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A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Gabrielle, Charmante

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GABRIELLE, CHARMANTE, that is, Gabrielle d'Estrées, mistress of Henri IV. The reign of Louis XVIII. revived an artless little romance, which, like the song 'Vive Henri IV.' [see Henri], recalled pleasant memories of the Béarnais. 'Charmante Gabrielle' was not only sung far and wide at that loyal epoch, but the authorship of both words and music was attributed to the gallant king, and the mistake is still often repeated. True Henri suggested the song to one of the poets of his court, but we have his own authority for the fact that he did not himself write the stanzas. The letter in which the king sent the song to Gabrielle is in the 'Recueil des Lettres missives' of Berger de Xivrey (iv. 998, 9), and contains these words:— 'Ces vers vous représenteront mieulx ma condition et plus agréablement que ne feroit la prose. Je les ay dictez, non arrangez.' The only date on the letter is May 21, but it was written in 1597 from Paris, where Henri was collecting money for his expedition to Amiens, and making preparations to leave Gabrielle for the campaign against the Spaniards. It was probably Bertaut, Bishop of Séez, who, at the king's 'dictation,' composed the four couplets of the romance, of which we give the first, with the music in its revived form:—

{ \time 3/4 \partial 4 \relative g' { g4 g2 c4 b( a) g c c e g2 \acciaccatura f8 e4 d16 c8 d16 e4\turn( d) | c2 g4 g2 c4 b( a) g | c c e g2 \acciaccatura f8 e4 d16 c8 d16 e4\turn( d) | c2. c4 d e | c( b\prall) a d \acciaccatura c8 b4 c d f2 | e( d4) c d e c( b\prall) a d \acciaccatura c8 b4 c | d2 e16 d c d | c2. \bar "||" }
\addlyrics { Char -- man -- te Ga -- bri -- el -- le, Per -- cé de mil -- _ _ le dards, Quand la gloi -- re m'ap -- pel -- le Dans les sen -- _ tiers _ de Mars. Cru -- el -- le dé -- par -- ti -- e! Mal -- heu -- reux jour! Que ne suis -- je sans vi -- e. Ou sans a -- _ _ _ mour! } }

The refrain is not original; it is to be found word for word in the 'Thesaurus harmonicus' of Besard (1603), and in the 'Cabinet ou Trésor des nouvelles chansons' (1602); and as at that time it took more than five or six years for an air to travel from the court to the people, we may safely conclude that it was no novelty. Fétis attributes the air to Eustache Du Caurroy, maître de chapelle to Charles IX, Henri III, and Henri IV; but the music of that 'Prince of musicians,' as Mersennus calls him, is so imbued with science, not to say pedantry, that it is impossible to suppose the author of the contrapuntal exercises in his 'Mélanges' to have had anything in common with the composer of so simple and natural a melody. Its origin is undoubtedly secular; and there is the more reason to believe it to have been borrowed from an air already popular that the words 'Cruelle départie, Malheureux jour' occur in the 'Chansons sur les airs mondains.' In the book of cantiques entitled 'La pieuse Alouette avec son tirelire' (1619) we find a proof that the church borrowed the air and prevailing idea of this song from the world, rather than the reverse, for the religious refrain,

          Douce vierge Marie,
            Secourez-moi!
          Otez-moi ou la vie,
            Ou bien l'emoi,

is obviously founded on the love-song of 1597.

Such is all the positive information we have been able to obtain about 'Charmante Gabrielle'; but the mystery which surrounds its origin rather increases than diminishes the attraction of this celebrated song.

[ G. C. ]