The Leuven Chansonnier and Fifteenth-Century Courtly Song


Leuven Chansonnier © Rob Stevens

October 2018 - October 2022

In 2015, the Alamire Foundation tracked down a fifteenth-century song book. The previously unknown manuscript, containing fifty polyphonic compositions of which twelve were unique, was bought by the King Baudouin Foundation at the request of the Alamire Foundation in 2016 and entrusted to the latter’s care.  This find, which is exceptional in terms of both its material and content, became known as the Leuven Chansonnier and has attracted attention from around the world and was recognized by the Minister of Culture, Sven Gatz, as a Flemish Masterpiece in 2018. Ryan O’Sullivan’s doctoral research is based on a multifaceted research question.

Four themes in particular will be developed:

  • the manuscript as a material object (binding, parchment, coat of arms, lettering and initials), concentrating mainly on the issues surrounding its origin and provenance;
  • the analysis of the content of the manuscript, with attention to both the music and the text. This aspect of the research is focused on reconstructing the context in which it was produced and the identification of the anonymous chansons. It implies both a study of the unique works and an inventory and interpretation of all variant readings (musical and textual) of the songs that have also been passed down in other sources;
  • a comparison of the Leuven Chansonnier to related manuscripts and, in particular, testing of the theories and conclusions relating to the Loire group;
  • location and interpretation of the Leuven Chansonnier within the wider context of fifteenth-century song culture and an evaluation of the place and role of the manuscript in the transmission and circulation of mediaeval chanson repertoire.

A documentary was created for Polyphony Connects to present and communicate the Leuven Chansonnier, the state of affairs and current research issues to a wide, international audience. The performance of all the compositions in the manuscript during the Laus Polyphoniae 2018 festival resulted in the production of the second of four CDs in 2020 that will make the entire chansonnier accessible in audible form. The songs were performed by the Sollazzo Ensemble and produced by the label Passacaille, in partnership with the Centre Culturel de Rencontre et Festival d’Ambronay.