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Saturday morning quotes 7.36: Espoir

February 8, 2020


“…[M]usical settings of lyric verse can reveal the poetic taste of a period in a unique fashion, for chanson texts are a rich locus for the study of poetic taste, much like the catalogue of a select library. The way in which composers “read” their texts through their settings, and the corpus of texts they chose to set and reset are often the only measure we have of certain poetic trends. For poets, too, musical settings of their verse were important: while much sixteenth-century lyric verse comes down to us in printed collections without musical garb, some poets, at least, considered music an essential element of any complete lyric expression.”

– Kate Van Orden, “Imitation and “La musique des anciens”: Le Roy & Ballard’s 1572 Mellange de chansons”, Revue de Musicologie, T. 80, No. 1 (1994), p. 5.

The poetry of 16th-century chanson verse is a rich resource that inspired some wonderful musical settings, but the poetry is worth exploring on its own merits.  Among too many other books on French chansons resting on our bookshelves, we have the important reference by Brian Jeffery, Chanson verse of the early Renaissance, 2 volumes, Tecla Editions, London, 1971 and 1976.  And for the pure pleasure of reading we have English translations by Norman R. Shapiro in Lyrics of the French Renaissance: Marot, Du Bellay, Ronsard, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2002.  We feel strongly that in order to express the texts, we have to develop a working acquaintance with their context.

Today we feature a beautiful chanson by Josquin Baston (fl 1542–63), a little-known composer who likely came from the Netherlands, and who may have held posts at the far-flung courts of Austria, Denmark, Poland, Saxony and even Sweden.  An intriguing feature of his chansons is a distinct declamatory approach, rendering the multi-part music perfect for setting for solo voice and lute.

Our recording, which seems to be the only one out there in the ether, has gotten some airplay and we have received many favorable comments on our interpretation.  The chanson is from such an arrangement found in Hortus Musarum, another in a large series of important publications from the press of Pierre Phalèse of Antwerp and Leuven.  Published in 1552, Hortus Musarum contains a wealth of music for lute solo and duet, but also an intriguing collection of music arranged for our favorite medium of solo voice and lute. Among the gems in this collection is an arrangement of a five-voice setting of the Stabat Mater dolorosa by the other much more famous Josquin, which we featured in the past and will again this Spring when we release a new recording.

Back to the chanson:

Le bon espoir
que j’ay de parvenir
Au bien le quel ne me peult advenir
Si non par vous me faict vivre enlyesse
Secoures moy celuy qui en tristesse
Vivroit tousjours sans toy.

The best I can hope to attain
Is that little which may happen to me,
Which if not given by you, brings joy to my life.
Comfort me in my sadness,
Forever forlorn without you.

Ours is an age in which hope is yet another diminishing resource.   But hope we must, and that hope must be reinforced with strength of will: fecit potentiam.  You can hear our recording here.

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