French miniature, 14th
century An allegorical scene in which Nature offers Machaut
three of her children -Sense, Rhetoric, and Music.
Probably born in Rheims,
Machaut was the leading exponent of the Ars Nova movement
that flourished in France during the fourteenth century. In
1323 he joined the royal household of John of Luxembourg,
King of Bohemia, and served as a clerk for about 20 years,
widely respected as a poet as well as a composer. He
travelled with the court, but increasingly spent his time
composing rather than in administration. His first verified
composition was a motet written in 1324 for the election of
the Archbishop of Rheims. Through the efforts of King John,
Machaut was granted several benefices, in particular the
canonry of the new Gothic cathedral in Rheims, granted in
1337. He took up residency there in 1340, leaving his formal
work with the king though remaining in service until the
monarch's death at the battle of Crecy in 1346.
Machaut was one of the earliest known users of syncopated
rhythm, and was at the forefront of rhythmic experimentation
in both his religious and his secular music. His Hoquetus
David is one of the first pieces of purely instrumental
music in modern Western times. In addition, he composed for
voices in a wider vocal range than was previously thought
possible. In all he wrote more than 140 (mainly polyphonic)
compositions, although fewer than two dozen have been found
outside his own collections, suggesting that he protected
his work fiercely. After the outbreak of the Black Death in
France at the end of the 1340s, Machaut prepared elaborate
collections of his compositions for his patrons, who
included Jean, Due de Berry, and the future King Charles V
of France. These unique and very beautifully illuminated
manuscript editions combined motets, ballades, and many
other forms with a wide selection of his poetry.
Machaut's Messe de Notre Dame is, deservedly, the best-known
composition of the entire age. He -wrote the principal
components of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus/Benedictus,
and Agnus Dei) polyphonically rather than in the customary
plainchant. It is also one of the first Masses to have been
written as a whole by a single composer (previously the
different components of the Mass were assembled from
different composers). This, together with its innovative
rhythmical techniques, makes it a milestone in the evolution
of the Mass as a musical form in its own right.
Manuscript illumination, 14th century Singers performing one
of Machaut's works from a rotu/us (music roll).
Guillaume de Machaut
(sometimes spelled Machault) (c. 1300 – April 1377) was a
Medieval French poet and composer. He is one of the earliest
composers on whom significant biographical information is
available. According to Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Machaut was
"the last great poet who was also a composer". Well into the
15th century, Machaut's poetry was greatly admired and
imitated by other poets, including Geoffrey Chaucer.
Machaut composed in a wide
range of styles and forms. He is a part of the musical
movement known as the ars nova. Machaut helped develop the
motet and secular song forms (particularly the lai and the
formes fixes: rondeau, virelai and ballade). Machaut wrote
the Messe de Nostre Dame, the earliest known complete
setting of the Ordinary of the Mass attributable to a single
Guillaume de Machaut was born c. 1300 and educated in the
region around Rheims. Though his surname most likely derives
from the nearby town of Machault, 30 km east of Rheims in
the Ardennes region, most scholars believe his birthplace
was, in fact, Rheims.
He was employed as
secretary to John I, Count of Luxemburg and King of Bohemia,
from 1323 to 1346 and also became a canon (1337). He most
likely accompanied King John on his various trips, many of
them military expeditions, around Europe (including Prague).
He was named the canon of Verdun in 1330, Arras in 1332, and
Rheims in 1337. By 1340, Machaut was living in Rheims,
having relinquished his other canonic posts at the request
of Pope Benedict XII. In 1346, King John was killed fighting
at the Battle of Crécy, and Machaut, who was famous and much
in demand, entered the service of various other aristocrats
and rulers, including King John's daughter Bonne (who died
of the Black Death in 1349), her sons Jean de Berry and
Charles (later Charles V, Duke of Normandy), and others such
as Charles II of Navarre.
Machaut survived the Black
Death that devastated Europe and spent his later years
living in Rheims composing and supervising the creation of
his complete-works manuscripts. His poem Le voir dit
(probably 1361–1365) purports to recount a late love affair
with a 19-year-old girl, Péronne d'Armentières, although the
accuracy of the work as autobiography is contested. When he
died in 1377, other composers such as François Andrieu wrote
elegies lamenting his death.
Guillaume de Machaut's lyric output comprises around 400
poems, including 235 ballades, 76 rondeaux, 39 virelais, 24
lais, 10 complaintes, and 7 chansons royales, and Machaut
did much to perfect and codify these fixed forms. Some of
his lyric output is inserted in his narrative poems or "dits",
such as Le remède de fortune ("The Cure of Ill Fortune")
which includes one of each genre of lyric poetry, and Le
voir dit ("A True Story"), but most are included in a
separate, unordered section entitled Les loanges des dames.
That the majority of his lyrics are not set to music (in
manuscripts, music and non-music sections are separate)
suggests that he normally wrote the text before setting some
Other than his Latin motets
of a religious nature and some poems invoking the horrors of
war and captivity, the vast majority of Machaut's lyric
poems partake of the conventions of courtly love and involve
statements of service to a lady and the poet's pleasure and
pains. In technical terms, Machaut was a master of elaborate
rhyme schemes, and this concern makes him a precursor to the
Grands Rhétoriqueurs of the 15th century.
Guillaume de Machaut's
narrative output is dominated by the "dit" (literally
"spoken", i.e. a poem not meant to be sung).
These first-person narrative poems (all but one are
written in octosyllabic rhymed couplets, like the romance, or "roman"
of the same period) follow many of the conventions of the
Roman de la rose, including the use of allegorical dreams (songes),
allegorical characters, and the situation of the
narrator-lover attempting to return toward or satisfy his
Machaut is also responsible
for a poetic chronicle the chivalric deeds of Peter I of
Cyprus (the Prise d'Alexandrie) and for poetic works of
consolation and moral philosophy. His unusual
self-reflective usage of himself (as his lyrical persona) as
the narrator of his dits gleans some personal philosophical
insights as well.
At the end of his life,
Machaut wrote a poetic treatise on his craft (his Prologue).
This reflects on his conception of the organization of
poetry into set genres and rhyme schemes, and the ordering
of these genres into distinct sections of manuscripts. This
pre-occupation in ordering his oeuvre is reflected in an
index to MS A entitled "Vesci l'ordenance que G. de Machau
wet qu'il ait en son livre" ("Here is the order that G. de
Machaut wants his book to have").
Machaut's poetry had a
direct effect on the works of Eustache Deschamps, Jean
Froissart, Christine de Pizan, René of Anjou and Geoffrey
Chaucer, among many others.
Antisemitism In René Girard's book The Scapegoat, Guillaume de
Machaut's work is shown to instigate violence against
Jews, as he accuses them of poisoning wells and causing
the black plague which ravaged France in 1349. Girard
uses Guillaume's work to demonstrate the "stereotypes of
the scapegoat". (Girard R., 1986)
As a composer of the 14th century, Machaut's secular song
output includes monophonic lais and virelais, which
continue, in updated forms, some of the tradition of the
troubadours. He also worked in the polyphonic forms of the
ballade and rondeau and wrote the first complete setting of
the Ordinary of the Mass which can be attributed to a single
composer. Machaut fused together contemporary styles and
techniques to create a series of masterworks that Classic FM
Magazine says stands at the summit of 14th century music.
The lyrics of Machaut's works almost always dealt with
courtly love. A few works exist to commemorate a particular
event, such as M18, "Bone Pastor/Bone Pastor/Bone Pastor."
Machaut mostly composed in five genres: the lai, the virelai,
the motet, the ballade, and the rondeau. In these genres,
Machaut retained the basic formes fixes but often utilized
creative text setting and cadences. For example, most
rondeaux phrases end with a long melisma on the penultimate
syllable. However, a few of Machaut's rondeaux, such as R18
"Puis qu'en oubli", are mostly syllabic in treatment.
Machaut's motets often
contain sacred texts in the tenor, such as in M12 "Corde
mesto cantando/Helas! pour quoy virent/Libera me". The top
two voices in these three-part compositions, in contrast,
sing secular French texts, creating interesting concordances
between the sacred and secular. In his other genres, though,
he does not utilize sacred texts.
Machaut's cyclic setting of the Mass, the Messe de Nostre
Dame ("Mass of Our Lady"), was probably composed for Rheims
Cathedral in the early 1360s. While not the first cyclic
mass – the Tournai Mass is earlier – it was the first by a
single composer and conceived as a unit. Machaut probably
was familiar with the Tournai Mass since the Messe de Nostre
Dame shares many stylistic features with it, including
textless interludes. Whether or not Machaut's
mass is indeed cyclic is contested; after lengthy debate,
musicologists are still deeply divided. However, there is a
consensus that this mass is at best a forerunner to the
later 15th-century cyclic masses by the likes of Josquin des
Prez. Machaut's mass differs from these in the following
ways: (1) he does not hold a tonal centre throughout the
entire work, as the mass uses two distinct modes (one for
the Kyrie, Gloria and Credo, another for Sanctus, Agnus and
Ita missa est); (2) there is no extended melodic theme that
clearly runs through all the movements, and the mass does
not use the parody technique; (3) there is considerable
evidence that this mass was not composed in one creative
motion. That the movements may have been placed together
does not mean they were conceived so.Nevertheless, the mass can
be said to be stylistically consistent, and certainly the
chosen chants are all celebrations of Mary, the mother of
Jesus. Also adding weight to the claim that the mass is
cyclic is the possibility that the piece was written or
assembled for performance at a specific celebration. The
possibility that it was for the coronation of Charles V,
which was once widely accepted, is thought unlikely in
modern scholarship. The composer's intention that the piece
be performed as one entire mass setting makes the Messe de
Nostre Dame generally considered a cyclic composition.
Machaut - Messe de
(abbaye de Thoronet, Ens. G. Binchois, dir. D.
Misa de Notre Dame
de Guillaume de Machaut, cantada por el Ensemble Gilles
bajo la dirección de Dominique Vellard.
Machaut "Je vivroie liement/Liement me deport"
should lead a happy life, sweet creature, if only you truly realized that you where the cause of all my concern.
Lady of cheerful bearing, pleasing, bright and pure, often the woe I suffer to serve you loyally
makes me say 'alas!' And you may be sure that I can in no wise go on living like this, if it lasts any longer
For you are merciless to me and pitilessly obdurate, and have put such longing into my heart
that it will certainly die a most dismal death, unless for its relief your mercy is soon ready.
Machaut: Douce dame jolie
MACHAUT: De Fortune Me Doi Plaindre Et Loer (Ballade 23).
Ensemble Musica Nova
La hermosa balada
de Machaut iluminada con algunas de las miniaturas
pertenecientes al "Codex Manesse". La interpretación es del
Ensemble Musica Nova
Machaut: Joie, plaisance et douce nourriture
Machaut : J'aim sans penser
Binchois - Dominique Vellard, dir.: Le Jugement du Roi de
Navarre - Guillaume de Machaut : Ballades, motets, virelais
et textes dits