Ballade (forme fixe)

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Guillaume Dufay ( Loudspeaker.svg listen  )

The ballade ( /bəˈlɑːd/ ; not to be confused with the ballad) is a form of medieval and Renaissance French poetry as well as the corresponding musical chanson form. It was one of the three formes fixes (the other two were the rondeau and the virelai) and one of the verse forms in France most commonly set to music between the late 13th and the 15th centuries.

The formes fixes were standard forms in French-texted song of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The ballade is usually in three stanzas, each ending with a refrain (a repeated segment of text and music). [1]

The ballade as a verse form typically consists of three eight-line stanzas, each with a consistent metre and a particular rhyme scheme. The last line in the stanza is a refrain. The stanzas are often followed by a four-line concluding stanza (an envoi ) usually addressed to a prince. The rhyme scheme is therefore usually ababbcbC ababbcbC ababbcbC bcbC, where the capital "C" is a refrain.

The many different rhyming words that are needed (the 'b' rhyme needs at least fourteen words) makes the form more difficult for English than for French poets. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in the form. It was revived in the 19th century by English-language poets including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne. Other notable English-language ballade writers are Andrew Lang, Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton (at Wikisource). A humorous example is Wendy Cope's 'Proverbial Ballade'.

Musical form

Schematic representation of a ballade stanza Ballade schema.svg
Schematic representation of a ballade stanza
Balladelle stanza Balladelle schema.svg
Balladelle stanza
Cantus voice of Machaut's "Honte, paour, doubtance". Note the musical rhyme between the clos of part A (m.15-18) and the end of the refrain (m.27-29). MIDI rendering. (help*info) Machaut Honte Paour.svg
Cantus voice of Machaut's "Honte, paour, doubtance". Note the musical rhyme between the clos of part A (m.15–18) and the end of the refrain (m.27–29). Loudspeaker.svg MIDI rendering.  

The musical form of a ballade stanza is a bar form (AAB), with a first, repeated musical section (stollen) setting the two initial pairs of verses (rhymes "ab–ab"), and the second section (abgesang) setting the remaining lines including the refrain verse ("bcbC"). The two statements of the "A" section often have different endings, known as "ouvert" and "clos" respectively, with the harmony of the "ouvert" ending leading back to the beginning and that of the "clos" ending leading forward into the "B" section. In many ballades, the final part of the "B" section may reintroduce melodic material referring back to the end of the "A" part, a feature known as "musical rhyme" (or, in German, Rücklaufballade). An alternative form employed by Machaut, known as ballade duplex or balladelle, has the B part also divided into two repetitions, with the refrain line sung as part of the repetition. [2]

A famous exception to the normal form is "Se la face ay pale" by Guillaume Dufay, where the entire stanza is through-composed, i.e. without a repetition between the two "A" sections.

Notable writers of ballades

Guillaume de Machaut wrote 42 ballades set to music. A few of them set two or even three poems to music simultaneously, with different texts sung in different voices. Most of the others have a single texted voice with either one or two untexted (instrumental) accompanying voices. One of the most notable writers of ballades in the 15th century was François Villon.


There are many easy-to-identify variations to the ballade; it is in many ways similar to the ode and chant royal. Some ballades have five stanzas. A seven-line ballade, or ballade royal, consists of four stanzas of rhyme royal, all using the same three rhymes, all ending in a refrain, without an envoi.

A ballade supreme has ten-line stanzas rhyming ababbccdcD, with the envoi ccdcD or ccdccD. An example is Ballade des Pendus by François Villon. There are also instances of a double ballade and double-refrain ballade.

Related Research Articles

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Guillaume de Machaut was a French poet and composer of late Medieval music who was the central figure of the ars nova style. Immensely influential, Machaut is regarded as the most important composer and poet of the 14th century and is the first significant composer whose name is known. Daniel Leech-Wilkinson called him "the last great poet who was also a composer", and well into the 15th century Machaut's poetry was greatly admired and imitated by other poets, including Geoffrey Chaucer.

Guillaume Du Fay Franco-Flemish Renaissance composer

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Strophic form

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<i>Lai</i> (poetic form)

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Burgundian School

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A virelai is a form of medieval French verse used often in poetry and music. It is one of the three formes fixes and was one of the most common verse forms set to music in Europe from the late thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries.

French poetry is a category of French literature. It may include Francophone poetry composed outside France and poetry written in other languages of France.

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Solage, possibly Jean So(u)lage, 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.

The music history of France runs from as far back as the 10th century to today's modern music. French music originated as a unified style in medieval times, focusing around the Notre-Dame school of composers. This group developed the motet, a specific musical composition. Troubadours and trouvères soon began touring France, composing and performing many original songs. The styles of ars nova and ars subtilior sprung up in the 14th century, both of which focused on secular songs. As Europe moved into the Renaissance age, the music of France continued to evolve. The popularity of French music in the rest of Europe declined slightly, yet the popular chanson and the old motet were further developed during this time. The epicenter of French music moved from Paris to Burgundy, as it followed the Burgundian School of composers. During the Baroque period, music was simplified and restricted due to Calvinist influence. The air de cour then became the primary style of French music, as it was secular and preferred by the royal court.

<i>Formes fixes</i>

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Grimace (composer) Medieval French composer

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Antonello da Caserta, also Anthonello de Casetta, Antonellus Marot, was an Italian composer of the medieval era, active in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

Le Testament is a collection of poetry composed in 1461 by François Villon. Le Testament, comprising over twenty essentially independent poems in octosyllabic verse, consists of a series of fixed-form poems, namely 16 ballades and three rondeaux, and is recognized as a gem of medieval literature.

Formed in 2000, the Musica Nova ensemble unites singers and musicians under the artistic direction of singer and conductor Lucien Kandel. A passionate quest in search of emotion through music drives the group to produce a diverse musical programme. From the Middles Age to Baroque, Musica Nova departs into various musical periods and universes. The ensemble approaches its music with an eye for historical accuracy, through the use of original manuscripts. Working with the documents from the era is conducted with reflection upon the musical rules of the time as well as the intended nuances of the pieces. The singers and musicians read their music in facsimile and their interpretation of it is thus inevitably modified. The result is a sound, a movement, a line, which makes Musica Nova so exceptionally rich and vibrant; the acoustic of which transports the listener; temporally and spiritually. The Musica Nova Ensemble appears on prestigious stages in France and all over the world. Recordings of their works are available, some of which have set the standard for current adaptations of the musical style.


  1. J.P.E. Harper-Scott and Jim Samson (2009). An introduction to music studies. cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Brewer, Charles E. "French Ars nova". In Duffin, Ross W (ed.). A Performer's Guide to Medieval Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 193.

Further reading