A New Contrafact on “Talent m’est pris”

A new contrafact in a well-known source has come to light and I would like to thank Regina Schmidt, who studied with me and who is credited with the discovery of this version, for sharing her finding and allowing me to present it on my blog site.

[20/06/2016 Update: Two years after this seemingly new find we were made aware that the contrafact had independently been identified in a Czech publication some ten years previously: Jaromír Cerný et al. (eds.): Historicka antologie hudby v ceských zemích (do cca 1530) / Historical anthology of music in the Bohemian lands (up to ca 1530), Prague (Koniasch Latin Press) 2005, pp. 122-123. My thanks go Reinhard Strohm who found the reference.]

The Hohenfurter Liederbuch (CZ-VB 8b; Southern Germany, c1450) is an exciting source for sacred contrafacts on secular songs in the vernacular. The annotations to some of the songs by the first editor of the manuscript, Wilhelm Bäumker, show that he had realized the significance of this manuscript and identified many concordances and cognates.[1] The song no. 52 “O sünder, grosser sünder” (“O sinner, great sinner”) on the popular melody “Nu lobe linde lobe” (“Now leaf, linden tree, leaf”)[2] is a good example for the procedure of providing secular songs with new, sacred texts, a practice, which is also witnessed by a number of other German sources from the same time, such as the Codex St. Emmeram (D-Mbs Clm 14274; Vienna & Regensburg c1435-c1450), the now lost Strasbourg Codices (the Strasbourg manuscript (olim: F-Sm 222 C. 22; Zofingen, c1410 & Basel c1435) and the Songbook of Heinrich Laufenberg (olim: F-Sm, B 121; first half 15th century), both consumed by fire in 1870), as well as the slightly later Pfullinger Liederhandschrift (D-Sl Cod. theol. et phil. 4° 190; Pfullingen, c1470/80) and the Songbook of Anna of Cologne (D-B mgo 280; c1500).

“Es ist geporn ain kindelein” (CZ-VB 8b, fol. 118r-119r)

It is worthwhile to occasionally revisit such well-known sources, as this new find reminds us: No. 72 of the Hohenfurter Liederbuch (CZ-VB 8b, fol. 118r-119r)—”Es ist geporn ain kindelein”—proves to be a German contrafact on the anonymous French chasse (actually a round) “Talent m’est pris” (2-3vv)[3], which up to now had gone unnoticed.

CZ-VB 1 VB 8b, fol. 118r - "Es ist geporn ain kindelein"

CZ-VB 8b, fol. 118r – “Es ist geporn ain kindelein”

The record of transmissions for this piece shows that it is in good company: apart from 5 concordances to the French original, there are another three known German contrafacts listed in the Catalogue of Polyphonic Songs[4], one of which is the famous canon by Oswald von Wolkenstein (“Die minne fúget niemand”, Kl 72), while the other two are now lost versions with the incipits “Der sumer kumt” and “Von frömden Stimmen” in the Strasbourg manuscript (olim: F-Sm 222 C. 22, fol. 59v & fol. 88v), the latter of which survives only with a very short musical incipit so that an identification as a contrafact on “Talent m’est pris” remains somewhat uncertain.[5] The new concordance in the Hohenfurter Liederbuch seems to be the only sacred contrafact on this melody.

Bäumker transcribes the piece as follows:

Bäumker, Wilhelm (ed.): Ein deutsches geistliches Liederbuch mit Melodien aus dem XV. Jahrhundert nach einer Handschrift des Stiftes Hohenfurt, Reprint Hildesheim 1970, Leipzig (Breitkopf & Härtel) 1895.

Bäumker, Wilhelm (ed.): Ein deutsches geistliches Liederbuch mit Melodien aus dem XV. Jahrhundert nach einer Handschrift des Stiftes Hohenfurt, Reprint Hildesheim 1970, Leipzig (Breitkopf & Härtel) 1895. A new transcription of this song was published in Geistliche Gesänge des deutschen Mittelalters. Gesamtausgabe der Melodien und Texte aus handschriftlicher Überlieferung, ed. by Max Lütolf in cooperation with Mechthild Sobiela-Caanitz, Cristina Hospenthal and Max Schiendorfer, vol. 2: Gesänge E–H (nos. 173–330), Kassel et al., 2004 (no. 209: “Es ist geporn ain kindelein”).

The manuscript does not appear to give any indication for a canonic interpretation of this Christmas carol, but the telling rests after the exclamatory interjections “fro-fro”, which are begging for the hoquetus-effect, might have given signal enough for a canonic performance. The wide-spread popularity of the “Talent m’est pris” canon-melody in German-speaking lands might hint at an oral tradition, which could have included knowledge of its polyphonic potential.[6] However, the notation as it stands (even though it is close to the mensuration of the two-voice version from Prague) would require slight adjustments in rhythm and pitch of individual notes to render the piece for a polyphonic performance.

The following synoptic edition of the most representative sources gives an impression, where the Hohenfurt version stands between the French transmissions and Oswald’s contrafact (click on the edition to get a version in which all voices are transposed to the same pitch level):

Synoptic edition of the chasse “Talent m’est pris”, the canon (‘fuga’) “Die minne fúget niemand” and “Es ist geporn ain kindelein”, the possible entry for the second and third voice (3vv only for “Talent m’est pris”) is marked with the red signum congruentiae.

Synoptic edition of the chasse “Talent m’est pris”, the canon (‘fuga’) “Die minne fúget niemand” and “Es ist geporn ain kindelein”, the possible entry for the second and third voice (3vv only for “Talent m’est pris”) is marked with the red signum congruentiae. Click on the image to get a version in which all voices are transposed to the same pitch for better comparison (French versions transposed down by a fourth).

Some noteworthy results from this comparison are: 1. The German contrafacts are songs with multiple strophes (Oswald: 4, Hohenfurt: 7), while the French original (at least in the surviving transmissions) has only one strophe; 2. the strophes and verses in the contrafacts accommodate much more text and more rhymes than the French model, which is kept simple and appears mainly to be in for the cuckoo-effect; 3. not surprisingly Oswald’s version has the most artistic poetic construction (and, when comparing the remaining strophes, is also much more consistent in its rhyme structure than the slightly unstable Hohenfurt version, which includes a number of imperfect or forced rhymes); 4. the German transmissions in the Oswald codices and Hohenfurt are set in C, while the French are set in F (the short incipits of the lost versions in Strasbourg, however, give “Der sumer kumt” in F and “Von frömden Stimmen” in G); 5. the version in Hohenfurt (“Es ist geporn ain kindelein”), like the one in Prague, appears to be in duple metre, while all other transmissions are in triple metre; 6. the Hohenfurt version (likely the latest transmission of the piece) is—rhythmical metre aside—musically closest to Oswald’s contrafact (compare for example mm. 14 & 17-20).

With some slight adjustments, it is possible to propose a fairly consonant two-voice version for the new concordance:

Attempt at a canonic version of "Es ist geporn ain kindelein" with emendations marked.

Attempt at a canonic version of “Es ist geporn ain kindelein” with emendations marked.

Apart from providing us with further proof for the popularity of the canonic “Talent m’est pris” melody until well into the middle of the 15th century, this new concordance adds another piece of evidence for the practice of German contrafacts on French models and in this case for the same French chanson on which we also have a version by Oswald. However, as with Oswald’s contrafacts it remains entirely unclear what the models for these reworkings exactly looked like: Did the arrangers base their versions on the French original, were they working with already processed settings, possibly via stages of oral transmissions (an explanation for the differing notational pitch levels of the contrafacts, which might be due to copying from memory), or did they even use textless models, such as the majority of pieces in the Prague manuscript (CZ-Pu XI E 9, prob. Strasbourg, c1410)?

Marc Lewon

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[1] Bäumker, Wilhelm (ed.): Ein deutsches geistliches Liederbuch mit Melodien aus dem XV. Jahrhundert nach einer Handschrift des Stiftes Hohenfurt, Reprint Hildesheim 1970, Leipzig (Breitkopf & Härtel) 1895.

[2] Song no. 52, fol. 87v-89r, see Bäumker: Ein deutsches geistliches Liederbuch, pp. 534 and Strohm, Reinhard: „Polyphonie und Liedforschung“, in: Musiktheorie (Einstimmig – Mehrstimmig: Deutungsperspektiven zur Musik des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts) 27/2 (2012), pp. 162-75.

[3] For an analysis of the birdcalls in this and other canons and rounds from the same time, see: Leach, Elizabeth Eva: Sung Birds. Music, Nature, and Poetry in the Later Middle Ages, Ithaca, London (Cornell University Press) 2007, pp. 156-60.

[4] Fallows, David: A Catalogue of Polyphonic Songs, 1415-1480, New York (Oxford University Press) 1999, pp. 378-9 & 489.

[5] This contrafact was suggested by Strohm, Reinhard: “The Ars Nova Fragments of Gent”, in: Tijdschrift van de Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis 34 (1984), pp. 109-31.

[6] Furthermore, the first person plural (“nun singen wir frofro”—”let us sing ‘rejoice'”) might suggest that others should join in. I would like to thank Liz E. Leach for these ideas (personal correspondence). The majority of the other versions signal the canon in one way or another: The two versions in Ivrea (I-IV 115; Avignon, c1370) indicate the genre (fol. 10r: “Talant et causa cassa”, fol. 52r: “chase”) and the second version on top of that adds a comprehensive canon, which even explains that the first note has to be shortened to a breve for a repeated performance in rounds: “Chase de septem temporibus fugando et reitterando prima nota non valet nisi solam brevem”. The two Wolkenstein manuscripts provide clear cues: both have the rubric “fuga” and both have a vertical line where the second voice should enter, even indicating that place with “secundus ab inicio” (WolkA; A-Wn 2777, fol. 33r; Vienna?, c1425) and “secundus” (WolkB; A-Iu s.s., Basel?, 1432). The transmissions in the Prague manuscript (CZ-Pu XI E 9, prob. Strasbourg, c1410) and the Helmond manuscript (Helmond (NL), Gemeentarchief, Rechterlijk Archief Helmond 1396-1810, inv. nr. 215, fol. 99v & 186v) do not provide direct clues for the canonic structure, even though the doubled incipit in the last of these might be taken as a hint for a second entry. The now lost Strasbourg transmissions have to be excluded here, since not enough information is left for a conclusive statement.

However, a canonic practice does not always have to be clearly signalled as Michael Shields has demonstrated for a number of examples in German sources, even presenting a hitherto unnoticed and unsignalled canon in Oswald’s oeuvre: Shields, Michael: „‚Hidden polyphony‘ bei Oswald von Wolkenstein: Der Reihen ‚Ir alten weib‘ (Kl 21)“, in: „Ieglicher sang sein eigen ticht“. Germanistische und musikwissenschaftliche Beiträge zum deutschen Lied im Mittelalter, ed. by März, Christoph, Lorenz Welker and Nicola Zotz, Wiesbaden (Reichert Verlag) 2011 (= Elementa Musicae. Abbildungen und Studien zur älteren Musikgeschichte, Bd. 4), pp. 131-47—see also the related blog post “Oswald quoting Neidhart: “Ir alten weib” (Kl 21) & “Der sawer kúbell” (w1)“.

One thought on “A New Contrafact on “Talent m’est pris”

  1. Pingback: A Cognate to “Verlangen thut mich krencken” (Loch 35) | mlewon

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