The composer P. des Molins

Updated version of the English draft for my 2005 MGG entry on P. des Molins.

A few years after I contributed an article on “Grimace” to the German encylopedia, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, I was asked to write on another composer from the same period, also little known today but whose two surviing attributed works actually very widely transmitted in the fourteenth century. My text on this composer, P. des Molins (what the P might stands is discussed below), appeared in the new MGG Personenteil, vol. 13, pp.220-1. A pdf version of my draft English text is in the RHUL digital repository; this blogpost updates the English text. As with the Grimace page, I have done some light editing and rearrangement of the main text and add more recently published items to the bibliography. The online format also means I can provide links to manuscript images, books, articles, discography, and other information. A key to MS sigla and full bibliographic references can be found below.

P. (Perotus = Pierre?) des Molins, de Mulino, de Molendinum, Molendini, di Molen van Pariis.

A fourteenth-century composer associated with two of the most widely circulated French-texted formes fixes songs: one balade, and one rondeau. P. de Molins’s exact identity has been disputed and his first name is not given in the musical sources. The most likely candidate is the ‘Perotus de Molyno’ who was in the retinue of the King Jean II of France during his captivity in England, first in London and then in Hertford, following the French defeat at Poitiers in 1356 (although Günther discusses a number of other possibilities). In 1359 Edward III reacted to a breakdown in negotiations with the Dauphin Charles by requiring the slimming down of the French court in exile. Perotus de Molyno was one of the court members sent home; he is named in a document of Safe Conduct dating from 21 July 1359, which cites his name in close proximity to that of Gace de la Buigne, who was maistre chapellain of the French royal chapel (from 1348-1384), and a friend of the composer-bishops Philippe de Vitry and Denis le Grant (on Gace, see Leach 2010, chapter 4).

The widely disseminated balade De ce que fol pensé souvent remaint draws its incipit from a proverbial sentiment also expressed in one of Chaillou de Pesstain’s interpolations into the F-Pn fr.146 version of the Roman de Fauvel: ‘Moult remaint de ce que fol pense’ (line 613). The tag ‘De ce que fol pense’ also occurs on a scroll with musical notation in the second of a series of five tapestries from Arras (c.1420). The scroll is held up by a lady for a man playing a harp. The poem narrates the lover’s exile from the lady, and the way in which the souvenir (mental image) of the lady that he carries both causes grief and inspires hope. In combination with the putative identification of the composer with the Perotus named on the Safe Conduct document, the refrain text ‘D’ainsi languir en estrange contree’ (to languish thus in a foreign land) has been interpreted as referring to John II’s English exile. However, the balade as a whole represents a common topos deriving from the much earlier troubadour idea of ‘love-at-a-distance’, and the refrain closely resembles the incipit of Machaut balade J’aim miex languir en estrange contree, (Loange des dames, Lo266), to which the whole poem is lexically and thematically similar. Furthermore, Pierre’s balade was copied at the foot of an opening in Trém that contained Philippe de Vitry’s motet, Petre clemens/Lugentium siccentur/Non est inventus, which was written for the 1343 visit to Avignon of the Roman ambassadors who had come to beg pope Clement VI to stop ‘languishing thus in a foreign land’. Although the manuscript juxtaposition of Vitry’s motet and Pierre’s chanson may be fortuitous rather than representing a deliberate scribal initiative, it draws attention to the fact that the balade’s message would be equally applicable to the Pope’s self-imposed French exile as to Jean II’s compelled English one. The phrase ‘en estrange contree’ also features in four other poems in Machaut’s Loange des dames, including Biaute parfaite (Lo140), which was set to music by Anthonello da Caserta later in the century. Poems with this theme would have had valuable and multifarious uses as consoling songs in a period when the pope, royalty, the higher nobility, and their retinues were frequently obliged to endure of justify being in countries strange to them. Its usefulness may go some way to explaining this song’s popularity, which its large number of sources seems to reflect.

Medieval mill with overshot wheel

Medieval mill wheel

The rondeau Amis tout dous is almost a complement, poetically, to the lyric situation of the balade. Narrated in the feminine voice, the lady’s refrain returns obsessively to the fact that she will not see the lover’s face any more, although the text—especially that of the incipit—seems to have been subject to some variation, and most sources exclude it entirely. Several sources even eschew using the incipit to identify the rondeau, instead deploying the composer’s alias and an additional toponym denoting Parisian origin Molendinum de Paris (Str), Di molen van pariis (Pg) or De mulino (Pit), eliding the identities of the composer and the rondeau. The eponymous hero in Simone Prudenziani’s Il Sollazzo mentions the ‘Molin de Paris’ among a list of other incipits denoting pieces played at a musical evening, which are described as being performed on a Flemish organ. This could easily be Pierre’s rondeau, which is denoted in similar terms in two sources, one of which (Str) also gives the top part in two differently ornamented and rhythmicized versions akin to those seen in instrumental intabulations. Perhaps the composer gained his designation ‘des Molins’ from the title that his song acquired (which may or may not be programmatic, as Borren has suggested) rather than vice versa. Mills were ubiquitous in a society that based so much of its economy on grain—Paris had at least sixty along the Seine towards the Temple—but the mill also functioned as a common musical exemplum: the occasional accidental production of discretely pitched sounds by inanimate mill wheels is used to illustrate the musical practice of the unthinking cantor in a tradition of vocal pedagogy that places emphasis on understanding as a means of ensuring vocal consistency. It is possible that the implication of ‘mechanical’ production points to non-vocal, ‘manual’ performance; perhaps ‘the mill’ served as a title for a piece originally written for an instrument that only later acquired a text for singing.

One of the two versions of the uppermost part in Str is written in red ink and is cited as the second discantus on ‘Molendinum de Paris’ by an anonymous theorist (the so-called Anon X) as an example of using red coloration to signal imperfect time, minor prolation. As in the works of Machaut, the value of the minim remains constant in P. de Molins’ works, which show no features associated with the later fourteenth-century style that twentieth century musicologists dubbed the “ars subtilior“. In addition both songs have three-part counterpoint with a contratenor, an arrangement that had become standard by the middle of the century. The two triplums for the balade are probably later additions and neither makes good counterpoint in the state it has been transmitted. The later addition of triplums, together with the use of melismatic and melodically sequential passages of ‘musical rhyme’ between the first and final sections of the balade, make it formally akin to a song such as Machaut’s widely copied De toutes flours (B31), with which De ce que fol pensé souvent remaint appeared on the same opening in Trém. The use of sequence within these repeated melismatic sections of Pierre’s balade is especially prominent and makes the work readily memorable. Both pieces probably date from the middle third of the century. The counterpoint of the rondeau is somewhat odd, and its use of immediate, exact repeats in all parts within phrases is also unusual. This aspect might also support the theory that this was originally an instrumental work, since such works were often written in double-versicle forms.

MSS and Facsimiles

Works [NB: links to MS images here require that you be logged in to DIAMM–register FREE here]

  1. Balade: De ce que fol pensé souvent remaint. Editions: Wolf, 1:354. (PR McV); Droz and Thibault, 21 (Ch); Borren 1929, 198-206; Wilkins 1966, 32 (PR); Hasselman, 2: 92; Apel 1: 159; Plamenac, 22 (Fa); Greene, 19: 123 (Ch with triplum from PR), 130 (Fa). MSS: CaB, f.18v (5v) 4vv, with different triplum; text lines 1-7 only; CaB, f.16 (10r), illegible; text lines 1-14 (text edition in Coussemaker); PR, f.71v, 4vv; text lines 1-10 only; Ch, f.53v, 3vv. with contratenor; ascribed to P. des Molins; full text; Pit, f.124r, 3vv. with contratenor; text incipit only; Gr3360, f.3v, 3vv.; text incipit only; FP, f.87r-86v, 3vv. with contratenor; text incipit only; McV, part I, f.26r, (number 2), 3vv. with contratenor; text lines 1-7 only; Mu, f.229v-230r, 3vv. with contratenor; text incipit only; Str, f.36v (number 52), 3vv. with contratenor; ascribed to Wilhelmi de Maschandio; text incipit only; Latin contrafact underlaid beginning Surge anima (according to Coussemaker) orSurge amica mea speciosa (according to Wolf); Trém, f.13 (number 88), incipit listed in index; Fa, f.40r-40v, 2vv. instrumental intabulation (highly ornamented cantus part); text incipit only; I, f.19v; text only (full); Pe602 tapestry includes scroll that depicts incipit text with (impressionistic) musical notation of a single part. Listen on YouTube.
  2. Rondeau: Amis tout dous. Editions: Borren 1925, 101 (Str); Kammerer, 145 (Pg); Hasselman 2: 117 (Iv); Apel 53/1: 161 (Iv), 53/3: 75; Greene 22: 34 (Pit). MSS: Iv, f. 3r-2v, 3vv.; full text; Pit, f. 4r-3v, 3vv.; incipit text only in Cantus; De mulino written at opening of contratenor and tenor parts; Pg, f.251r (no. 20), 2vv; no text; Di molen van pariis is title; Str, 24r (no.33), 4vv. different contratenor with two different (mutually exclusive) ornamented versions of the cantus parts (first version written in red to show different mensuration); no text;Molendinum de Paris is given as the incipit text/title in the discantus; the second discantus has Molendinum secundus discantus; tenor and contratenor have molendini de Paris; transcribed on a 6-line stave by Coussemaker in his copy of Str, now in Bruxelles, Bibliothèque du Conservatoire Royal de Musique; Str, 79v (no.134), 3vv.; incipit text only; Trém, f.10 (number 86), index listing only; Gr16, f.1r., 3vv; fragment; different contratenor; Cor, verso of single folio, 3vv.; fragment; judging from its few surviving bars the contratenor is different again from the other two; no text; Amis molin is given as the incipit text/title; NB: Ghisi’s edition erroneously adds the texted voice of a different piece from the same folio (Almifonis melos) as a fourth part. Listen on YouTube.


Links to CDs containing P. des Molins’s works. Or click here and enter the titles of the works to use the search at Medieval FAQs.

Bibliography (some links require a subscription)

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