Author Topic: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)  (Read 3758 times)

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Offline sanantonio

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Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« on: May 21, 2015, 12:37:41 PM »
Guillaume de Machaut (d.1377) is one of the undisputed pinnacle geniuses of Western music, and the most famous composer of the Middle Ages. Today his four-voice Mass of Notre Dame is a textbook example for medieval counterpoint, and has served sufficiently to maintain his reputation across shifts in fashion. However Machaut's work is extensive, with his French songs & poetry dominating the fourteenth century by both their quality and volume. A series of carefully prepared illuminated manuscripts, undertaken for members of the French royalty, preserve his complete artistic output. Along with these major sources, various pieces are duplicated in scattered sources throughout Europe. His life and work are thus extremely well-preserved for the period, and his position as the most distinguished composer of the century has never wavered.

Machaut was apparently born in the vicinity of Rheims in Champagne, around the year 1300. He is first known as the secretary of John of Luxembourg in 1323, and used the position to travel extensively for various battles and political events. In approximately 1340, Machaut returned to Rheims to take up the position of canon (he had previously been an absentee office-holder) together with his brother Jean. However, he continued to serve John of Luxembourg until the latter's death at Crécy in 1346, and then served his daughter Bonne, who appears in the Remède de Fortune. The remainder of the fourteenth century was an epic of wars and plagues, and one of the few periods in which the population of Europe declined, but Machaut's reputation continued to rise. He went on to serve two kings of France, and was charged with a task as important as accompanying hostages during the English war. In 1361 the Dauphine was received in Machaut's quarters, an exceptional event. By the 1370s Machaut's name was associated with Pierre de Lusignan, King of Cyprus, thus establishing his fame nearly as far as Asia.

Machaut is frequently portrayed today as an avant garde composer, especially because of his position with regard to the early Ars Nova (a new, more detailed rhythmic notation), but one must also emphasize the masterful continuity with which he employed established forms. While using the same basic formats, he made subtle changes to meter and rhyme scheme, allowing for more personal touches and a more dramatic presentation. Indeed, Machaut's poetry is one of the most impressive French outputs of the medieval era, serving as an example even for Chaucer. The theme of courtly love dominates his writing, becoming heavily symbolized in the guises of such characters as Fortune & Love, and the personal dramas in which they act. Machaut's poetic output, and by extension the subset of texts he chose to set to music, is both personal and ritualized, lending it a timeless quality. Some of the love themes date to Ovid and beyond, from whom they had been elaborated first by the troubadours of Provence and then by the northern trouvères, and so it is truly a classical tradition to which Machaut belongs.

Machaut marks the end of the lineage of the trouvères, and with it the development of the monophonic art song in the West. This aspect of his work is found in the virelais and especially the lengthy lais. He also acted decisively to refine the emerging polyphonic song forms ballade & rondeau, and these were to become the dominant fixed forms for the following generations. What Machaut achieved so eloquently is an idiomatic and natural combination of words with music, forcefully compelling in its lyrical grace and rhythmic sophistication. His songs are immediately enjoyable, because he was able to shape the smallest melodic nuances as well as to conceive forms on a larger scale. The latter is reflected especially in his poetic-musical creations Le Remède de Fortune and Le Voir Dit, as well as in his Messe de Notre Dame. One must not lose sight of Machaut's position within the sweep of medieval history, as his great "multimedia" productions had clear precedents in the Roman de la Rose and especially the Roman de Fauvel. It is Machaut's ability to unite cogent and elegant melodic thinking with the new rhythmic possibilities of the Ars Nova which ultimately makes his musical reputation.

Although he wrote music for more than one hundred of his French poems, and even for half a dozen motets in Latin, Machaut remains best-known for his Mass of Notre Dame. This mass was written as part of the commemoration of the Virgin endowed by the Machaut brothers at Rheims, and was intended for performance in a smaller setting by specialized soloists. The most striking aspect of the piece is not simply the high quality of the contrapuntal writing, but the architectural unity of the Ordinary sections as well. Machaut's mass is not the earliest surviving mass cycle (there are two which predate it), but it is the earliest by a single composer and indeed the earliest to display this degree of unity. While the chants used as cantus firmus do vary, opening gestures and motivic figures are used to confirm the cyclical nature of the work. Technique of this magnitude is frequently offered as evidence of Machaut's prescience, given the prominence of such forms a hundred or two hundred years later, but the musical quality of his cycle can be appreciated on its own terms. Of course, the same can be said for Machaut's oeuvre as a whole.


Written by Todd McComb, 4/98

Offline sanantonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2015, 03:12:13 PM »
Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300-1377) is the most well-known composer of the 14th century.  I can make this statement with complete confidence of its veracity.  Machaut had a day job, he worked for John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, from ‘around twelve years’ before 1330 until at least 1333 (and probably until 1346) (Leach, Elizabeth Eva. “Guillaume de Machaut, royal almoner: Honte, paour (B25) and Donnez, signeurs (B26) in context.” Early Music 38.1 (2010): 21-42.)

These duties positioned and provided Machaut with the skill set and resources to preserve his music to a degree unavailable for most of his contemporaries.  As a result we have no problem of attribution, and at least two complete books of his works which were if not completely made by Machaut under his close supervision.  The ordering of the works in these volumes is especially important, and something Machaut no doubt controlled.

RTRH

Offline sanantonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2015, 03:26:27 PM »
Some basic resources on Machaut.

Guillaume de Machaut: A Guide to Research (Lawrence Earp)

Lawrence Earp's book, which was published in 1996 is THE primary resource for conducting research on Machaut.

Companion to Guillaume de Machaut (Deborah McGrady, Jennifer Bain)

Machaut's Music: New Interpretations (Elizabeth Eva Leach)

Offline Draško

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2015, 03:27:27 PM »
Messe de Nostre Dame
Ensemble Gilles Binchois / Dominique Vellard
Live, Thoronet Abbey

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/11A4wqv8_wo" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/11A4wqv8_wo</a>
de gustibus, aut bene aut nihil

Offline sanantonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2015, 03:29:46 PM »
Messe de Nostre Dame
Ensemble Gilles Binchois / Dominique Vellard
Live, Thoronet Abbey

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/11A4wqv8_wo" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/11A4wqv8_wo</a>

Fantastic clip!

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2015, 05:46:08 PM »
Messe de Nostre Dame
Ensemble Gilles Binchois / Dominique Vellard
Live, Thoronet Abbey
Fantastic clip!
Yes it is, and that was actually my introduction to Machaut a couple of years ago.

This reissue of recordings by the same group is the only Machaut I own, and it would certainly be a great introduction to the composer for anyone, covering the Mass, non-liturgical motets, and secular chansons in superb performances.

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it." - Confucius

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Offline sanantonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2015, 06:01:31 PM »
This reissue of recordings by the same group is the only Machaut I own, and it would certainly be a great introduction to the composer for anyone, covering the Mass, non-liturgical motets, and secular chansons in superb performances.



I always recommend that one when I'm asked about Machaut. 

 :)

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #7 on: May 22, 2015, 03:41:33 AM »
High time for this thread!

Got a quick side bar on Machaut/Machault:)
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Offline sanantonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #8 on: May 22, 2015, 03:48:30 AM »
High time for this thread!

Got a quick side bar on Machaut/Machault:)

I know; I've seen it both ways.  But I think most often (nowadays) his name is spelled without the "L". Machault is the town from where it is thought he was from.  But even that is speculative.

 ;)

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2015, 03:49:24 AM »
High time for this thread!

Got a quick side bar on Machaut/Machault:)
Spellings were not exactly standardized back then, even in France.  0:)
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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2015, 04:50:26 AM »
:)
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2015, 04:51:43 AM »
My quirky use of the l-form refers to a Wuorinen adaptation which I have yet to hear: Machault mon chou.
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2015, 10:36:11 PM »
Yes it is, and that was actually my introduction to Machaut a couple of years ago.

This reissue of recordings by the same group is the only Machaut I own, and it would certainly be a great introduction to the composer for anyone, covering the Mass, non-liturgical motets, and secular chansons in superb performances.



The thing which drew my attention to Machaut was the mass with Ensemble Organum, partly because it was so disorienting, the byzentine chant, I had no idea that music could sound like that! Another recording I liked a lot when I was exploring this music for the first time was of secular music by Studio der Frühen musik, The Lay da La Fonteine, not least because I find Andrea von Ramm's voice quite sexy.

Recently, when I've listened to Machaut it has mainly been to the big long lays in Voir Dit and elsewhere, partly because I'm curious about how people make music out of stuff which can all too easily be repetitive and monotonous.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2015, 10:39:07 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline Artem

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #13 on: May 24, 2015, 04:24:20 AM »
My introduction to Mauchaut was the Orlando Consort CD oh Hyperion from last year and it was the longest work on that CD, Longuement me sui tenus 'Le lay de Bon Esperance', that had captured my attention the most. I found it very unique and enjoyable.

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Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #15 on: November 20, 2015, 12:44:24 PM »
MACHAUT’S MESSE DE NOTRE DAME : AN OVERVIEW

Thanks for this overview. I've got the Oxford Camerata (Naxos) recording.

Been listening to this week to his secular songs on the classic D. Munrow anthology, The Art of Courtly Love.
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Offline sanantonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #16 on: November 20, 2015, 01:47:07 PM »
Thanks for this overview. I've got the Oxford Camerata (Naxos) recording.

Been listening to this week to his secular songs on the classic D. Munrow anthology, The Art of Courtly Love.

That one is a good one; not the best, but among the better recordings.

Offline sanantonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #17 on: December 19, 2016, 05:40:09 AM »
Andrew Parrott recorded the Messe in 1983



Soon to be available in January 2017 as part of this compilation:



My copy is on vinyl purchased shortly after it was released and is still one of my favorite versions, primarily because Parrott developed the research that the modern pitch of A 440 is a fourth higher than was common in the period of Machaut. 

The overall ranges of the Mass vocal parts are as follows (c' = middle C):

Triplum       c"-a
Motetus       f'-c
Tenor          f'-c
Contratenor f'-c

Both this vocal scoring and the work's contrapuntal construction suggest performance by pairs of voice-types; and nowadays these are likely to be two countertenors and two tenors, singing at or near modern pitch.

With his 1983 recording, Andrew Parrott proposed that falsetto was not commonly used in the Middle Ages, and that the Mass should therefore be sung by two tenors and two basses a fourth below modern pitch.  However, the debate is far from over.  Performers who adopt the lower scoring, however, should select basses with the clearest possible tone: Machaut's close harmony can easily be destroyed by over-rich lower voices.  (Something I think Peres comes close to achieving.)

Even though I have the LP of Parrott's Messe, I still plan on purchasing the CD when it is available.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2016, 05:44:25 AM by sanantonio »

Offline BasilValentine

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #18 on: December 19, 2016, 09:27:11 AM »
I find Machaut's chanson more attractive than the motets or mass. Rose Liz was my first favorite. Same feelings about Dufay. The secular music is less stodgy and baroque (not in the music-historical sense, in the original sense). 

Offline sanantonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #19 on: December 19, 2016, 09:37:08 AM »
I find Machaut's chanson more attractive than the motets or mass. Rose Liz was my first favorite. Same feelings about Dufay. The secular music is less stodgy and baroque (not in the music-historical sense, in the original sense).

Machaut's songs occupy probably the bulk of his output, and as you say are very engaging.  He was probably considered a poet first and a composer second during his lifetime and he arguably invested more of himself in the songs than the sacred works.  That said, the Messe is a hugely important work, not only historically which it certainly is, but musically it incorporates a variety of contrapuntal techniques which put it on a high level among his works.

Not that "alleged importance" is a factor when choosing which works one finds most appealing.

 ;)

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