Music of the Renaissance: Mille Regretz (A Thousand Regrets)

The 16th century witnessed a blossoming of instrumental music, a development that was partly stimulated by the advent of music publishing which increased the accessibility of printed music. Dance music was the perfect form to celebrate this flourish of instrumentation. They grew in popularity in cities like Venice, Paris, and Antwerp which soon became the centers of music publishing in the Renaissance era (1400 – 1600).

A popular dance form during this period is the stately court dance known as pavane. Pavanes often serve as the first number of a set that included one or more quicker dances, such as the Italian saltarello (jumping dance), the French galliard (a more vigorous version of the saltarello) and the German allemande. Less courtly were the ronde (round dance), which is a lively romp associated with the outdoors and performed in a circle.

We will listen to the pavane Mille Regretz (“A Thousand Regrets) composed by Tielman Susato (c. 1515 – 1571). German-born but based in Antwerp, Susato published a well-received collection of dances in 1551 that includes this work. It is a moderately slow piece (barely 2 minutes long) with a vocal rhythm based on a chanson of the same name by the famous French composer, Josquin des Prez (c. 1450 – 1521). A chason is French polyphonic song set to poetry.

Susato’s pavane unfolds in three sections, each of which is repeated. It begins with a repeated rhythmic pattern by the drum (tabor) which sets the tempo. This is followed by the six-stringed violas da gamba played like the modern cello and lutes (which is played in all three sections). As you listen to the recording, note how on each repeat, the sound becomes richer and deeper. This is due to the addition of the organ and recorders (a woodwind instrument associated with early music). Like its chanson model, Susato’s piece has a harmonic character that makes it sound ancient.

Audio: Tielman Susato, Mille Regretz, 1551 dance collection. Duration: 1:54.

While you are here, you might also want to listen to Josquin de Prez’s chason of the same name composed in 1520. A melancholic piece, the text speaks in the language of courtly love, in this case, the pain of leaving one’s beloved.

A thousand regrets for
deserting you
And leaving behind your
loving face.
I have such great sorrow and
grievous pain.
That one can see that days
will not be long

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