The Songs of Thibaut De Champagne (1201-1253)1

Article excerpt

The place and time of his birth locate Thibaut IV, comte de Champagne and roi de Navarre, at the heart of a great artistic ferment. Son of Thibaut III de Champagne and of Blanche de Navarre, he was tfius the grandson of Marie de Champagne and me great-grandson of Alienor d'Aquitaine (Eleanor of Aquitaine) , both of whom were patrons of many trouvères. The first, swept up by the erotic doctrine of courtly love, counted among her protégés Guiot de Provins, Chrétien de Troyes and Gace Brulé. The second, granddaughter of the first known troubadour Guilhem IX d'Aquitaine, included many troubadours in her entrourage, in both France and England. Champagne was dius the heardand of die poetic-literary movement of die langue d'oïl.

Under the influence of Gace Brulé, Thibaut came to know various trouvères, among them Philippe de Nanteuil, Raoul de Soissons, Thibaut de Blaison and perhaps Guillaume le Vinier. The number of his compositions and indeed the number of sources in which they were recorded (no less than thirty-two manuscripts) testify to his popularity. And the great esteem in which he was held during his lifetime is affirmed by many references to him and his art, from the Grandes Chroniques de France to Dante's De vulgari eloquentia, where he is classified among the "illustrious poets."

A virtuoso trouvère, he willingly tried his hand at every genre of poetic lyric meant to be sung: courtly songs, song with refrains, pastorals, jeux partis and tensons (poems in dialogue form), lays, and songs dedicated to the Virgin Mary. He knew how to exhibit his inventiveness in his writings, never hesitating to revisit canonical models with a touch of humor. His unusual freedom of tone together with the refinement of his rhetoric, the social condescension that sometimes colors his verse, never allows us to forget his high station, nor his role in politics, which he often - diough briefly - evokes.

The Songbook of the King

The manuscript from which all the songs here recorded were taken (Paris, BnF, fr. 844) is in its present state the product of a long history, begun in the second half of the thirteenth century. A composite songbook, it includes mostly songs for one voice in the langue d'oc and the langue d'oïl, but also polyphonic works, songs in Latin, and instrumental dances. Three of its component signatures constitute a separable entity, added later to the initial manuscript by a copyist probably belonging to an Italian scriptorium: sixty songs, all except the last by Thibaut de Champagne. The oldest part of the manuscript dates at the earliest from the mid-thirteenth century and would have been completed at the very latest around 1300. It includes more than 450 songs by trouvères, 55 songs by troubadours, 40 motets and 3 lays. Numerous works were added on blank pages or parts of pages: about fifteen songs in the langue d'oc and the langue d'oïl, twelve instrumental pieces, several rondeaux and motets, five songs to the Virgin Mary in Latin, and a poetic fragment dated 1494, which mentions the coronation of Charles VIII ten years earlier.

The origin of the songbook is contested. According to some scholars, it was copied out in Artois, like many other songbooks in the langue d'oïl. According to others, it was destined for Guillaume de Villehardouin, prince of the region of la Morée between 1245 and 1278, before being "revised" for Charles of Anjou. But there is not enough evidence on either side: the manuscript certainly resembles others from Artois - in particular the manuscript entitled "De Noailles" (Paris, BnF, fr. 12615) - but it also exhibits important differences in handwriting, decoration and even subject matter.

Richly decorated, it was vandalized, so that it has lost most of its initial capital letters which included depictions of the trouvères who were active between the fourteenth and the eighteenth centuries. Purchased by Mazarin for his own library in 1640, it was acquired by the Royal Library in 1668, when it gained the appellation "Songbook of the King. …