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IL EST BEL ET BON


This madrigal was written by Pierre Passereau (d. 1547), and was first published in Paris in 1534. Passereau wrote many such chansons; most of them were of a rustic character, and similar to so-called 'patter' songs in that they have lots of alliterative words and other vocal sounds that are fun to listen to when sung fast. Passereau’s songs apparently also often featured double entendres and obscenity, common features of popular music in France and the Low(!) Countries in the 1530s.

Il est Bel et Bon (He is handsome and good) is a conversation between two women about the merits of their husbands – see this translation. Perhaps helped by its lack of obviously obscene content (or maybe in spite of this) it has always been Passereau’s most popular song, and YouTube has performances by countless vocal groups and chamber choirs. Here is a good one by the Romanian Cantemus Chamber Choir.

The song is often performed as a quartet, and not surprisingly The King's Singers have recorded it a number of times. There are also vocal quintet versions to be found. The Serbian early music ensemble Flauto Dolce perform it as a soprano duet, with the other parts played on period instruments. The tune also works well in purely instrumental mode – try Boston’s Park Street Brass or this saxophone quartet arrangement.

And don’t miss the Provençal vocal ensemble Antequiem, who perform it as a sort of clog-dance conga ...