Reading Laborde, Ockeghem’s chansons in Laborde

Originally published in:
Johannes Ockeghem. Actes du XLe Colloque international d’études humanistes Tours, 3-8 février 1997, Klincksieck 1998, pp. 253-270.

The Significance of Johannes Ockeghem’s chansons in the context of the Chansonnier Laborde

THE CHANSONS of Johannes Ockeghem hold a central position in the composition of the chansonnier Laborde. No less than nine of its attributable chansons are Ockeghem’s. Thus not only is almost half of Ockeghem’s chanson oeuvre (ca. 19 chansons) to be found in Laborde, more than in any other contemporary source, but he is also together with Busnois (eight chansons) and Hayne van Ghizeghem (eight chansons) the predominant composer of Laborde. This holds true not only for the mere quantity, but also for the placement of his chansons: their relation to other pieces show clearly their significant position in the grouping of the first part of Laborde. This leads immediately to the question: what were the criteria for the placement of the chansons in general? Were the chansonniers mere anthologies, grouped in historical sections according to the generations of composers, as one might suppose reading editorial commentaries and publications concerning our repertory? Astonishingly, nobody has, to my knowledge, yet considered formal and thematic aspects of the chanson texts as criteria for the specific grouping of the pieces. Even a superficial overview of the sequence of the first verses (whose emblematic significance has been shown frequently, especially for the process of quotation) shows the importance of this textual aspect. Thus the side-by-side placement of Tant moins en ay and Tant plus mefforce or La despourveue and De tous biens plaine is certainly an important hint about the reasonning of the “editor(s)” in the placement of the pieces. But this is but one feature. Poetic form, rhyme, topoi, musical quotation, musical modes, relation between composers, etc. are used to form `chapters’, little dialogues in the ‘novel’ chansonnier.