The composer Grimace

Updated English version of 2002 dictionary entry on Grimace.

In 2002 I published a short dictionary entry on “Grimace” in German in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Personenteil, vol. 8, pp.40-2). A pdf version of my draft English text is in the RHUL digital repository, but I thought I’d update the English text and post it below. This has enabled me to edit (quite lightly) the main text and to add more recently published items to the bibliography. The online format also means I can provide links to manuscript images, books, articles, discography, and other information. A key to MS sigla and full bibliographic references can be found below.

Grimace, Magister Grimache, Grymace

A late fourteenth-century composer of five surviving attributed French-texted formes fixes songs: three balades, one virelai and one rondeau. Grimace’s identity is unknown and it seems likely that his name, like that of other composers of the period, especially several transmitted in Ch, is a sobriquet. His songs’ poetry is very similar to that of Machaut, and their music stylistically resembles those three- and four-part works of Machaut which probably date from the 1360s and 70s. Grimace’s four-part counterpoint works exactly as that of Machaut: each upper part has a contrapuntal relationship with the tenor; isolated moments of tenor-function in the contratenor relate only to the triplum, usually when the contratenor is below the tenor. As the three-part version of A l’arme in PR proves, Grimace’s tripla are contrapuntally excisable (effectively a ‘fourth’, rather than a third part). The contratenor in both four-part pieces by Grimace lies mainly below the tenor except at important section endings, thereby resembling late Machaut works, like Phyton (B39). The minim-rich rhythmic and melodic figures used by both composers in minor prolation are especially similar, and, like Machaut’s later balades, Grimace’s exhibit ‘musical rhyme’ (identical passages ending the A section the second time (clos) and the refrain). Notationally Grimace’s songs are relatively straight-forward, occasionally using mensuration signs or coloration to fix a note at its imperfect value. However, as with Machaut, the value of the minim remains constant. Thus, notwithstanding the presence of three of Grimace’s works in Ch, he cannot be associated with the notational habits of the composers of the so-called ars subtilior and may be considered a contemporary of Machaut.

Like Machaut’s double balade Quant Theseus/Ne quier (B34) the two poetic texts of Grimace’s Se Zephirus/Se Jupiter have the same rhymes and share a refrain text. However, Machaut’s double balade is in four parts, with those that function as cantus and triplum being texted (a pattern also seen in the Deschamps/F. Andrieu déploration on Machaut’s death, Armes, Amours/O flour des flours). By contrast, Grimace’s Se Zephirus/Se Jupiter is in three parts with the cantus and contratenor texted; it is thus technically closer to other polytextual pieces in Ch, Jacob Senleches’s double balade Je me merveil/J’ay pluseurs fois, and Vaillant’s double rondeau Dame, doucement/Doulz amis (whose texts appear in Pa on the folio following those of Se Zephirus/Se Jupiter).

As the copying of all three stanzas of both texts of Se Zephirus/Se Jupiter in Pa proves, the two stanzas of residual text in Ch both belong to the cantus voice. Both published editions get this wrong: Apel gives both residual stanzas, and Greene the second, to the contratenor. As yet, no one has published a complete version of this song, using the full texts available in Pa. The texts of Grimace’s Se Zephirus/Se Jupiter exemplify the ‘Ubi sunt’ topos, several other examples of which are found in both Ch and Pa, frequently signalled by texts starting with ‘Se’, in which hyperbolical comparisons are made between the lady and/or patron and a list of figures from the classical, biblical and/or Christian past (see Leach 2009). The well-documented late-fourteenth-century preoccupation with lists of names as a way of crystallizing renown, together with the lack of conclusive evidence for the provenance of Ch, make specific identifications of patrons or dedicatees behind these texts as fraught as identifying the often similarly pseudonymous composers who wrote them.

The triadic melodic figures of the balade Des que buisson, occurring in conjunction with static harmonies (tenor longae), are akin to mimetic moments in so-called “realistic” virelais. Like most of these, Des que buisson depicts the coming of spring. The traditional use of the birdsong motif as part of the spring topos may have prompted the triplum part’s falling thirds, hocketing figures, and repeated notes, and the tenor’s provision of three against two (e.g. breves 11-12), all features typical of more obviously mimetic birdsong pieces.
Venus enflaming the Castle Digital ID: 1261462. New York Public Library

The triadic figures and striking imitation (partially texted in the lower voices) of Grimace’s own mimetic virelai, A l’arme, do not imitate birdsong, but instead depict the call to arms of a watchman whose stronghold is being attacked. This theme is transposed from its battle origins into a courtly register, such as that found in the Roman de la Rose, in which Love’s arrow pierces the walls of the lover’s heart.  A l’arme is copied anonymously in PR in close proximity to the virelai C’estoit ma douce nouriture (Greene 21:22) whose similar triadic figures have prompted Greene to ascribe it also to Grimace, although is copied anonymously.

Grimace’s balade Dedens mon cuer, the only attributed piece surviving in the flyleaves of a thirteenth-century missal now in Bern, is incompletely preserved. Its refrain text, “Resjouis est quicunques la regarde”, is shared with that of Trebor’s balade Passerose de beauté, although the music differs.

Only the incipit text of the rondeau Je voy ennui has survived and the manuscript that once contained the music was burned in 1870, leaving only a nineteenth-century transcription. Despite some passing similarities with Grimace’s other works, the counterpoint of this rondeau is less clearly directional, perhaps indicating errors in the now uncheckable transcription, or that Str’s attribution (like several others in this source) is unreliable.

MSS and Facsimiles



  1. Double balade: Se Zephirus, Phebus et leur lignie / Se Jupiter, qui donna seignurie. Editions: Apel no.36, Greene XVIII no.15. MSS: Ch f.19r, 3vv; Pit f.43r, 3vv; Pa, 61r, texts only. Listen on YouTube (Ferrara Ensemble).
  2. Balade: Des que buisson me fu boutee d’enfance. Editions: Apel 1:35, Greene 19:86. MSS: Ch 53r, 4vv.
  3. Balade: Dedens mon cuer est pourtrait un ymage. Editions: Apel 1:34, Greene 20:14. MSS: BernA, ?3vv. (end of T and all of Ct missing); Pa 17r, text only.
  4. Virelai: A l’arme a l’arme. Editions: Apel 1:37, Greene 19:91 (cf. 21:22). MSS: Ch 55v, 4vv; PR 69r, 3vv.
  5. Rondeau: Je voy ennui de ma dame. Editions: Apel 1:38; Greene 22:5. MSS: Str f.25 (from Coussemaker’s transcription).


Links to CDs containing Grimace works. Or click here and enter the titles of the works to use the search at Medieval FAQs.

Bibliography (by date; some links require a subscription)

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