Guillaume De Machaut

Medieval French poet and composer (Machaut, Champagne, 1300-1377)

Guillaume de Machaut was a major artist of Western culture, probably the greatest French writer of the 14th century as well as one of the greatest in all Europe. Heir to the trouvère musical tradition, he represented French modernity, embodied by the Ars Nova coded by Philippe de Vitry.

After studying theology in Reims, he was appointed “magister” and was subsequently employed by different patrons: John I, Count of Luxembourg and King of Bohemia, Jean de Berry and Charles II of Navarre.

Machaut composed secular song forms (virelais, lais, rondeaux) that followed the model of isorhythmic motets (one voice using a repeating rhythmic pattern, ornamented with two or three voices of instrumental accompaniment), and was also a writer. His literary work included narrative texts with verses - called "dits" - as well as fixed form lyrical pieces.

To this day, Guillaume de Machaut has been mainly known for his remarkable polyphonic technique, and for his addition of a fourth voice in motets. The work that made him famous was his Messe de Notre-Dame, evidence of the Ars Nova movement, of Machaut's architectural genius, and of his mastery of different kinds of writing (counterpoint, isorhythm, hocket, polyphony…).

6 landmark dates in the life of Guillaume de Machaut

until 1322: Studied theology

• 1323: Secretary to John I, Count of Luxembourg and King of Bohemia. He often went with him on his various trips and military expeditions (Russia, Poland, Italy, Germany)

• 1330 – 1332 - 1333: Named the canon of Verdun, then Arras and Reims

1347: Joined the service of Bonne de Luxembourg, King John's daughter

• 1350: Worked for Charles II of Navarre

1357: At the service of Jean de Berry, then Charles V

6 key works by Guillaume de Machaut

• 1340-1341: Le Remède de Fortune, ("The Cure of Ill Fortune") a literary work in which he evoked the Ars Antiqua and the Ars Nova

• circa 1360: Messe de Notre-Dame, the earliest known complete setting of the Ordinary of the Mass attributable to a single composer

• circa 1370: Ma fin est mon commencement, rondeau

• 1363-1365: Le Voir Dit, a literary work including poems and lyrical plays set to music 

Hoquetus David, three voices

Douce Dame Jolie, virelai