Polyphonic music has recently been enriched with a complete collection of songs, still in its original brocade-covered binding. The last exceptional discovery in this field dates from over a century ago!
Acquired by the Léon Courtin-Marcelle Bouché Fund, the Chansonnier has been entrusted to the Alamire Foundation, the international centre for the study of music from the former Southern Netherlands, located on the site of the former Park Abbey in Heverlee (Leuven).
A great deal of mystery still surrounds the manuscript. Specialists currently date it from around 1475, but what was the historical and artistic context that saw the birth of this songbook? Who was its owner, or who commissioned the work? A coat of arms of the Dukes of Savoye-Nemours indicates that the manuscript probably became part of the library of Jacques de Savoye, the second Duke of Nemours (1531-1585), although it seems rather unlikely that he was the first owner of the manuscript.
The origin of the songs is also unknown. Who composed them? None of the songs bear a signature, although comparative research enables 39 of the songs to be attributed to ‘Franco-Belgian’ composers such as Gilles Binchois, Johannes Ockeghem and Antoine Busnois, whose work was in vogue during the 15th century.
The 69 folios on parchment bring together 49 secular songs in French, 12 of which are unpublished. The ensemble is completed by a sacred chant in Latin. Of the 49 songs, 44 are original, whilst a further six compositions were added in later years. The pages are beautifully punctuated by illuminated dropped initials that have retained all the freshness of their original colours. The Chansonnier was entirely digitized.