibility is that both Fezandat and Le Roy and Ballard were punctiliously correct: the 1553 three-voice chanson belongs to Hesdin, and the 1558 Morlaye intabulation was based on a Janequin setting of the same text, which has since gone lost. That Hesdin was the author of the three-voice chanson certainly rings true. Nicolle des Celliers Hesdin died, apparently quite young, in Beauvais in 1538. His music—motets and chansons in the Parisian style—was in circulation already in the late 1520s, and a setting like “Mon pere” (necessarily composed before 1538) would not have been stylistically out of place with other three-voice pieces from the 1520s and 1530s. This early dating corresponds with the retrospective profile of the Le Roy and Ballard anthology containing names going as far back as that of Antoine de Févin.

A scenario requiring two independent works, one by Hesdin (written before 1538, published/reprinted in 1553 and again in 1578) and one by Janequin (published in advance of Morlaye’s 1558 adaptation), obviously requires the introduction of a lost/phantom work, since no independent Janequin setting of “Mon pere” is known. If this lost setting was for three voices, then one would expect it to have been written very early on, and perhaps in the style of LM229 “C’est mon ami.”[6] If the phantom was for four voices—and nothing in the Morlaye lute adaptation gives any reliable indications about the scoring of the chanson on which the adaptation was based—then it could have been written any time before 1558. Both the editorial mismanagement possibility (Morlaye made a mistake) and the phantom solution (Janequin wrote a setting which has gone missing) are less than satisfying, so until more decisive evidence turns up, it would seem that the parentage of “Mon pere m’a tant battu” is condemned to remain unresolved.

  1. Troisieme livre de tablature de leut par Me Guillaume Morlaye (RISM 155819).
  2. In the Tiers livre de chansons, composées a trois parties (RISM 153322), subsequently reprinted in the 1e livre de chansons a trois (RISM 157814). (Lesure and Thibault list only RISM 157814 in their 1955 Le Roy and Ballard catalogue.)
  3. Modern edition in Adams, “The Three-Part Chanson during the Sixteenth Century,” PhD diss., U. of Pennsylvania, 1974, 574–77.
  4. On editorial problems in the Premier livre of 1556, see Clement Janequin: French Composer at the Dawn of Music Publishing, pp. 281–87.
  5. LM246 “Amour cruel,” LM247 “Ou cerchez vous,” and LM248 “Un frai matin” (all incomplete) in Fezandat’s Premier (RISM 155620) and Second livre des chansons (RISM 155621).
  6. A setting that despite its late publication (by Le Roy and Ballard in RISM 157814) belongs stylistically several decades earlier, and about which there are serious authenticity questions. See the entry on three-voice arrangements in the section Challenged Attributions.