Machaut, Guillaume de
Born: c. 1300 in Champagne, France
Died: 1377 in Rheims, France
Nation of Origin: France
Machaut's Messe de Notre Dame is the earliest known polyphonic setting of the Catholic mass.
Machaut was probably born in Machaut, a town in the Champagne region of France. He died in Rheims. Machaut was a musician, poet, and an educated priest. He worked and traveled in a variety of capacities for King John of Bohemia. He also worked in the court of Charles V of France. He was canon of Reims from 1337 until his death in April of 1377. He is regarded as the most prominent composer of the 14th century and is the composer of earliest existing polyphonic setting of the Catholic mass (by a single composer) and many other works, sacred and secular.
Most of his 23 motets were in the traditional form using a cantus firmus tenor accompanied by upper voices with different texts. Motets of this time were getting longer, more secular, and more rhythmically complex. Machaut's motets use the techniques of isorhythm and hocket.
His monophonic songs continued the trouverè tradition in France. He composed 19 lais and about 25 songs (known as virelais in the form Abba).
He also composed polyphonic virelais (Abba), rondeaux (ABaAabAB), and ballades (aabC). These were known as the formes fixes and were composed in a style anticipating the Ars Nova.
Machaut developed the ballade or cantilena style with settings for high solo tenor or duet with two instrumental parts below.
Although parallel fifths are still common, Machaut's music also used many 3rds and 6ths.
Of course he is most famous for the Messe de Notre Dame (Mass of our Lady), a 4-part setting of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) of the Mass. It was the first 4-part setting of the Ordinary. While there is no thematic unity to the work as in 15th and 16th c. masses, Machaut does use one motive which recurs throughout the work.
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