For five hundred years, scholars, theorists, and performers have searched for solutions to the puzzles encoded in Ockeghem's “Prenez sur moi.” Most of the literature to date has concentrated on the opening pitches and matters of mode. Much less attention has been paid either to the text or to the illumination found in the sole surviving contemporary source, the Copenhagen Chansonnier.
This article explores connections among text, music, and illumination in an attempt to go beyond prescriptions for performance and instead to explain what the canon might have meant to Ockeghem and his contemporaries. In particular, Ockeghem seems to have drawn on the line “et le moyen plain de paine et tristesse” (and the middle full of pain and sorrow) as inspiration for a series of complex references to center, symmetry, and mirror image in the canon’s musical structure and solmization. The illumination in the Copenhagen Chansonnier also appears to participate in these references, as well as to demonstrate connections to other aspects of medieval French court culture, in particular the Roman de la rose and astrology/astronomy. Further, Ockeghem's explorations of center, symmetry, and mirror image allow us to posit that “Prenez sur moi” may be construed as a musical labyrinth.
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