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Biography

  • Died

    1403 (aged None)

Solage (or Soulage), possibly Jean So(u)lage (fl. late 14th century) was a French composer, and probably also a poet. He composed the most pieces in the Chantilly Codex, the principal source of music of the ars subtilior, the manneristic compositional school centered on Avignon at the end of the century.

Nothing is known about Solage's life, beyond what can be inferred from the texts to his music. Even his name is a puzzle. One possibility is that the single name "Solage" is a nickname or pseudonym, similar to others known from the period, such as Grimace or Hasprois. "Solage" and "soulage" are variant spellings of Old French solaz, solace, meaning "consolation", "joy", or "entertainment". In the refrain to the text of Calextone qui fut dame, the composer refers to himself with such a double meaning, using the spelling "soulage". However, the possibility that it is a genuine name cannot be ruled out. One of the attributions in the Chantilly Codex includes the initial J wrapped into the name, so it is possible his first name was Je(h)an. There are many references from that time to people called Jean Soulas (a name still found in modern times), and the surname Soulage or Soulages also existed, though there are no clear candidates for the composer. Gilbert Reaney's suggestion that the composer's first name might have been Charles rested on a speculative identification of Solage with another composer found in the Chantilly Codex, Goscalch, "a rather German-sounding name" that might be an anagram of "Ch. Solag(e)". However, Reaney's claim that the name occurs nowhere apart from the Chantilly Codex has been proven wrong, as several other identifications have been found, and the possible identity of the two composers has been rejected.
Specific references in the texts of some of his songs indicate he probably was associated with the French royal court. The ballade S'aincy estoit glorifies Jean, duc de Berry, and was written to celebrate his second marriage, to Jeanne de Boulogne, which took place with great pomp near Avignon on 25 May 1389. The pair of ballades, Corps femenin par vertu de nature and Calextone qui fut dame also refer to Jeanne de Boulogne, and their texts show that the former was composed shortly before and the latter shortly after this wedding. Although it is tempting to suppose that Solage might have been in the service of the duke of Berry, it is just as likely that he was in the service of Gaston Fébus, compte de Foix, who had a considerable financial interest in this marriage.
There is also a possible connection to, or at least an indication of some cultural exchange with the court of Giangaleazzo Visconti, the Duke of Milan, in the text of Solage's virelai, Joieux de Cuer. The Visconti family motto, "'a bon droit", is prominently placed at the beginning of the ninth line, at the beginning of the reprise of the first musical section, and just before the return of the refrain. Although Giangaleazzo died in 1402, his daughter Valentina continued to employ the motto until her death in 1408. In his chanson Pluseurs gens Solage mentioned Jacqueline, the granddaughter of Philippe, Duke of Burgundy, who was born in 1401 and betrothed in 1403. The association with Jacqueline is conjectural, however, since the name actually found in Pluseurs gens is "Jaquete".

Because the texts of Solage's songs are found only in his musical settings, and because they show amongst them kindred turns of phrase as well as syntactic and lexical preferences that lend a sense of unity, it is probable that he wrote the words as well as the music. Other composers represented in the Chantilly Codex were also likely poet-composers, in particular Jacob Senleches.
One especially plain example of textual interrelationships concerns the two ballades Corps femenin and Calextone qui fut. The former is based on the acrostic CATHELLINE LA ROYNE DAMOURS, and the latter begins with what could be the same acrostic, CATHELLI …, but the second and third stanzas of this ballade are not preserved. There are no other surviving examples of such twin ballades in the literature of this period.

Stylistically, Solage's works exhibit two distinctly different characters: a relatively simple one usually associated with his great predecessor and elder contemporary Guillaume de Machaut, and a more recherché one, complex in the areas of both pitch and rhythm, characteristic of the ars subtilior. These two styles mostly exist separately in different songs but sometimes are found mixed in a single composition, where they can be used to underscore the musical and poetic structure. In his simpler "Machaut" style pieces Solage nevertheless makes many personal choices that are very different from what Machaut typically does. Moreover, the simpler style is not necessarily an indication of an earlier date nor the complex style a reliable sign of a later date. Solage uses his techniques to link text and music together, either in terms of form or else of meaning. Nevertheless, some of his ars subtilior music was quite experimental: the best-known example in this complex style is his bizarre Fumeux fume par fumée, which is extravagantly chromatic for the time; it also contains some of the lowest tessitura vocal writing in any music of the period. Solage's rondeau is associated with a putative literary school of fumeurs. There have been many interpretations of this sobriquet. Although it is tempting given the outré nature of some poems to suppose that it refers to the smoking of some drug, the simplest explanation in the case of the above work is that it was written for the Parisian Fumeurs, the Society of Smokers, "an eccentric literary clique of ostentatiously dressed bohemians that named themselves after Jean Fumeux and flourished in the 1360s and 1370s". One scholar suggests that Eustache Deschamps's poetry, which contains most of the surviving references to the fumeurs, was satirical. The literature associated with the Fumeurs is dated between 1366 and 1381, and Solage's ballade Plusieurs gens voy also alludes to them. In his Règles de la Seconde Rhétorique Deschamps claims to be the nephew of Machaut, and in his Ballade 447 states that Machaut "brought me up and did me many kindnesses". Though there is no independent verification of these claims, it seems likely that they must have been on close terms. On the other hand, if indeed the Fumeurs were literally devotees of smoking, since tobacco was not known in Europe for another two centuries, some other drug, e.g. hashish or opium, must have been implied. However, the current consensus among musicologists is that there was no physical smoking. In the Middle Ages, the French expression "avoir des fumées au cerveau" (having smoke in the brain) referred to mental confusion, a condition attributed to internal vapours which, according to ancient authorities such as Hippocrates and Aristotle, could be evacuated from "heated and smoky brains" either by sneezing or by drinking. Similarly, drinking in the morning was referred to as "abattre le brouillard"—"breaking up the fog".

All of Solage's known compositions are found in the Chantilly Codex, and only one of these is found anywhere else. This is the four-voiced ballade Pluseurs gens voy qui leur pensee, which was obviously copied from Chantilly into the important Florentine manuscript Florence, Bibl. Nazionale, Panciatichi 26, only without its text and lacking identification of its composer. Only ten works are inscribed with Solage's name in the Chantilly Codex, but two more can be attributed to him on stylistic grounds. One of these, Le mont Aôn de Trace, is also found in the same Florence manuscript with Pluseurs gens voy. These twelve works consist of 9 ballades, 2 virelais and a rondeau:

Le basile de sa propre nature (ballade, 4 voices, Ch no. 79)
Calextone, qui fut dame d’Arouse (ballade, 3 voices, Ch no. 80)
Corps femenin par vertu de nature (ballade, 3 voices, Ch no. 24)
En l'amoureux vergier (ballade, 3 voices, Ch no. 17)
Fumeux fume par fumée (rondeau, 3 voices, Ch no. 98)
Hélas, je voy mon cuer (ballade, 4 voices, Ch no. 95)
Joieux de cuer en seumellant estoye (virelai, 4 voices, Ch no. 97)
Pluseurs gens voy qui leur pensee (ballade, 4 voices, Ch no. 96)
S'aincy estoit que ne feust la noblesce (ballade, 3 voices, Ch no. 50)
Tres gentil cuer (virelai, 3 voices, Ch no. 13 & 81)

Adieu vous di, tres doulce compaynie (ballade, 3 voices, Ch no. 74)
Le mont Aôn de Trace, doulz païs (ballade, 3 voices, Ch no. 22)

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