The Chansonniers

Songs and dances from around the sixteenth century

What are ‘Chansonniers’?

early printed music book

A chansonnier was a book of songs. They used to be handwritten, beautifully illustrated, a jewel for a duke or a king. Examples: one, two, three.

The game changed when music printing arrived in 1501. Printers like Claude Attaignant in Paris produced prodigious numbers of music books, eagerly bought by the middle classes. Although far from utilitarian, as our picture shows, the printed book was nowhere near as beautiful as the hand-written book, and of course it had far less prestige.

Yet despite the arrival of music printing, wealthy people would still pay for hand-written music books enriched with pretty illustrations and beautiful illuminations. The images on this website come from the wonderful chansonnier created in 1542 for a rich merchant from Bruges, Zeghere van Male.