V. Guillaume de Machaut

Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300 - 1377)
A French classical composer, important in the development of polyphonic music.  His works include La Messe De Notre Dame, one of the earliest masses, probably composed in 1364, several motets and many songs.

Machaut was born around 1300 in the Champagne region of France.  He had a clerical education and took holy orders.  In 1323 he joined the royal household of John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, and served as secretary in the the king's retinue.  He traveled with King John's court, but increasingly spent his time composing rather than in administration, becoming widely respected as a poet and a composer. 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, which was granted in 1337, eventually taking up residency there in 1340.  He left his formal work with the king, though remaining in service until the monarch's death at the battle of Crecy in 1346.  Machaut had accompanied the king on several military campaigns, including the disastrous battle of Crecy where the king fulfilled his chivalric destiny by charging into the fray, even though he was blind. After the outbreak of the Black Death in France at the end of the 1340's, Machaut prepared eleborate collections of his compositions for his patrons, who included John, Duke of Berry, and the future King Charles V of France. These unique, beautifully illuminated manuscript editions combined motets, ballads, and many other forms with a wide selection of his poetry.

Machuat was the leading exponent of the Ars Nova movement that flourished in France during the fourteenth century.  He 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.  sound.gif (615 bytes)Qui es promesses-Ha! Fortune-Et non est que adjuvet .

Machaut's La Messe de Notre Dame is, deservedly, the best-known composition of the entire age. He wrote the principal components of the Mass 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. sound.gif (615 bytes)La Messe de Notre Dame, Agnus Dei (mid format). Though the Mass is his most famous work, the heart of Machaut is really in his secular music, in which he brought the world of the trouvères into the polyphonic age. In his life and his music, Machaut embodied the world of chivalry and courtly love. When he was in his sixties, near the end of his life, he fell in love with a much younger woman and courted her in letters, poems and chansons, and she loved him in return. Machaut not only epitomized the chivalric world, he also captured for all time the yearnings and pleasures of romance. His dozens of love songs, in all the poetic/musical forms of the day, are flowery and formulaic in language but delightful in their musical settings. An excerpt from Machaut's "Douce dame jolie" reads, "Fair sweet lady, for God's sake do not think that any woman has mastery over me, save you alone." Often Machaut followed the polyphonic technique of the time in which each voice has its own poem; in these polytextual works he creates subtle interrelationships of theme and sound among the words. At the same time, he produced some of the finest monophonic melodies of the age. sound.gif (615 bytes)Rose, Liz, Printemps, Verdure (mid format).

A 14th century French artist's rendition of Nature offering three of her children - Sense, Rhetoric, and Music - to Machaut.

Machaut remained in Rheims as canon until his death in 1377. In his maturity all of Europe recognized him as the premier composer of the age, supplying music and poetry to the great courts of the time. He stands between the extremes of conservatism and innovation, between those who devoted all their efforts to keep the traditions of the previous century and those who fought for the new ideas. Avoiding the rigidity of doctrines, Machaut brought to his music a lyricism and a spontaneity which made him a precursor of the musical art of the Renaissance. A farewell that one of his contemporaries composed on Machaut's passing shows the regard of his own era: "Men of arms, lovers, ladies and their knights, clerks, musicians, and those who write in French, all thinkers, poets, and all you who sing harmoniously with tuneful voice and hold dear the sweet art of music, give full feeling to your rightful grief, and lament the death of Machaut, the noblest bard."