A Heart-Shaped Book for Lovers

By Mark Palkovic, CCM Library

In honor of St. Valentine’s Day this Friday, the CCM Library and the Archives and Rare Books Library present an item from the Rare Books Collection, Le Chansonnier Cordiforme, or Chansonnier de Jean de Montchenu. The original manuscript dates from the 1470s and is owned by the Bibliothèque de France (Ms. Occ. Rothschild 2973). The UC Libraries’ copy is a facsimile of the original, bound in red velvet and created by Vicent García Editores of Valencia, Spain in 2007.

Open book

Le Chansonnier Cordiforme is perhaps the most beautiful of all surviving music manuscripts. Its first owner was the French nobleman Jean de Montchenu (d. 1497), who commissioned the work. It was compiled during the 1470s and contains 43 songs from the preceding thirty years by Guillaume Dufay, Gilles de Binchois, Johannes Ockeghem, Antoine Busnoys and other contemporary composers. The entire manuscript was performed by The Consort of Musicke in 1980,  the recordings of which are held in the CCM Library: CD31301 and LP12124.

CordiformeThis exquisite manuscript, when closed, is in the form of a heart, or cordiform shape.  When opened, it becomes two hearts joined together, representing two lovers who send amorous messages to one another in each one of the songs. When the word “heart” appears in the texts, it is represented by a pictogram. Two full-page illustrations appear in the codex: in the first, Cupid throws arrows at a young girl while at his side Fortune spins his wheel and in the other, two lovers approach one another romantically for their tryst. Throughout the manuscript the pentagrams, music, and love poems are surrounded by borders decorated in the typical illuminated style of the age, with animals such as birds, dogs, and cats joined with flowers and plants, and highlighted in abundant and delicate gold.

Recordings of the Le Chansonnier Cordiforme are available in the CCM Library

Recordings of the Le Chansonnier Cordiforme are available in the CCM Library

To learn more about the holdings of the Archives & Rare Books Library and the Albino Gorno Memorial Music Library, please visit their respective websites: http://www.libraries.uc.edu/libraries/arb/index.html and http://www.libraries.uc.edu/libraries/ccm/index.html.