De ce que fol pense, a ballade by P. des Molins, was included in at least 13 sources, making it one of the most widely copied songs of the 14th century. It was obviously much enjoyed, and like most compositions that were widespread many differences arose from one copy to the next. There was no printing in the middle ages, every copy was made by hand, and because the copyists were musicians, often copying pieces they knew and sang themselves, they wrote the piece down the way they liked it rather than copying literally what they saw in another manuscript. The differences we see today from one source to the next create problems, if we want to know what the composer wrote, but they also offer opportunities to understand the range of variation that was normal from one copy, and so presumably from one performance, to the next. These `variants' are worth studying, then, for they give us a chance to see how pieces were used at the time, and they warn us that a piece surviving in only one source may also be very different from what its original composer wrote. De ce que fol pense survives in four significantly different versions, in four parts, in four parts with a different triplum, in three parts and in an instrumental (probably keyboard) arrangement. In addition, the voices that these versions share also show differences in some pitches and rhythms. There's a separate file giving examples of these `variants' and explaining how they might have arisen. You can listen to the piece in three and four parts and in the instrumental arrangement, and you can look at the tapestry which contains the least complete but prettiest of all the 12 sources.
© Daniel Leech-Wilkinson 1997