Se la face ay pale
Guillaume Du Fay (ca. 1397-1474)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 2 Track 19
In less than a minute, Du Fay has charmed us with the threat of suicide. I have come to believe that any piece of music has about three, maybe four, no more than five minutes to make a point. Music is a language that relies on the short term memory of the listener. To go longer than five minutes without a significant event is to risk losing the attention of your listener. Mr. Du Fay reminds us that even more than one minute can be excessive. Perhaps because the idea of this piece is expressed so clearly, there is no need for further development. Our narrator has threatened to throw himself into the sea and that is that.
In spite of the potentially woeful nature of the text, this tune has the lightness I have come to associate with Du Fay. At times, the music lingers on the first part of the sentence and then exhausts the second part of the sentence quickly. There are moments of imitation that never become so long-winded or convoluted to befog the text. And the coda is an almost joyful run of notes in three equal voices.
What I like about this piece is that lightness. If our narrator presented his case with heavy morose phrases I doubt the beautiful lady would do more than recommend therapy. With a charming presentation like this, the beautiful lady is flattered to think that her company inspires a lethal grace.
posted by Isaac Watras