Machaut, Guillaume de

Period: Medieval

Born: c. 1300 in Champagne, France

Died: 1377 in Rheims, France

Nation of Origin: France

Major Works:
Machaut's Messe de Notre Dame is the earliest known polyphonic setting of the Catholic mass.

Other Information:
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.

Composer Bibliography:
Earp, Lawrence, Guillaume De MacHaut : A Guide to Research, Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, Vol 996, Garland Publications, October 1995, ISBN: 0824023234

Levarie, Siegmund, Guillaume de Machaut, Sheed and Ward, 1969, ASIN: 0306718316

Reaney, Gilbert, Guillaume de Machaut, Oxford University Press, 1971, ISBN: 0193152185

Schrade, Leo, Polyphonic Music of the 14th Century, Monaco: Editions de l'oiseau-lyre, 1956.


General Bibliography:
Reese, Gustave, Music in the Middle Ages : With an Introduction on the Music of Ancient Times, W.W. Norton & Company, October 1940, ISBN: 0393097501

Sachs, Curt, The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, W. W. Norton & Company, 1943, ASIN: 0393097188

Seay, Albert, Music in the Medieval World, W. W. Norton & Company, 1943, ASIN: 0393097188

Slonimsky, Nicolas and Kuhn, Laura; Editors, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Gale Group, December 2000, ISBN: 0028655257

Sadie, Stanley and Tyrrell, John; Editors, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Groves Dictionaries, Inc., January 2004, ISBN: 0195170679

Rutherford-Johnson, Tim, Kennedy, Michael, and Kennedy, Joyce The Oxford Dictionary of Music, Oxford University Press, 6th Edition, 2012, ISBN: 0199578109


Links to essays at other sites:

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Biographical essay from Wikipedia
International Machaut Society
Biography, Discography, Works
Machaut and the French Ars Nova by Hope Greenberg