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A cracking piece of music – Margot, Labourez les Vignes (1554).

By Jacques Arcadelt (1507-1568), a prolific Franco-Flemish composer whose work was published throughout Europe.


In his youth Arcadelt was sent to Italy, where he wrote plenty of devotional music, but he also spent time on the secular side, bringing the madrigal form to its early maturity. On his return to France he concentrated on chansons.

The Tudor connection? Nothing direct, but Arcadelt did have an influence on Elizabethan composers.

Here’s the happy chanson (2:47), performed by an Italian ensemble, DEUM:

The lyrics:

    Margot, labor at the vine soon.
As I passed through the Lorraine,
I chanced upon three capitaines,
and they called me country-bred.
But I’m not that country-bred.
Since the King’s son loves me dear,
he brought a present to me:
a big spray of marjoram.
If it blooms I will be Queen.
Should it die, I’ve lost my time.

The male parts sound particularly good with those acoustics, and I enjoy the soprano’s patter – vigne vigne vignolet – like a ricochet effect on strings. Other versions of Margot may be faster, but none so playful … or as easy on the eye. Also the difference between the female singers – what’s with the skull on the t-shirt? I likes it.

BBC Radio 3 has a short discussion on the song with Howard Goodall (Windows media player, 2:59) – compared to the old solemnity and stiffness, Arcadelt’s style was, “shockingly different in its attitude”.

Goodall elaborates in The Story of Music:

“… Arcadelt’s madrigals and chansons were intended for performance by men and women, and their success inspired many other composers. Chief amongst these were an an Englishman and an Italian whose experiments with the form as the new century unfolded were to give to music what Shakespeare gave poetry and drama: a compassionate eloquence that, in place of intimidation, sought to dignify humanity.”

The chiefs were Dowland and Monteverdi. A delicate revolution.


ps. Goodall refers to the lyric, “to whom I was the pox” – I can’t source that.