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Published on Jun 27, 2014
Psallite performs Chardavoine's Mignonne, Allons Voir Si La Rose at St. Cecilia at the Tower III
In the early 1570s, music editor Jehan Chardavoine was given royal permission to publish a collection of songs en forme de voix de ville (loosely translated, "in a pop style"). It would be the first of its type in Western music history. Chardavoine's book, published in 1573, contains 190 songs with simple melodies "arranged so that they might be sung or played anywhere"*. He may have composed some of the melodies, but many are simply monophonic settings of popular polyphonic songs by other composers; other tunes bear a strong resemblance to street songs and may actually be pop songs that Chardavoine liked and decided to include. Chardavoine did not acknowledge the poets featured in his book, but the authors of about half of the poems have been identified.
The author of "Ode à Cassandre", the poem that provides the lyrics for "Mignonne, allons voir si la rose", is Pierre de Ronsard, an immensely popular 16th-century poet. Ronsard, in his quest to recreate his conception of Classical lyricism, attempted to write poetry that was suitable for singing; he seems to have been successful in that venture, since more than 200 of his poems were set to music by more than 30 composers between 1552 and 1600.
"Ode à Cassandre", published in 1552, was dedicated to Cassandre Salviati, the 15-year-old whom Ronsard fell in love with and followed from town to town. It is his most famous poem and also inspired settings by Guillaume Costeley (1530-1606) and Jean de Castro (c. 1540 - c. 1600). More recently, in 1985, the "Pierre de Ronsard" variety of rose was named after this poem.
Musically, the tune is very simple, with implied tonal harmonies—more or less what we'd expect from a 16th-century pop song. Its beauty lies in the way its simplicity allows for the direct conveyance of the text and the freedom of the performer to make his or her own expressive choices.
* As quoted in Grove Music Online: "Chardavoine, Jehan", accessed 4/29/2014