de Machaut  

The Medieval Lyric

Guillaume de Machaut
Remede de Fortune

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About Guillaume de Machaut

Guillaume de Machaut and the Remede de Fortune

Guillaume de Machaut was born around 1300 in Champagne. He was educated as a cleric. By 1323, he had entered the service of John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, with whom he travelled on several occasions to eastern Europe. Machaut was in King Johnís service until the latterís death at the battle of Crécy in 1346. Meanwhile, Machaut had been granted a canonicate in Reims, where he was installed as canon in 1340. He remained in close contact with important patrons and protectors, such as King Charles II of Navarre; Pierre de Lusignan, King of Cyprus; Amédée de Savoie; and, closer to the royal French house, Charles de Normandie (the future Charles V), as well as the munificent Jean, Duc de Berry. The latter purchased at least one luxury manuscript from Machaut.

Machaut died in 1377. If he can be called a trouvère, his life followed a quite different pattern from most trouvères. Like Machaut, they benefited from highly placed patronage, but none had the important position within the church hierarchy that Machaut enjoyed at Reims. Machaut had a professional status most of them never attained, and he moved with equal ease in sacred and secular spheres. What especially characterizes Machaut and sets him off from earlier traditions is that he was one of the first writers to whom the words "poet" or "author" in the modern sense could be applied.

Machautís works may be divided into the categories he establishes ó with one exception ó in his manuscripts: narrative verse, lyric poetry, and musical compositions. Music is usually in its own section in the manuscript, and notated pieces normally appear only there. For example, a lyric poem may be found without music in the lyric poetry section, but if it is to have music, it recurs with its music in the music section. Musical compositions are divisible into secular (ballades, rondeaux, virelais, lais) and sacred (the motets, and one of the earliest polyphonic settings of the Mass Ordinary, the "Messe de Notre Dame"). The secular musical compositions represent essentially the same genres as the lyric poetry. A significant feature of Machautís work is that he developed techniques for polyphonic treatment of secular poetic forms; he took these poetic forms over, so to speak, into polyphonic music, thereby transforming secular song, bringing it into the musical mainstream, and setting an agenda for his successors. Machautís achievement is particularly influential with the ballade, the form through which he most brilliantly demonstrated his new style, and which became the most important form of the 14th century.

The one exception to Machautís manuscript organization is the Remede de Fortune. It is exceptional because it contains music outside the music section. The Remede is the only work by Machaut that presents narration and notated lyric insertions as a complete and unified creation. Three of Machautís narrative works contain lyric insertions: the Remede, the Fonteinne Amoureuse (without music), and the Voir Dit. Compared to the Voir Dit, the Remede has many fewer lyric insertions (63 and 8 respectively), and it has only lyric insertions, whereas the Voir Dit also has some letters. But in the Voir Dit only 8 of the 63 lyric insertions are notated, and the notated pieces are generally found among pieces of similar genre in the musical section of the manuscripts, rather than in the narrative text itself. For the Remede, in contrast, 7 of the 8 lyric insertions are notated in the narrative text, and nowhere else. Even the absence of notation for the 8th insertion is part of the poemís meaning. By its exceptional status, the Remede is specifically designated as a musico-poetic entity, and we are invited to read it as such. Further, the lyric insertions of the Remede provide examples of each of the major formes fixes of the fourteenth century, pointing to the way music and poetry will subsequently develop: it is simultaneously an art of love and and art of poetic and musical composition. The work is handsomely illustrated in BnF fr 1586 (MS C), the earliest, and arguably the most precious Machaut manuscript from an artistic standpoint, from which the manuscript images are drawn.


Robert Eisenstein, Project Director
Image: © Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

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