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ASK a music scholar about Orlande de Lassus's most famous piece and you will probably hear about the Penitential Psalms, or `Susanne un jour', or the Prophetiae sibyllarum, the last especially if you ask a theorist. But almost anyone else who has heard of the composer--and many scholars, too--will probably cite a part-song: `Bon jour, mon coeur', `Matona, mia care', or, most likely, a four-part setting of the text `Mon coeur se recommande a vous'. They will mention this piece because they have sung it; it is difficult to find a high school or college madrigal ensemble in the United States, at least, that has not had this piece in its repertory, or an amateur singer who does not know it. What is more, people are usually fond of this little work, partly because it represents the whole madrigal-group experience for them, but also because of its undeniable charm.
I, too, learned `Mon coeur' years ago, and when I was recently asked to sing it again at my college roommate's wedding, I became curious about it. The wedding choir performed the chanson, as have several generations of singers, from a collection that is part of the American early music tradition, E. C. Schirmer's The a cappella singer, edited by H. Clough-Leighter, with a preface by Augustus D. Zanzig (Boston, 1935), which contains several Lassus pieces, including `Mon coeur' with a copyright date of 1931 (ex.1).
The piece has been republished in many editions that differ from this one primarily in their English translations,(1) and has been recorded numerous times. With the possible exception of the redoubtable `Riu, riu, chiu', `Mon coeur may be the best-known piece of Renaissance music. Curiously, Lassus's most famous piece from the perspective of the musician at large may not even be known to some Lassus specialists, particularly to German scholars. It is not mentioned in Wolfgang Boetticher's Orlando di Lasso und seine Zeit, nor does it appear in the Lassus work lists in MGG and New Grove.(2) Its popularity appears to be an Anglo-American phenomenon.
Although most editions do not mention the poet of `Mon coeur se recommande a vous' he is as famous as its composer. He is Clement Marot, and it is satisfying that a work attributed to the most versatile composer and the most respected French poet of the 16th century has such a large following. It is thus all the more surprising to look in Lassus's complete works and find not the familiar four-part chanson of this text but rather an unrelated five-voice setting (ex.2).(3) The five-voice work first appeared in the Tiers livre des chansons (Louvain: Phalese, 1560) and was often reprinted in the 16th century, including in the important Mellange d'Orlande de Lassus (Paris: Le Roy and Ballard, 1570). It was also later published with contrafact sacred texts.(4) This chanson is a very different kind of piece, working out each line of the poem in imitation or homophonically with supple rhythmic variety. The four-voice setting, in contrast, is tuneful, largely homophonic, and much more restricted in its rhythmic activity.
There are other 16th-century settings of this text.(5) A likely guess is that one of them is our four-voice piece, confused with Lassus's chanson and misattributed to him, but this is not the case. Two candidates cited in the literature are red herrings and can be ruled out immediately,(6) leaving seven known settings of Marot's poem, including Lassus's. They are listed in table 1; not only is none for four voices, but each of the others is derived from Lassus's five-voice chanson. The derivative compositions clearly imply that Lassus's chanson was well known in the 16th century, a suggestion reinforced by the existence of three Mass Ordinary settings also based on it: one probably by Johann Eccard, one by Henricus Beauvarlet, and one by Philippe de Monte.(7) It seems likely that the derivative chansons and Masses were primarily responses to Lassus's musical setting and only secondarily to Marot's poem. In this sense, Lassus was the only composer of his time to set Marot's text independently, and every early source credits him with the five-voice composition, not our four-voice setting.
TABLE 1 Settings of `Mon coeur se recommande a vous' Composer Voices First publication Orlande de Lassus 5 Louvain: Phalese, 1560 Jean de Castro 3 Louvain: Phalese, 1569 Gerardus Turnhout 2 Louvain: Phalese, 1571 Gerardus Turnhout 3 Louvain: Phalese, 1574 Severin Cornet 3 Louvain: Phalese, 1574 Didier Le Blanc 2 Paris: Le Roy & Ballard, 1578 Rinaldo Melle 5 Antwerp: Phalese, 1597 Composer Modern edition Orlande de Lassus Sixteenth-century Chansons, xiii, pp. 15-19 Jean de Castro Sixteenth-century Chansons, v, pp. 8-10 Gerardus Turnhout Thesaurus Musicus, xxvii, pp. 2 Gerardus Turnhout Recent Researches in the Music of the Rennaissance, x, p.49) Severin Cornet Didier Le Blanc Rennaissance Music Prints, i, pp.10-11 Rinaldo Melle
What evidence do we have that the four-voice piece is by Lassus? In the absence of an early source, the only way to answer this question is to work back from the modern editions. Our starting point is The a cappella singer, and the first step is to recognize its kinship with a host of other modern editions. Ex.3 shows the first page of one of them, The a cappella chorus book (Philadelphia: O. Ditson, 1933) edited by Augustus D. Zanzig, who also wrote the preface to The a cappella singer. The piece has been re-engraved, but its layout is essentially identical, as are most of the dynamic indications, the tempo marking `Con moto', and the curious designation `Madrigal'. There are a few new dynamics, slurs and other …