Bel acueil

Antoine Busnois

Bel acueil

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About this work

Bel acueil, the personified Fair Welcome from the Roman de la Rose exhorts the poet to attend the Court of Love immediately (or lose his opportunity). Thus begins this rondeau, one of the reified courtly formes fixes set by Antoine Busnois. The reference to the most famous work of medieval French courtly writing is literate, but conservative; the use of a difficult poetic refrain form (AbaAabAB) from the previous century likewise fits the "Autumn of Middle Ages," to use an expression coined by the great Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, in fifteenth-century France and Burgundy. However, in the hands of such a forceful artistic personality as Busnois, the symbolic richness of both text and music create a truly extraordinary artistic effect. The poem in its original form may refer to a famous literary romance conducted by Busnois in the 1460s: according to the symbolism of gematria, the art of Hebrew numerology, the number of notes in the melody voice of Bel acueil, 89, is the number representing "Jaqueline" and the notes in the other two voices, 182, represents "Antoine Busnoys."

A variant in the text preserved in a second manuscript source reveals an even more striking hidden message. The so-called Mellon chansonnier, compiled around 1475 under the auspices of Johannes Tinctoris as a wedding present for the Neapolitan princess Beatrice of Aragon, changes the spelling of "serjent" to make possible an anagram in the first line of text (the anagram is "imperfect," as some letters must be discarded):

BEL ACUEIL LE SERGANT D'AMOURS = BEATRICE D'ARAGON

This chanson is the very first piece in Mellon, with a lavishly decorative capital "B" to direct the eye of the manuscript's recipient towards the clever honorific.

Busnois' musical setting of Bel acueil is no less astonishing. Contrary to most previous fifteenth-century practice, the three voices of the chanson are not an upper melody supported by tenor and contratenor, but rather three voices in the same baritone range. The only other equal-voiced chanson among Busnois' works is the Rondeau A vous sans autre (perhaps coincidentally, another of the songs which refer to his supposed mistress Jaqueline de Haqueville). All three voices move at the same active pace, and each new line of text is given by close imitation in all three voices. In this regard, Bel acueil presages the newer concepts of Renaissance vocal writing (pervasive imitation), which would arrive decades later.

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