Program: #22-26 Air Date: Jun 27, 2022
Angus Smith of the Orlando Consort guides us through the two most recent recordings in the group’s ongoing multi-disc project of the complete Machaut.
NOTE: All of the music on this program is features the Orlando Consort and our guest Angus Smith. The recordings are on the Hyperion label. For more information on this ensemble: http://www.orlandoconsort.com/
I. The Single Rose. Hyperion CD CDA68277.
Lyrics by the fourteenth-century composer and poet Guillaume de Machaut are rife with both symbolism and references to other works. The rose is perhaps one of the most beloved icons of deep love and this was in no small part due to the popularity of Le Roman de la Rose, a medieval narrative poem originally written around 1230 by Guillaume de Lorris and continued a generation later by Jean de Meun. This poem held great sway over literary imagination for the coming two centuries, influencing the works of Chaucer and sparking the proto-feminist outrage of Christine de Pizan for some of its more outrageous pronouncements on women.
De Lorris’s allegorical tale concerns the narrator’s discovery of a beautiful walled garden inhabited by personifications of such qualities as Beauty, Fair Welcome, Pleasure and Sweet Looks. While he enjoys the garden’s delight, he happens upon the fountain of Narcissus and espies the reflection of a rose bush. Seeking out the rose bush, he is shot by the arrows of the God of Love and falls utterly in love with one of its tender, young buds. However, in his attempt to woo the bud and steal a kiss, the guardians of the roses become angered and fortify the bush against his amorous advances. De Lorris’s allegory for courtly love ends thus, with the lover separated from his Rose by a barricaded tower. Whether de Lorris intended to leave off at this point is unclear, but de Meun clearly felt this was unsatisfactory and continued the tale in his own more bawdy and political style. Increasing the original poem’s length fivefold, de Meun’s journey to the Rose weaves in commentary on such topics as religious hypocrisy, philosophy, ethics and even optics. Finally, the lover battles his way into the tower and achieves physical union with the object of his desire.
Machaut’s lyrics offer multiple references to the Rose and where we do not find direct tribute to de Lorris and de Meun’s floral beloved, we sense that we inhabit a universe that is always in the shadow of the single rose that sparked such devotion in the narrator. This might be through clever reshaping of the Rose’s words and ideas, the use of a locus amoenus similar to de Lorris and de Meun’s, or manipulation of the tropes of courtly love in a manner evocative of the poem. Machaut’s early narrative, the Dit dou Vergier, is highly derivative of the Rose, while later and more sophisticated works, such as his judgement poems, continue the homage through imagery and subtle reference.
Merci vous pri (Rondeau 3) typifies the courtly love topos of the relationship between male lover and adored lady in which man is at the mercy of woman. The limiting structure of the rondeau format exposes Machaut’s creativity with word-painting. Throughout he begs his lady using predominantly descending musical phrases, yet emphasizes the feared rise in the price of joy with a twisting upward phrase. The text plays on the double meaning of ‘dear’ that was similarly homophonous in the Middle French. Another rondeau that recalls the themes of the Rose, Certes, mon oueil (Rondeau 15) portrays the experience of falling instantly in love upon seeing a lady who is ‘the flower of flowers’. The extravagant and passionate melismas might suggest a lover so captivated by the first sight of his lady that time appears to slow. Virelai 13, Quant je sui mis au retour, expresses the joy of being in love’s service. This piece is structurally more simplistic than most virelais, which, combined with its conjunct melodic motion, conveys the purity of the desire to serve the lady ‘without intending / Any foolishness or shame’. The text of De tout sui si confortee (Virelai 32) also expresses unceasing happiness and is similarly set to music that moves predominantly in steps. The female protagonist of the lyric goes so far as to say she will even die cheerful, yet her jubilance is also a studied resilience: she resolves to remain in good spirits while her beloved is far away.
While the Rose may ultimately culminate with fulfilment, medieval lyrics do not often portray contentment in romance, and the great joy that love can bring is frequently shown in contrast to the physical and mental pain it engenders. ‘Ravis’ can mean smitten and enraptured, but also has connotations of being weakened or being robbed. Je sui aussi com cils (Ballade 20) is the song of one depleted by the ravages of love. The B sections of the music contain uncharacteristic general pauses that seem to reflect the lover’s struggles with despair. Of all the tracks here, De toutes flours (Ballade 31) exemplifies Machaut’s fascination with Rose imagery. In this instance, he envisages a garden ravaged by cruel Lady Fortune with only a single rose surviving. The lover fears that this rose, an allegory for his love, will also be taken by the machinations of deceptive and false Lady Fortune. While Fortune is agnostic to good and bad, handing out joy and misery arbitrarily, he refuses to believe his lady’s goodness could have been bestowed by Fortune—this was a gift of Nature. The musical setting here is a four-voice version found in a single manuscript. Whether the additional triplum is supposed to be performed with the existing contratenor or was intended as an alternative is a matter of debate; nonetheless, the four-voice version seems to capture the complexity of both Fortune’s caprice and the lover’s mood.
Se je souspir parfondement (Virelai 30) is in fact a thinly veiled confession. If the lover sighs, or weeps when he is alone, it is on account of his deep love for his lady. While the ‘if’ clause presents a hypothetical situation, it becomes clear very quickly that this is no mere speculation, but a declaration of love that is tender yet tormented. Rhythmically, the music captures the dichotomy between the lover’s inner grief and outward self-portrayal by the lack of synchronicity between the voice parts.
Polytextuality was more usually reserved for the motet, with only a handful of medieval ballades written in this style. Machaut wrote only three, including De triste cuer / Quant vrais amans / Certes, je di (Ballade 29). The complexity of a multi-text setting, however, is ideal for conveying the multivalent nature of love. The setting of ballade 29 invites repeated listening and reading of the texts, for the three voices express different viewpoints on love and musical composition: the first-person experience of the sorrowing composer who cannot write a joyful song, a commentary on the fate of one suffering unrequited love who cannot compose as well as a happy lover, and the alternative view that sadness in fact enhances compositional ability. The busy, continuous movement of text and music can make it hard for the listener to distinguish at first the different lines, thus perfectly encapsulating the competition between different perspectives.
Love can be contradictory in many ways for the medieval lover—in Se ma dame m’a guerpi (Virelai 6) the lover finds himself rejected in favour of another. Nonetheless, he must accept her decision and remain faithful, as obedience to the lady is the highest goal of the courtly lover. This sentiment would be familiar to a fourteenth-century audience not only because the rules of courtly love were standard fare for entertainment, but also because Machaut deliberately quotes a refrain that appears in a pastourelle and two motets.
The notion of repenting of loving is one explored in the Rose. The God of Love demands that he be properly served, and this can mean no change of heart or baulking at the traumas experienced in his service: one must be joyful even where love is unrequited. In Se d’amer me repentoie (Virelai&nsbp;20) Machaut expresses precisely these sentiments from the female point of view. The lady here extends the idea a step further than de Lorris’s Love: she would be acting not only against love, but against her own nature if she were to repent of loving. Repetitions of alternating notes give the listener a sense of the assuredness of affection: the lover is secure in the constancy of her own feelings. A similar notion of maintaining love is found in Loyauté vueil tous jours (Virelai 2). Love causes the lover great anguish but he determines to serve his noble lady wholeheartedly. The opening line is deliberately grammatically confusing: is the lover deciding to maintain continual loyalty, or is the allegorical figure of Loyalty exalting him to serve the lady? This ambiguity of agency highlights an issue of free will in love: is the lover making conscious choices or being driven by factors beyond his control?
Lady Fortune, the fickle goddess who blindly turns her wheel to shape our fate, was a prominent figure in both the Rose and Machaut’s works. In Qui es promesses de Fortune / Ha! Fortune, trop sui mis loing / Et non est qui adjuvat (Motet 8) Machaut rails against Fortune in greater depth than he could in De toutes flours. In the Rose, the lover is advised on the fickle nature of Fortune by the characters Reason and Friend. Reason in particular gives lengthy counsel on distrusting any gift of Fortune. The triplum of motet 8 provides a complementary perspective to that of Reason, while the motetus depicts the first-person experience of someone devasted by Fortune’s blind impulses.
Machaut’s motets were predominantly in Middle French and focused on courtly love, using the sacred citations of the tenor lines to provide additional allegorical insight. However, a few of his motets were in Latin with predominantly spiritual themes, for while Machaut worked for noble patrons such as John, King of Bohemia, he was also in receipt of a benefice at the cathedral of Reims, and ended his life as a canon there. Nevertheless, the sacred and secular worlds were not so separate as they are today, and we can recognize tropes that operated in both settings. Though Fons totius Superbie / O Livoris feritas / Fera pessima (Motet 9) ostensibly takes us from the realm of courtly love to contemplate the sins of pride and envy, these negative traits are also vilified in narratives such as the Rose: Envy is personified on the outer walls of the Garden of Delight as part of a frieze representing attributes that are excluded. Pride is one of the God of Love’s quiver of five negative arrows and he also warns the lover to keep himself from pride. In the motet, however, the lady who can rescue us from torment is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Unlike most of Machaut’s motets, motet 9 has an introitus—the triplum line begins alone. As Anne Walters Robertson notes, this represents the voice of pride, alone and unchallenged. This is in stark contrast to the ending of the motet which longs for the joy of salvation. Bone pastor Guillerme / Bone pastor, qui pastores / Bone pastor (Motet 18) also reminds us that Machaut had a concurrent ecclesiastical career. This motet was likely written as a paean to Guillaume de Trie on his nomination as Archbishop of Reims in 1324. Such a composition allowed Machaut to ingratiate himself with the Archbishop and articulate the qualities ideal for a member of the clergy; in other words it was a musical job application that would aid him in securing a benefice in the future. At some point the peripatetic lifestyle of the courtly clerk would become too strenuous, and composers such as Machaut would need to turn their attention from creating art to worship earthly ladies to revering the ultimate rose, who gave birth to Christ.
Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel © 2019
De toutes flours (Ballade 31) [5.44]
Se ma dame m’a guerpi (Virelai 6) [4.11]
Bone pastor Guillerme/Bone pastor, qui pastores/Bone pastor (Motet 18) [2.54]
Merci vous pri (Rondeau 3) [5.07]
Se d’amer me repentoie (Virelai 20) [4.25]
Je sui aussi com cils (Ballade 20) [5.55]
Se je souspir parfonderment – (Virelai 30) [4.07]
Certes, mon oueil (Rondeau 15) [4.45]
Quant je sui mis au retour (Virelai 13) [1.36]
De tout sui si confortee (Virelai 32) [5.26]
Qui es promesses de Fortune/Ha! Fortune, trop sui mis loing/Et non est qui adjuvat (Motet 8) [2.10]
Loyauté vueil tous jours (Virelai 2) [2.35]
De triste cuer/Quant vrais amans/Certes, je di (Ballade 29) [4.45]
Fons totius Superbie/O Livoris feritas/Fera pessima (Motet 9) [3.02
II. The Lion of Nobility. Hyperion CD CDA68318.
Guillaume de Machaut (c1300-1377) was considered by his contemporaries to be the foremost poet and composer in France. His patronage by members of Europe’s most illustrious noble houses—including John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia; his daughter Bonne of Luxembourg and her husband, the future John II of France; and their children, Charles V of France and John, Duke of Berry—allowed Machaut to produce a sizeable body of works, including long narrative poems (called dits), lyric poems with and without musical settings, motets, and a complete polyphonic Mass Ordinary. During his lifetime, Machaut’s works were collected in a series of sumptuous illuminated manuscripts that were owned and prized by his noble patrons; their contents, often representing fictional alter egos of himself and his patrons, were depictions in microcosm of the courtly life of late medieval France. Taken together they portray a kind of perfect courtly world in which protagonists act nobly and generously, and love and its emotional effects are explored and celebrated.
Towards the end of his life, Machaut composed a fictional retrospective narrative describing how he became an artist, to be placed at the head of a complete-works manuscript. This multimedia text, now called the ‘Prologue’, took the form of a dit with interpolated ballades and lavish illuminations. Cast as an encounter between himself and the personified figures of Nature and Love, Machaut recounts how each demiurge in turn introduced him to three children who would assist in his creative work. Nature informs Guillaume that she created him especially to compose poems about love, and her helpful children are ‘Scens, Rhetorique et Musique’ (Sense, Rhetoric and Music), who are to provide ‘counsel and aid’ in his enterprise. On the other hand, Love’s children (who are Sweet Thought, Pleasure, and Hope) provide the ‘material’ for his works. Love warns Guillaume that he must never write anything immoral nor write negatively of ladies. Guillaume eagerly accepts their instructions, and then muses on the role of the poet’s emotional state in producing good poetry. Writing poetry ennobles him and makes him joyful; indeed, he claims, no one engaged in thinking about poetry can be quarrelsome, petty or indecent. He acknowledges that poets must write also of sad matters, but says that it is important that they maintain a joyful heart, for ‘a heart filled with sadness can never write or sing well’.
The most substantial work on this recording in fact relies on the poet’s ability to marshal his skill in the face of sadness. En demantant et lamentant (Lai 18/24, track 6) is a lament for a real protagonist, the ‘lion of nobility’ after which this album takes its name. The poetic speaker, clearly the composer himself, announces his intention to write a lai and set it to music in order to express his grief for the capture of a great leader, a ‘lion of nobility … and flower of Christendom’. Scholars believe this to be King John II of France, and that this lai was composed after the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, at which the French suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the English with the result that King John and a number of his nobles were taken prisoner.
The lai was the most elaborate lyric genre of the late Middle Ages; Machaut’s nephew, the poet Eustache Deschamps, wrote that it was a ‘long and uncomfortable thing to compose’. It must also have been a long and arduous thing to perform: typically containing twelve stanzas, each with its own rhyme and metrical scheme, lais were usually set to monophonic melodies, sung by a solo performer who had to sing non-stop for nearly twenty minutes. However, En demantant presents a different kind of challenge: some years ago scholars discovered that it was one of two lais by Machaut that were actually intended to be performed polyphonically by singing stanzas 1, 2 and 3 simultaneously, and doing the same with stanzas 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12. Stanza 12 has the same text and melody as stanza 1, transposed down a perfect fourth. But since that melody is paired with two different counter-melodies (that is, stanza 1 is paired with the melodies of stanzas 2 and 3, while stanza 12 is combined with the melodies of 10 and 11), that melody-text combination is in effect ‘harmonized’ two different ways.
It is not at all clear how this lai was intended to be performed. Since each stanza has its own text as well as its own melody (setting the first half-stanza and being repeated for the second), one possibility would be to perform the three texts simultaneously, in the manner of a motet. Yet that seems unsatisfying, since while motet texts were carefully crafted to be heard together, the lai text is clearly narrative, with each stanza building upon what came before. The Orlando Consort decided to perform the lai with only one text being heard at a time, so that each polyphonic section is heard three times, one for each stanza, with a different voice taking the text each time. This both allows the entire text to be heard clearly, and also permits each polyphonic complex to be heard with a different melodic emphasis, with the texted voice popping out of the texture.
After the lai, the ballade was the most weighty of the lyric genres, comprising three stanzas sharing a refrain text as their last lines, with a musical form AAB. Ballades may have been the first lyrics Machaut set to polyphony, and they served as a laboratory for experimentation in musical processes throughout his career. The five ballades represented here include two likely early works: On ne porroit penser (Ballade 3, track 2) and Ne pensez pas, dame, que je recroie (Ballade 10, track 5). Both are found in Machaut’s first complete-works manuscript, Manuscript C, among a group of sixteen two-voice ballades. It would appear that Machaut was planning to write a third voice for each of these songs, because an empty stave cued ‘triplum’ is copied on the page with ballade 3, while an empty contratenor stave appears with ballade 10. But in fact both songs continued to be transmitted in two voices throughout Machaut’s life; only later, in the posthumous Manuscript E, was ballade 3 given a contratenor, and scholars are unsure whether this was written by Machaut late in life or added by another composer—a practice that was common in the period. Ne pensez pas feels both early and experimental. Its metre is the equivalent of the modern 9/8, causing the tenor to move relatively slowly compared to the faster notes in the cantus voice, and the strikingly patterned sequence in the refrain, with its lilting stepwise descending figure, is uncharacteristic of Machaut’s later writing. On ne porroit penser demonstrates the widespread practice of citation in poetry of the period, for it shares its incipit with a ballade written by Machaut’s older contemporary Jean de la Mote and contained within his narrative poem Li regret Guillaume (‘The mourning of Guillaume’), composed in 1339. Since no music for the ballades of Jean de la Mote survives, we cannot know whether the citation also extended to the music.
The three later ballades recorded here display Machaut’s literary erudition. Je puis trop bien ma dame comparer (Ballade 28, track 11) employs an extended comparison between the coldness of the poet’s lady and the lifeless statue created by Pygmalion. The poetic speaker laments that Pygmalion’s statue eventually warmed and came to life, while his own lady remains cold; the ballade’s refrain, heard as the last line of each of its three stanzas, declares that ‘I constantly beseech her and she has no response’. Mes esperis se combat (Ballade 39, track 7) figures the anguish of unrequited love as a battle between the poetic speaker’s spirit and Nature—a battle that causes him great distress and one that only his lady can resolve by declaring a truce. His lady, though, has a heart as hard as marble—a comparison that recalls the statue by Pygmalion evoked in ballade 28—and thus the poet is denied relief from the battle. Finally, Dame, se vous m’estes lonteinne (Ballade 37, track 3) is an outlier among Machaut’s later ballades: it is the only monophonic example of the genre that Machaut composed, and its simple tunefulness, together with its rhetorically uncomplicated address to the lady, gives it an archaic feel.
The virelai is the lyric formal type that retained its closest association to dance in Machaut’s works. As with lais, Machaut routinely composed virelais monophonically, but virelais are especially rhythmically vital, with short poetic lines of varying lengths, easily allowing us to imagine a dance taking place. While the ballades explore love in a more literary way, with extended metaphors and references to classical literature, these virelai texts communicate the emotion of the love experience more directly. Moult sui de bonne heure nee (Virelai 31, track 4) is written from the perspective of a lady, and we see that men and women are portrayed equally in their approaches to love: the speaker considers herself lucky to be loved by ‘the very flower and paragon / Of this present world’, and is only sad when he is far away. This is one of only eight virelais that Machaut set polyphonically, with a tenor accompanying the melodic line. J’aim sans penser laidure (Virelai 14, track 8) and C’est force, faire le vueil (Virelai 16, track 10) once again find the poetic speaker disquieted because of unrequited love; the first of these has a refrain that complains that the lady is harsh beyond measure and feels no pity for the speaker’s suffering. This song seems to be a hybrid between a ballade and a virelai: it is sung straight through with no repeats, and each stanza ends with a refrain text, as a ballade does; but this refrain is bipartite with an open and closed ending (first and second endings), in the manner of a virelai. C’est force, faire explores the range of emotions that a lover feels when he is unsure of his lady’s affections, and the physical impact this lovesickness can have; this speaker cries, sighs, burns, shakes, turns pale and trembles at the thought that his love might not be accepted.
Machaut’s rondeau Ma fin est mon commencement (Rondeau 14, track 9) is a truly iconic piece. This famous work shows his virtuosity in combining text and music to express an idea that is at once simple and complex. The speaking voice of the text is, strikingly, that of the rondeau itself, and it describes its own performance. Two voices share the same notated part. The first singer starts at its beginning, the other singer at its end, reading backwards; they meet in the middle. The third singer has a separate part, half as long, and, when arrived at its end, reads it backwards, or ‘retrogrades’. He does so three times, in the ‘b’ sections of the rondeau form (AbaAabAB). In the manuscripts the text of the rondeau is written upside down, beginning at the end. The voice names as described in the text are also reversed: the two upper voices are called ‘Teneure vraiement’ (‘Truly tenor’), and the tenor is called ‘Tiers chans’ (that is ‘triplum’, the higher third part). In reality the upper voices form a double cantus and the tiers chans is the true tenor. The rondeau features one of Machaut’s favourite images: the mirror. The reversed text and voice names might well symbolize a look in a mirror that reflects a world that is upside down. The text also conjures up a lofty metaphysical idea: when beginning and end coincide, time ceases to exist. It recalls God’s word in Revelation 22: 13 (and in other passages): ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ To acknowledge the unusual written form of this rondeau, the performance here presents the text as in the manuscript: one cantus sings the text in its syntactical order and the other sings it in retrograde.
Motets are built on a borrowed melody, usually a fragment from Gregorian chant that serves as the lowest voice, the tenor. On this basis two other voices are constructed with a different text for each. Machaut chose his tenors carefully, both for their words and melody. His motets treat, for the most part, subjects of courtly love, whereby the religious tenor words evoke a biblical parallel with the amorous themes in the upper voices. Motets play with patterns of all kinds: repeated rhythmic formulae in large values, called taleae, in the tenor, and quicker rhythms in the upper voices that run in parallel to the taleae of the tenor. Other patterns are small melodic formulae in the upper voices and the rhymes and metres of the texts. Through the interaction of all these patterns with the content of the texts and the crossing melodic curves of the voices, a complex message is conveyed.
Time and reflections on time are typical of Machaut’s motet texts. In S’il estoit nuls / S’Amours tous / Et gaudebit cor vestrum (Motet 6, track 1), the tenor, with a text from the prophecies of Isaiah, promises joy to a plural ‘You’, but that joy will be for the future. In the upper-voice texts, the condition to that future joy is explained: only when a lover is prepared to suffer more than is reasonable will the god of Love reward him in the end. The texts play with the word ‘traire’, which here means ‘to draw out’. The phrases of the three voices whose ends are marked by hockets (exchanges of short notes and rests in the voices) are so different in length that the form of the work continuously escapes the observer, as a parallel to the promised joyous future. The triplum’s musical phrases, defined by the poetic form, seem ‘drawn out’, much longer than the tenor taleae. In the very last talea the resulting feeling of shortcoming in the tenor is restored by a ‘too much’ in length, as a musical equivalent of the ‘too much’ torment the lover must suffer before he may be rewarded.
Tant doucement m’ont attrait / Eins que ma dame / Ruina (Motet 13, track 12) is one of three motets Machaut wrote on the theme of ‘false seeming’ (the allegorical figure, here only implicitly referenced) in love, and it is also one of the pieces that have nearly identical repeating rhythmic patterns—isorhythm—in all three voices, for each of the four taleae. The work borrows a tenor with the word ‘Ruina’ from an older motet that castigates the hypocrisy of the clergy. In transposition to the courtly sphere, the hypocrisy is the lady’s: she attracts her lover by a false image of benevolence which leads the lover to ‘draw toward my own death’. An obsessive rhyme-sound with (again!) the words ‘traire’ and ‘trait’ contrasts with ‘traÿ’ in the triplum text: ‘to attract’ and ‘to be betrayed’. The sparsely texted hockets at the end of each talea evoke a stuttering lover. The long tenor melody, rhythmicized in very large notes, hovers mainly between the notes G, A and F, but two plaintive descents from a higher point create more tension. The essential moments in the argument of the motetus are set in these descents: before my lady knew (‘Sceüst’) of my love, she looked kindly on me, but now that she knows (‘scet’) I adore her, she keeps me in tears. Hence the beloved’s deceitful attraction brings about the lover’s ruin.
This recording shows the whole spectrum of Machaut’s poetic and musical art, as he enumerated them in his ‘Prologue’: ‘pleasant lais, motets, rondeaux and virelais’ together with ‘balades entees’, from the seemingly simple and monophonic song to the complexities of the polyphonic works. As he promised his mentors Nature and Love, he explores a wide range of emotional responses to the condition of being in love, ‘putting into it my feelings and all my understanding’, and maintaining throughout the ‘heart full of joy’ necessary to the creative act.
Anne Stone & Jacques Boogaart © 2020
S’il estoit/S’Amours tous/Et gaudebit cor vestrum (Motet 6) [2.11]
On ne porroit penser (Ballade 3) [4.07]
Dame, se vous m’estes lonteinne (Ballade 37) [3.04]
Moult sui de bonne heure nee (Virelai 31) [4.58]
Ne pensez pas, dame que je recrois (Ballade 10) [2.42]
En demantant bet lamentant (Lai18/24) [17.52]
Mes esperis se combat (Ballade 39) [6.37]
J’aim sans penser laidure (Virelai 14) [2.25]
Ma fin est mon commencement (Rondeau 14) [6.03]
C’est force, faire le vueil (Virelai) 16) [4.28]
Je puis trop bien ma dame comparer (Ballade 28) [3.43]
Tant doucement m’ont dame comparer/Eins que ma dame/Ruina (Ballade 28) [2.27]
Guillaume de Machaut (c1300-1377),
Hyperion CD CDA68277, Hyperion CD CDA68318