Vox Luminis: “Mille regretz” (attr. Josquin des Prez, c. 1450/1455 – 1521)

If humans were like amoebas—and multiplied by dividing—nobody (with the potential exception of Sarah McLachlan) would write songs about lost love. The song sub-genre “Baby, This Makes Me So Blue” predates the 1950s… by about 500 years. The chanson “Mille regretz” (“A Thousand Regrets”) is usually attributed to Josquin des Prez, who flourished in the late 1400s and early 1500s–the High Renaissance. Josquin was his name, and polyphony was his game.

“Mille regretz” was reputedly the favorite song of King Charles I of Spain, who in due course became Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Charles’ consolidated holdings stretched from Peru to Bohemia, totaling about 1.5 million square miles. His was the first empire about which it was said, the sun never set upon it. But even he got the blues; and when he did, he turned to music.


Charles V, portrait by Bernard van Orley, 1519

Luis de Narváez’s variations upon “Mille regretz” (1538) (also known as “La Canción del Emperador”) is one of the earliest examples of the variations form.

Until I stumbled upon this YouTube video of a recording session (please note, the audio is from the camcorder and therefore is slightly more swimmy than optimal), I had never heard of Vox Luminis. Wow. Talk about two minutes of heaven. I promptly requested a review copy of an 8-CD boxed set they contributed to, and that arrived today. So, please stay tuned for further developments.

Mille regretz de vous abandonner
Et d’eslonger vostre fache amoureuse,
Jay si grand dueil et paine douloureuse,
Quon me verra brief mes jours definer.

In Modern French:
Mille regrets de vous abandonner
et d’être éloigné de votre visage amoureux.
J’ai si grand deuil et peine douloureuse
qu’on me verra vite mourir.[1]

English Translation:
A thousand regrets at deserting you
and leaving behind your loving face,
I feel so much sadness and such painful distress,
that it seems to me my days will soon dwindle away.

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