Author Topic: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)  (Read 6885 times)

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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #40 on: December 25, 2016, 01:41:28 AM »
What are they trying to do? 


I believe they are trying to effect us in a way which is similar to the way Machaut's audience were effected. So shock, surprise, disorientation, a sense of newness etc.

That's why it's important to understand the newness of Machaut's ideas- if it's just that he was the first to write a single mass as opposed to a credo here and a kyrie there, then I'm not sure I follow Schmelzer's argument at all.

One thing to not forget in all of this, is that the mass movements are in different styles.
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #41 on: December 25, 2016, 01:51:31 AM »

Perhaps because it is an earlier recording from 1991?


I don't think so.

I've not checked the dates of these things but there are many later recordings where he uses western singing, for example in the Eglise de Rome mass, the music from Auxèrre, the music from Aquitaine, the Cictercian chant recording, the gradual of Aléanor de Bretagne. So being a later recording is not a sufficient condition.

And I think (but I'm not sure) that the Christmas mass from Notre Dame, the second EO recording, predates the Missa Tournai, and it does use Byzantine singing, so being a later recording is not a necessary condition.

Maybe one of us should write to him and ask him about this.
« Last Edit: December 25, 2016, 01:58:47 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline San Antonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #42 on: December 25, 2016, 02:14:19 AM »
I believe they are trying to effect us in a way which is similar to the way Machaut's audience were effected. So shock, surprise, disorientation, a sense of newness etc.

First there is little evidence the mass was performed often: at least on one Marian feast day and possibly as a memorial performance for Machaut and his brother.  Second, there is no evidence that the mass was controversial regarding how it sounded to a contemporary audience.

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That's why it's important to understand the newness of Machaut's ideas- if it's just that he was the first to write a single mass as opposed to a credo here and a kyrie there, then I'm not sure I follow Schmelzer's argument at all.

This is my point, his was unique because it was the first solely composed mass setting.  Having not read Schmelzer's argument, I will re-read the booklet with Peres's and see what is there.   

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One thing to not forget in all of this, is that the mass movements are in different styles.

That aspect does not constitute evidence of "newness" or "controversy" surrounding Machaut's Messe since stylistic difference was also true for masses created from separate movements.  The only real stylistic variety in Machaut's mass is the fact that some movements are isorhytmic and others not (it is questionable if an audience could tell the difference). 

There is more evidence that the existence of linking aspects between the movements was a unifying feature that Machaut created which was new (not for him, since that was a hallmark of his work and obvious when the collections he made of his complete catalog are examined [he used references almost like hyperlinking to previous or later poems]) and something not found in assembled mass settings.

Offline San Antonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #43 on: December 25, 2016, 02:29:54 AM »
Daniel Leech-Wilkerson calls into question the most prominent features of both Peres and Schmelzer:

"As far as vocal style is concerned, it is worth remembering that everything we know of the harmonic and rhythmic language of fourteenth-century polyphony suggests that its essence lies in the progression from imperfect to perfect consonance and from activity to stasis.  These processes are most effective when the voices are clear and absolutely precise about articulation and pitch.  Continuous vibrato and rubato should therefore be avoided."

Of course this could just be some scholarly turf battling since Leech-Wilkerson is British and describes the classic British style of singing as ideal.  Nevertheless, Machaut's mass does incorporate some dissonance which would could easily become cloudy and the effect weakened by the kind of liberties taken by Peres and Schmelzer.

Offline San Antonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #44 on: December 25, 2016, 04:18:35 AM »
I think I've found as good an explanation as I going to find for Peres' concept in his choice of singers and interpretation with Machaut's mass.  This comes from a review of two recordings in Gramphone (Summerly and Peres):

Notwithstanding the obvious misgivings one might have (approach to musica ficta, to ornamentation, to plainsong intonation, and problems of ensemble), Peres’s reading makes a point that is so often conveniently ignored: we have no idea what Machaut’s singers actually sounded like, or how they produced the sound in their throats. Peter Phillips once made that point, envisaging the possibility that we might find the ‘authentic’ sound unbearable. As I have got used (slowly) to Organum’s sound, I have been reminded how far Machaut’s world is from our own. This recording questions a fundamental and untestable assumption about medieval polyphony. As such, it is an intriguing alternative to other all-vocal performances, even if there are too many other imponderables to warrant an unconditional recommendation.'

All true, we are far removed from Machaut's time and we do not know how his singers sounded, so utilizing some kind of interpretative technique to make the music sound somewhat strange to our ears may not be a bad thing.  Still, I think if too much effort is given to making this point with the sound the singers produce, the impression of the work stands a good chance of becoming distorted.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #45 on: December 25, 2016, 05:14:48 AM »
First there is little evidence the mass was performed often: at least on one Marian feast day and possibly as a memorial performance for Machaut and his brother. 

I thought he left an endowment to ensure that his the mass would be sung regularly as part of an annual memorial ceremony for himself and his brother.

If that's right he was trying to make his music live on after his death, and he would have known that it would be presented in different ways, subject to different singing styles. He knew that singing is a living practice,  and that the score doesn't determine what a performance will sound like.

That's why using Corsican ornamentation and timbres is perfectly consistent with Machaut's musical intentions: by letting the Corsican singers respond creatively to the score, the mass gets plugged into a living tradition which goes all the way back to the 14th century in fact.

As far as I know there was no such endowment and regular practice associated with the Tournai. This could partially explain why Pérès treated them so differently.
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Offline San Antonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #46 on: December 25, 2016, 06:01:09 AM »
I thought he left an endowment to ensure that his the mass would be sung regularly as part of an annual memorial ceremony for himself and his brother.

I stand corrected.  It appears the mass was performed well into the 15th century in this manner.  But this does not make the case it was strange, just the opposite, depending upon how well attended were these performances.

Quote
If that's right he was trying to make his music live on after his death, and he would have known that it would be presented in different ways, subject to different singing styles. He knew that singing is a living practice,  and that the score doesn't determine what a performance will sound like.

That's why using Corsican ornamentation and timbres is perfectly consistent with Machaut's musical intentions: by letting the Corsican singers respond creatively to the score, the mass gets plugged into a living tradition which goes all the way back to the 14th century in fact.

Plenty of assumptions in this post. 

I think because of the little we know about the sound of Machaut's singers during this period, choral directors should concentrate on issues of pitching and tuning of the ensemble (things for which there is scholarship on firmer ground).  I have read that it is particularly anachronistic to apply equal temperament to this music, a more appropriate tuning would be Pythagorean, which uses perfect fifths and octaves but widens the thirds and sixths.

Offline Ken B

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #47 on: December 25, 2016, 06:13:31 AM »
I thought he left an endowment to ensure that his the mass would be sung regularly as part of an annual memorial ceremony for himself and his brother.

If that's right he was trying to make his music live on after his death, and he would have known that it would be presented in different ways, subject to different singing styles. He knew that singing is a living practice,  and that the score doesn't determine what a performance will sound like.

That's why using Corsican ornamentation and timbres is perfectly consistent with Machaut's musical intentions: by letting the Corsican singers respond creatively to the score, the mass gets plugged into a living tradition which goes all the way back to the 14th century in fact.

As far as I know there was no such endowment and regular practice associated with the Tournai. This could partially explain why Pérès treated them so differently.
I question the bit about his motive. Those who could afford it routinely endowed masses for their souls after they died. Shortened the time in purgatory. Postmortem prayer and singing were big business for monks and churches.  I don't think you should read musical motivations here.
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #48 on: December 25, 2016, 06:52:51 AM »
Can we just get clear about this? Is there an earlier mass which was written to be performed after the death of the composer? Or part of a mass? Or prayer?
My guess is that no, Machaut was the first, and that makes a huge difference to what is responsible, stylish performance now.



I think because of the little we know about the sound of Machaut's singers during this period, choral directors should concentrate on issues of pitching and tuning of the ensemble (things for which there is scholarship on firmer ground). 

I know (I'll find the quote later) that Peres would say yes to this, but would add that ornamentation matters enormously in 14th century music. And we know very little about ornamentation. Hence the interest in plugging into Corsican ornamentation ideas, since their tradition goes all the way back to the middle ages and is insulated from from the familiar practices of mainland France, so strange sounding.

« Last Edit: December 25, 2016, 06:57:16 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline San Antonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #49 on: December 25, 2016, 07:03:32 AM »
Can we just get clear about this? Is there an earlier mass which was written to be performed after the death of the composer? Or part of a mass? Or prayer?
My guess is that no, Machaut was the first, and that makes a huge difference to what is responsible, stylish performance now.

I agree that since Machaut was the first composer to write a complete mass setting he was probably the first to leave an endowment for its performance after his death.  However, other members of the aristocracy probably left similar endowments for masses to be said in their memory, which may have included sung sections.  This practice certainly predated Machaut.

I doubt you and I will ever agree on whether Peres has enough documentary evidence to support the kind of radical ornamentation he employs in his mass recording.  He is of course free to do what he wants to with the music, but his performance ideas are pure speculation. 

I enjoy his recording, with the caveat, that it is not my go-to recording and not the one I recommend to newbies.

For my money, Andrew Parrott's recording is still the best of the ones I've heard.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #50 on: December 25, 2016, 08:09:12 AM »


I doubt you and I will ever agree on whether Peres has enough documentary evidence to support the kind of radical ornamentation he employs in his mass recording. 

We will agree because he is NOT saying that he has any evidence at all to support his ornamentations per se, but he does have evidence for the claim that ornamentation was used.



He is of course free to do what he wants to with the music, but his performance ideas are pure speculation. 



Correct, imaginative speculation by experienced artists from a tradition which goes way back to Machaut's time. Hence, he thinks, entirely appropriate imaginative responses.




For my money, Andrew Parrott's recording is still the best of the ones I've heard.

Oxbridge Machaut. The best is the one you won't download -- Rebecca Stewart.
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Offline San Antonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #51 on: December 25, 2016, 08:22:56 AM »
We will agree because he is NOT saying that he has any evidence at all to support his ornamentations per se, but he does have evidence for the claim that ornamentation was used.

And how he uses them makes all the difference.

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Correct, imaginative speculation by experienced artists from a tradition which goes way back to Machaut's time. Hence, he thinks, entirely appropriate imaginative responses.

I doubt even Peres would claim to have direct access to what kind of ornamentation was used in Machaut's time.  He is doing what he thinks sounds good with the music, and trying to distinguish his interpretation from all the others.

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Oxbridge Machaut. The best is the one you won't download -- Rebecca Stewart.

Either you haven't heard Parrott's recording or you can't tell the difference between a countertenor and a high tenor.  The main aspect of Parrott's recording which I like is the fact that he pitches it down a fourth, which is not standard among the "Oxbridge" groups, and allows his tenors to not employ a falsetto voice as do Jeremy Summerly's and other groups such as the Hilliard Ensemble and even the Orlando Consort.  Some even use women.   :P

I fully intend to find Rebecca Stewart's recording.  She is a respected Machaut scholar and I want to hear it, and she advises against the use of countertenors.  The fact that the only source you have pointed to is a Russian download site is unfortunate.

Offline San Antonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #52 on: December 25, 2016, 05:32:40 PM »
Quote
The best is the one you won't download -- Rebecca Stewart.

I appreciate you sending me these tracks, but I can't agree with your assessment.  The sinewy phrasing, and ritardando/swelling throughout did not do it for me.

 :(

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #53 on: December 25, 2016, 10:22:45 PM »
I appreciate you sending me these tracks, but I can't agree with your assessment.  The sinewy phrasing, and ritardando/swelling throughout did not do it for me.

 :(

Too bad.

I wonder if any of your books talk about the best tempo. In the booklet to Lucien Kandel's recording there's some discussion about recent, changed,  ideas about interpreting tempi and note values.

Kandel's is the second best recording of the  Machaut mass
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Offline San Antonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #54 on: December 26, 2016, 04:29:14 AM »
Too bad.

I wonder if any of your books talk about the best tempo. In the booklet to Lucien Kandel's recording there's some discussion about recent, changed,  ideas about interpreting tempi and note values.

Kandel's is the second best recording of the  Machaut mass

Musica Nova's performance (as is Stewart's) fairly slow.  And they appear to be using women's voices. 

The main considerations for tempo concern finding a balance between achieving a nice pace but not so fast that the articulated phrases become blurred and not so slow which would cause the long notes to become so long that the pace is destroyed.  I don't think either Rebecca Stewart or Musica Nova are too slow, just on the slow side.

I did a spot comparison between MN and Parrott of the credo.  Big difference in tempo, but more striking is the pitching of Parrott's all male group (lower), which is much more to my liking. 

It is probably safe to say that you and I are looking for different attributes for our preferred performances of this work.

Offline San Antonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #55 on: December 26, 2016, 03:33:44 PM »
I thought he left an endowment to ensure that his the mass would be sung regularly as part of an annual memorial ceremony for himself and his brother.

If that's right he was trying to make his music live on after his death, and he would have known that it would be presented in different ways, subject to different singing styles. He knew that singing is a living practice,  and that the score doesn't determine what a performance will sound like.

That's why using Corsican ornamentation and timbres is perfectly consistent with Machaut's musical intentions: by letting the Corsican singers respond creatively to the score, the mass gets plugged into a living tradition which goes all the way back to the 14th century in fact.

As far as I know there was no such endowment and regular practice associated with the Tournai. This could partially explain why Pérès treated them so differently.

I managed to download the booklet with Schmelzer's notes and have decided he is acting out his own agenda which is not supported by the available documentation.  He gets his ideas from art criticism and not musicology, certainly not from musicology associated with Early Music.

1.  We do not have a copy of Machaut's will and the information regarding an endowment is based upon the transcription of a bronze plaque that was inside the Reims cathedral until the 18th century (the plaque itself no longer exists, nor are Machaut or his brother  buried in the cathedral).  This text alludes to an amount of money collected by friends of Machaut (probably other canons) and made available for a short dedicatory prayer to be recited prior to the regular Saturday Lady Mass.  We have no evidence that the mass sung was even Machaut's.

Schmelzer makes much from the assumption that Machaut intended his mass to be performed after his death.  Schmelzer creates an entire mythology around this idea using highfalutin words such as "euchrony" to posit an attitude he attributes to Machaut (and one you seem to have accepted whole-cloth) that future generations have the right to reinterpret Machaut's mass as they see fit, because that is what he wanted.  Smacks of a Regietheater approach to Machaut.

2.  La Messe de Nostre Dame of Machaut appears in notation in five of his collected works.  In only one of these is it entitled "Messe de Nostre Dame".  In one other it is merely called "Le Messe" in the other three it has no title.  Hence there is scant evidence from the notation in his collections that Machuat considered his Messe as a Lady Mass, certainly not "the Lady Mass" sung as a memorial to himself.  The more substantial evidence linking La Messe to the liturgy of the Virgin Mary is the fact that all of the chants Machaut used were associated with the Lady Mass.

Regarding these chants, Schmelzer writes that Machaut "provided the plainchant of the ordinary for the Lady Mass with a previously-unknown affective polyphonic trope."  There are at least five chant variations for each of the Lady Mass sections.  Machaut used the most common and assigned it to the tenor, where it would normally be placed, and added his isorhythmic counterpoint around it. There is nothing "previously-unknown" about this procedure.  I have no idea what he means by the qualifier "affective polyphonic trope."  Once again Schmelzer assigns an idea to Machaut wishing to cause some kind of emotional reaction among the audience based on nothing other than the pile of speculation Schmelzer has imagined.

In order to support his contention of how strange the Machaut mass would sound to the singers (and presumably the audience) Schmelzer writes, "Rather than breaking the tradition, he cracked it, offering his colleague-singers a musical diagram (the word Schmelzer uses instead of notation) in the way a 'trickster' might do - radically transforming what they were used to singing according to the tradition and to their skills."

Well, I 've check all of my books, including three on Machaut, and two on Medieval performance and notation which all have sections on the Machaut mass, most which address the chants used and Machaut's treatment and nowhere did I find anything alluding to Machaut breaking with tradition.  To the contrary they all stated that Machaut's mass was entirely traditional and in fact copied ideas from previous mass settings.

My conclusion is that Schmelzer is as nutty as a fruitcake.

 ;)

Offline Ken B

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #56 on: December 26, 2016, 07:31:58 PM »
What are they trying to do? 

While those recordings have provided a rewarding listening experience (I have currently decided that I like Peres, the jury is still out on Schmelzer), I have always been struck by the stylistic oddity of their singing of this music.
Oh thank god. I am listening to Schmelzer right now. It strikes me as lunatic. I am not a musician, much less a musicologist, but this sounds completely alien to everything I have heard of the period. Well, and to life on earth as well. And 73 minutes??
Stockhausen does Arte Nova is my reaction. I expect a unison "Barbershop" anytime now.

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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #57 on: December 26, 2016, 10:57:21 PM »


In order to support his contention of how strange the Machaut mass would sound to the singers (and presumably the audience) Schmelzer writes, "Rather than breaking the tradition, he cracked it, offering his colleague-singers a musical diagram (the word Schmelzer uses instead of notation) in the way a 'trickster' might do - radically transforming what they were used to singing according to the tradition and to their skills."



This was the part that I couldn't understand. The key idea he uses  here is fabulation.


One other thing I didn't understand is why, given that he thinks the mass is such a radical break with the past, he uses the same Corsican singing style for the motet.

(By the way I don't have access to the recording any more because I've stopped subscribing to qobuz. So I can't relisten to it. )


It is probably safe to say that you and I are looking for different attributes for our preferred performances of this work.

I have no idea what I'm looking for! I change my mind with the wind.
« Last Edit: December 26, 2016, 11:19:56 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline JCBuckley

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #58 on: December 27, 2016, 11:22:24 AM »
Schmelzer writes: 'Finally, we can return the Messe de Notre Dame into its pre-modern(ist) or post-postmodern state, making its hybridity emerge again through diagrammatic, operative performance.'

Can anyone here enlighten me as to what he might mean by 'hybridity' in this context? And by 'diagrammatic'? The idea of 'the diagram' seems to be central to his performance practice, but I'm struggling to grasp the point he's making.

Offline San Antonio

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Re: Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
« Reply #59 on: December 27, 2016, 11:49:32 AM »
Schmelzer writes: 'Finally, we can return the Messe de Notre Dame into its pre-modern(ist) or post-postmodern state, making its hybridity emerge again through diagrammatic, operative performance.'

Can anyone here enlighten me as to what he might mean by 'hybridity' in this context? And by 'diagrammatic'? The idea of 'the diagram' seems to be central to his performance practice, but I'm struggling to grasp the point he's making.

As best as I can tell, when Schmelzer refers to the "diagram" I think he is referring to the notated score in the Machaut collections.  As far as the rest that Schmelzer alleges about the mass, I think he is constructing a narrative built on little real evidence in order to take liberties with the music.

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