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Guillaume de Machaut

c. 1300-1377


Machaut - A discography
Guillaume de Machaut
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Guillaume de Machaut was a French poet and the most accomplished and versatile composer of the 14th century. A member of the household of King John of Bohemia from 1323, Machaut later became a canon of Reims, where he resided from 1340 until his death. As a young man he accompanied the king on military expeditions and developed a distinct fondness for falconry, horseback riding, and adventure. The richness and diversity of his experiences served him in good stead when he wrote his numerous and expansive collections of poetry, many of which were graced with musical compositions. His later patrons included the king's daughter, Bonne of Luxembourg, Charles of Navarre, and King Charles V of France. Several of the richly illuminated manuscripts of his works were prepared under his close supervision for the benefit of noble and royal protectors.

Machaut's short, gemlike lyrics helped establish the rondeaux, ballade, and virelai, poetic forms that prevailed for more than a century. Nearly all the virelais he set to music are monophonic (set to a single line of melody). His graceful polyphonic (multivoice) ballades and rondeaux also set European secular song style for the next century: a high, sung melody accompanied by two lower instrumental parts. Of his 23 motets, 6 are to liturgical Latin texts and 17 to secular French texts. They are in three parts, with complex rhythmic and interwoven melody textures. Structurally, they are isorhythmic, or based on long underlying melodic and rhythmic cycles. His four-part Messe de Notre Dame is the earliest known polyphonic setting of the mass by a single composer. Also isorhythmic, it is monumental and austere, with driving rhythms and clashing dissonances. His musical works include 19 lais, 4 of which are polyphonic; 42 ballades ranging from one to four voices; 21 rondeaux; and 33 virelais.

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