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Machaut's motets on secular songs

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 April 2020



In his three motets with tenors taken from secular songs, Guillaume de Machaut experiments with upper voice structures that borrow from the talea principle used in chant-based motets, creating hybrid forms that reflect aspects of the motet's overall subject. In two cases, Machaut sets up upper-voice taleae that do not coincide with their song-based tenor but interact with it in interesting ways. Trop plus est bele / Biauté paree de valour / Je ne sui mie certeins (M20) balances these formal principles to reflect a perfect love balanced between the dedicatory and the sacralised, while Lasse! comment oublieray / Se j'aim mon loyal ami / Pour quoy me bat mes maris? (M16) creates three opposing forms that reflect a Lady looking in two different directions, towards a beloved and a husband who abuses her. Dame je sui cilz qui weil endurer / Fins cuers doulz, on me deffent / T. Fins cuers doulz (M11) does not define regular upper-voice taleae, but rather uses the tools by which taleae are defined in the upper voices – long rests, hocket sections, and melodic repetition – to merge disparate formal principles in the service of a motet that discusses a woman who merges a soft appearance with a hard reality. Here Machaut also uses hexachordal punning, combining sharps and flats to express the Lady's contradictory qualities.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press, 2020

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in memoriam gratiamque Thomas Walker

This project has been many years in the making, but delays have both required and allowed radical rethinking, in part because of important intervening work by scholars such as Jacques Boogaart, Mark Everist, Jared Hartt and Anna Zayaruznaya. I would like to thank those who have commented on earlier versions, especially the anonymous readers for Plainsong & Medieval Music and the members of my writing group, who made me explain things more clearly and in the process have helped show me why it all matters.


1 Hartt, Jared C., ‘The Three Tenors: Machaut's Secular Trio’, Studi musicali, 38 (2009), 237–71Google Scholar.

2 See especially Everist, Mark, ‘Motets, French Tenors, and the Polyphonic Chanson ca. 1300’, Journal of Musicology, 24 (2007), 365406CrossRefGoogle Scholar, but also his later ‘Machaut's Musical Heritage’, in A Companion to Guillaume de Machaut, ed. Deborah McGrady and Jennifer Bain, Brill's Companions to the Christian Tradition 33 (Leiden and Boston, 2012), 143–58, esp. 147, and ‘Montpellier 8: Anatomy of …’, in The Montpellier Codex: The Final Fascicle: Contents, Contexts, Chronologies, ed. Catherine A. Bradley and Karen Desmond, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music (Woodbridge, 2018), 13–31, esp. 29–30. Earlier work on these motets includes Aubry, Pierre, Recherches sur les ‘Tenors’ français dans les motets du treizième siècle (Paris, 1907)Google Scholar, and Walker, Thomas, ‘Sui Tenor Francesi nei motetti del “200”’, Schede Medievali, 3 (1982), 309–36Google Scholar. I am grateful to Tom for seeing that I got a copy of his article at a time when he had more important things on his mind, one reason I dedicate this project to his memory.

3 Anna Zayaruznaya examines the use of upper-voice taleae that are distinct from those of the tenor in several motets associated with Philippe de Vitry in The Monstrous New Art: Divided Forms in the Late Medieval Motet (Cambridge, 2015). Most of the motets she discusses are chant-based, but one of her early examples, the Fauvel motet Je voi / Fauvel, combines four statements of a song phrase in the tenor with five phrases in the upper voices, articulated in an ABBBA pattern (46–52).

4 Boogaart, Jacques, ‘Encompassing Past and Present: Quotations and their Function in Machaut's Motets’, Early Music History, 20 (2001), 186CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 28, posits a ‘Machaut-constellation’ between these three motets, balancing a similar grouping of motets 1, 5 and 10, and he draws a special relationship between Dame / Fins cuers doulz / Fins cuers doulz (M11) and Trop / Biauté / Je ne sui (M20). As he notes, Dame / Fins cuers doulz / Fins cuers doulz (M11) moves rhythmically mostly on the level of modus and tempus, both of which are perfect, while Trop / Biauté / Je ne sui has perfect tempus and prolation. Each motet uses three hocket sections to structure its upper voices, though it does so rather differently in each. Furthermore, one can interpret the total length of Trop / Biauté / Je ne sui as fifty-one breves, exactly half that of Dame / Fins cuers doulz / Fins cuers doulz. Boogaart also reflects on manuscript ordering in ‘L'accomplissement du cercle: observations analytiques sur l'ordre des motets de Guillaume de Machaut’, Analyse Musicale, 50 (2004), 45–63, which focuses on the first and last motets of the first corpus (M1–M20). Brown, Thomas, ‘Another Mirror of Lovers? Order, Structure and Allusion in Machaut's Motets’, Plainsong & Medieval Music, 10/2 (2001), 121–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar, focuses on M10 as midpoint, drawing an analogy to the midpoint of the conjoined Roman de la Rose, combining Guillaume de Lorris's original poem with the additions by Jean de Meun, but like Boogaart he sees motets 11, 16 and 20 in a reflective relationship to motets 1, 5 and 10.

5 Earp, Lawrence, Guillaume de Machaut: A Guide to Research (New York and London, 1995), 383Google Scholar, notes that the tenor text is not cited in the standard catalogue of medieval French refrains, Nico H. J. van den Boogaard's Rondeaux et refrains du XIIe siècle au début du XIVe: Collationnement, introduction et notes, Bibliothèque française et romane série D: Initiation, textes et documents 3 (Paris, 1969), but concludes that the tenor was probably borrowed. Lawrence Wright, ‘Verbal Counterpoint in Machaut's Motet Trop plus est bele / Biauté parée de valour / Je ne suis mie’, Romance Studies, 7 (1985–6), 1–12, at 3, observes that this tenor has different line lengths, while all Machaut's rondeaux uses lines of the same length. Hartt, ‘The Three Tenors’, 249, further notes that Machaut wrote no monophonic rondeaux, arguing as well that the melodic style of this tenor does not match that of Machaut's rondeaux.

6 Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, 25–6 and 382–3. Hoppin, Richard H., ‘Notational Licenses of Guillaume de Machaut’, Musica Disciplina, 14 (1960), 1327Google Scholar, at 15–16, shows that this feature had been consistently mistranscribed, and a corrected edition of the entire motet appears in Hartt, ‘The Three Tenors’, 269–71. This feature is correctly transcribed in the new edition of the motets: de Machaut, Guillaume, The Complete Poetry and Music. Volume 9: The Motets, ed. Boogaart, Jacques, TEAMS Middle English Text Series (Kalamazoo, 2018)Google Scholar.

7 I have re-edited the examples in this article from the Ferrell-Vogüé manuscript (Private Collection of James E. and Elizabeth J. Ferrell) using the images in DIAMM (Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music, Jacques Boogaart's edition (Machaut, Motets) is now the best available edition of Machaut's motets.

8 Hartt, ‘The Three Tenors’, 252, observes that all three of Machaut's secular-song tenors conclude with ascending motion to the final.

9 Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, 382, also notes the existence of these units. Anna Zayaruznaya discusses them briefly as well in Upper-Voice Structures and Compositional Process in the Ars nova Motet, Royal Musical Association Monographs 32 (London and New York, 2018), esp. 52–3.

10 This final sonority would technically need to be three breves in length, in order to finish out the seventeen-breve upper-voice talea, but this would not fit the tenor melody. There are no longs in the motet, and no real sense of modus, even in the tenor, as noted in Hoppin, ‘Notational Licenses’, 23. For this reason, Hartt, ‘The Three Tenors’, 247 n. 22, gives the total length of the motet as forty-nine breves, rather than the fifty-one suggested by the seventeen-breve talea unit, speculating that ‘the motet's unusual number of breves (49) may have been deliberately chosen by Machaut to commemorate Bonne's death in 1349’. This symbolic interpretation of forty-nine follows the reading of Robertson, Anne Walters, Guillaume de Machaut and Reims: Context and Meaning in his Musical Works (Cambridge, 2002), 185Google Scholar, which she further credits to Lawrence Earp. Of course, if the motet does not commemorate Bonne's death, then this association is not viable; see below on this point. Jacques Boogaart holds to the fifty-one-breve length in the commentary to Machaut, Motets, noting that this would be precisely half the length of Dame / Fins cuers doulz / Fins cuers doulz (M11). He also discusses this point in ‘L'accomplissement’, 59.

11 Zayaruznaya, The Monstrous New Art, and especially eadem, Upper-Voice Structures.

12 Wright, ‘Verbal Counterpoint’, 7–8, also notes that, while the ends of text lines tend to fall together at the beginning and end (more or less corresponding to the opening and closing statements of the full refrain), they overlap in the middle.

13 Boogaart, ‘L'accomplissement’, 55, articulates this as ‘un trait d'union entre le monde intellectual du motet et le monde plus intime et élégant de la chanson courtoise’. He seems to consider the tenor's rondeau form more influential on the upper voices than I do, reading the rondeau's sections in relation to the upper-voice texts.

14 I use the translations by R. Barton Palmer and Jacques Boogaart from Machaut, Motets, 163.

15 Leach, Elizabeth Eva, Guillaume de Machaut: Secretary, Poet, Musician (Ithaca and London, 2011), 138CrossRefGoogle Scholar. She does not discuss this motet specifically, but I believe it would fit into her argument.

16 The ‘memorial benediction’ interpretation in Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, 25, is reinterpreted in Lawrence Earp with Leo, Domenic and Shapreau, Carla, The Ferrell-Vogüé Machaut Manuscript. Volume 1: Introductory Study, DIAMM Facsimiles (Oxford, 2014), 31 and 31 n. 17Google Scholar. Machaut MS C (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fonds français 1586) is the earliest of Machaut's complete-works manuscripts.

17 This is not apparent in the text given in Boogaart's edition, nor in Robertson, Guillaume de Machaut and Reims, 325, both of which give line 8 as ‘quant en sa fine biauté truis’. This is the reading of MS A (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, fonds français 1584), but MS C and the Ferrell-Vogüé manuscript both give line 8 as ‘quant en sa fine bonté truis’. Wright, ‘Verbal Counterpoint’, 5, uses the ‘bonté’ reading.

18 This rhyme is also used in the triplum of M4 and in the motetus of M10 (where ‘bonté’ comes first).

19 Wright, ‘Verbal Counterpoint’, 5.

20 Leach, Guillaume de Machaut, 178.

21 Robertson, Guillaume de Machaut and Reims, 184–5.

22 On cadential expectations, see Fuller, Sarah, ‘Modal Tenors and Tonal Orientation in Motets of Guillaume de Machaut’, Current Musicology, 45–47 (1990), 199245Google Scholar. For the cadential anomalies of the secular-song motets, see Hartt, ‘Three Tenors’, 244–6.

23 Hartt, ‘Three Tenors’, 263.

24 Lawrence Earp, in The Ferrell-Vogüé Machaut Manuscript, 34, sees this combination less as balance than as reflecting the uncertainty expressed by the tenor, reading the regularity of the upper-voice taleae as reflecting the narrator's simultaneous loyalty.

25 Boogaart, ‘L'accomplissement’, 55, observes that this is the only motet other than Quant en moy / Amour et biauté / Amara valde, the first motet in Machaut's collection, to move entirely in perfect mensural units.

26 Hartt, ‘Three Tenors’, 259–60, following Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, 336, and earlier scholars. Zayaruznaya does not discuss this motet in Upper-Voice Structures, perhaps because the upper-voice taleae do not coincide, and perhaps because of the irregularity of the triplum taleae.

27 The motetus does have frequent breves and longs, which follow the second-mode rhythm of the tenor and appear at similar points in several taleae, but none appears consistently in each unit.

28 My reading varies slightly from Hartt's (‘Three Tenors’, 257–8), mostly in that I see the cadence at bar 88 (L8 of Hartt's tenor statement A2) as weaker than he does: the motetus begins the sonority with a sixth above the tenor before resolving to the fifth, and it is in the middle of a text line; all this resolves in the next bar, but now the tenor is resting, and the triplum has moved on. This difference in interpretation does not change the extent to which we do agree, or my debt to his work.

29 Boogaart, ‘Encompassing Past and Present’, 39, reads this rather as an extension of the second triplum unit by one breve, which is balanced by the shortening of the final unit by a breve. I believe my reading, which aligns with Hartt's, in fact reinforces Boogaart's point of a kind of pivot taking place at this moment.

30 The most famous example is the midpoint of the conjoined Roman de la Rose, where both authors (Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun) are named.

31 Hartt, ‘Three Tenors’, 259–60, recognises that, while this is the only point where triplum and motetus periods align, it is an unusual point in the tenor for a cadence, but both he and Boogaart, ‘Encompassing Past and Present’, 39, who calls bar 75 ‘the only perfect cadence on D’, hear this cadence as stronger than I do. It is probably fair to say that every move towards a D cadence in this motet – and, given the nature of the tenor melody, there are many – is weakened or avoided in one way or another. Any disagreement here, however, reinforces the notion that the midpoint is simultaneously highlighted and undercut.

32 Boogaart, ‘Encompassing Past and Present’, 39.

33 Boogaart, ‘Encompassing Past and Present’, 36–9, notes the ‘double argumentation’ in this text, marked in part by the use of similar phrases in both halves: ‘Lasse!’ in lines 1 and 32, ‘Le cuer de my / pour il sien’ (ll. 4–5) / ‘j'ay son cuer et il le mien’ (l. 26), etc.

34 Boogaart, ‘Encompassing Past and Present’, 35–6, argues that the variants between the tenor and the song text in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms Douce 308 (which antedates Machaut) represent changes intentionally made by Machaut. This assumes that Douce 308 was Machaut's source, which is possible but cannot be proven. Here as elsewhere I use the translations by Palmer and Boogaart in Machaut, Motets.

35 Robertson and Donagher use the constant seven-syllable lines in Robertson, Guillaume de Machaut and Reims, 319, perhaps in part because regular line length is the norm in fourteenth-century motet poetry, but Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, 336, observes the short lines given here, as does Boogaart in his edition, Machaut, Motets, 141. I am grateful to Jared Hartt for pointing out the more complicated reading.

36 Hartt, ‘Three Tenors’, 257. Boogaart, ‘Encompassing Past and Present’, 41, makes a similar observation, comparing the musical texture to that of two duets creating ‘a concrete and effective means to evoke the idea of ‘tearing’ and separation in the listener’. Zayaruznaya, Anna only mentions this motet once, in passing, in ‘“She has a wheel that turns…”: Crossed and Contradictory Voices in Machaut's Motets’, Early Music History, 28 (2009), 185240CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 228 n. 93 and 229 n. 94.

37 Robertson, Guillaume de Machaut and Reims, 167, quoting Suso, Henry, Wisdom's Watch Upon the Hours, trans. Colledge, Edmund, The Fathers of the Church, Mediaeval Continuation 4 (Washington, DC, 1994), 191Google Scholar, and Henry Suso, Horologium Sapientiae, ed. Pius Künzel, Spicilegium Friburgense, Texte zur Geschichte des Kirchlichen Lebens 23 (Freiburg, 1977), 482.

38 She argues that Lasse! / Se j'aim / Pour quoy (M16) was written for the narrative because the wife-beating featured in the motet's tenor reflects an exemplum in Suso's work she considers ‘too striking to be mere coincidence’ (183).

39 See the discussion following his edition of the motet in Ludwig, Friedrich, ed., Guillaume de Machaut: Musikalische Werke. Volume 3: Motetten, Publikation älterer Musik 4/2 (Leipzig, 1929)Google Scholar, 43 (147).

40 See Boogaard, Rondeaux et refrains, refrain no. 754, p. 159. The Salut d'amours, found in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, fonds français 837, is edited in Schultz-Gora, Oskar, ‘Ein ungedruckter Salut d'amours nebst Antwort’, Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie, 24 (1900), 358–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar; stanza 27, ll. 196–202, is found on p. 364. Tamsyn Rose-Steel, ‘French Ars Nova Motets and their Manuscripts: Citational Play and Material Context’, Ph.D. diss., University of Exeter (2011), 144 n. 72, notes this as a possible source, but she favours another candidate, and in the end she concludes that ‘none of these refrains appear to fit the melody as it appears in Machaut's M11 (motetus or tenor line)’.

41 Fuller, Sarah, ‘Tendencies and Resolutions: The Directed Progression in Ars nova Music’, Journal of Music Theory, 36/2 (1992), 229–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 242–4, uses this opening as an example of ‘a prolonged tendency sonority that, in changing positions, slides through its destination but only attains resolution at the phrase end’.

42 Jacques Boogaart calls this ‘one of the most problematic motets with respect to musica ficta, not least because the indications in the tenor vary from manuscript to manuscript and are not always in accordance with those in the upper voices’ (Machaut, Motets, 216). He takes MS A as the base text for his edition, but he provides information on signs given in other manuscripts.

43 The rest that sets off x′ from the rest of the C section, and the greater overall length of that section, encourage the listener to hear these phrases separately, unlike the more unipartite A section. Sanders, Ernest H., ‘The Medieval Motet’, in Gattungen der Musik in Einzeldarstellungen: Gedenkschrift Leo Schrade, ed. Arlt, Wulf, Lichtenhahn, Ernst and Oesch, Hans (Bern and Munich, 1973)Google Scholar, i, 564, therefore reads the tenor in six phrases (ab1, c, c, d, b2, ab1), as does Rose-Steel, ‘French Ars Nova Motets’, 144 (ABBCA1A), and Boogaart in Machaut, Motets, 216 (A (a1+a2) B B ba2A), while Hartt, ‘Three Tenors’, 246–7, reads the tenor slightly differently, arguing that the motive he calls o also appears, in varied form, at the end of the B sections.

44 This final pattern is also different from any before it in that the upper-voice rests frame that of the tenor; in every case before this both upper-voice rests either precede or follow the tenor's. I have argued elsewhere for the use of ‘last-time exceptions’ as a closural device in some of Machaut's talea-based motets; see Clark, Alice V., ‘Listening to Machaut's Motets’, Journal of Musicology, 21/4 (2004), 487513CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

45 Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, 304, and Günther, Ursula, ‘The 14th-Century Motet and its Development’, Musica disciplina 12 (1958), 2758Google Scholar, at 29, notes these hocket sections, but neither mentions the irregular intervals of repetition nor the fact that the first two statements use the same tenor pitches as an unusual feature. Zayaruznaya, Upper-Voice Structures, 52 n. 18, says that the upper voices ‘do not divide into discernible blocks’, despite the hocket sections.

46 Jared C. Hartt, ‘Sonority, Syntax, and Line in the Three-Voice Motets of Guillaume de Machaut’, Ph.D. diss., Washington University, St Louis (2007), 194–6, observes that the first statement (my Ex. 8a) marks a wholescale downward shift in parallel motion in all three parts, following the highest note in the triplum line (at the word ‘vraie’, in b. 31), while the second (my Ex. 8b) through voice exchange between motetus and tenor prolongs a B♭ sonority that leads to a harmonic shift to A (in b. 64). I am grateful to him for sharing selected pages from his dissertation.

47 Zayaruznaya, Anna, ‘Hockets as Compositional and Scribal Practice in the ars nova Motet: A Letter from Lady Music’, Journal of Musicology, 30/4 (2013), 461501CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 493–5, shows that Machaut clearly intended some instances where words are broken up in hocket sections, and this would seem to be one of them, since there is no way to complete a three-syllable word in a hocket of two-note groupings. Again, that this happens during the final statement is significant.

48 The use of this motive at the beginning of x′ emphasises the semi-autonomous role of this rhyming unit, especially following the C section.

49 Anna Zayaruznaya discusses the extensive imitation and voice crossing in ‘“She has a wheel…”’, 189–90, and ‘Intelligibility Redux: Motets and the Modern Medieval Sound’, Music Theory Online, 23/2 (2017),, paragraphs 3.4–3.6, where she observes that the homogeneous sound of Gothic Voices tends to mask the voice crossing, merging the parts into a single line, while other ensembles using more timbrally diverse voices make the parts and their crossing easier to hear.

50 Similar hard/soft word painting has been traced in Machaut's songs by Mahrt, William Peter, ‘Male and Female Voice in Two Virelais of Guillaume de Machaut’, in Machaut's Music: New Interpretations, ed. Eva Leach, Elizabeth, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music (Woodbridge, 2003), 221–30Google Scholar, at 224–7, and Maw, David, ‘“Bona cadentia dictaminum”: Reconstructing Word Setting in Machaut's Songs’, Music & Letters, 94/3 (2013), 383432CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 417–18. Earp also notes the use of solmization syllables in the Confort d'ami, lines 3993–4, where Machaut writes ‘Mon b mol de be fa be mi / Mis en b dur’; Guillaume de Machaut, 6. This quote uses ‘mol’ rather than ‘douce’, and Maw admits that there is no direct proof that the word ‘douce’ was used as equivalent to the Latin ‘mollis’ in the theory of Machaut's time, but he uses a mid-sixteenth-century French treatise, which defines hexachords as ‘douce’ (soft), ‘nature’ (natural) and ‘dure’ (hard), as indirect evidence.

51 This b♭ in bar 12 may add weight to the editorial flats Ludwig adds to the tenor line in bar 15 and elsewhere in his edition.

52 Translation by Palmer and Boogaart in Machaut, Motets, 111.

53 Fuller, ‘Tendencies and Resolutions’, 244, notes that the opening three longs of this motet are ‘a prolonged tendency sonority that, in changing positions, slides through its destination but only attains resolution at the phrase end’.

54 Jacques Boogaart discusses ‘the contrast between dous and amer and the pun on amer’ as central to M1 in ‘Encompassing Past and Present’, 14–16. In ‘L'accomplissement’, he reads these two motets together, seeing Trop / Biauté / Je ne sui (M20) as ‘une réponse positive au premier’ (59).

55 Rose-Steel, ‘French Ars Nova Motets’, 147–8, notes that these words ‘vostre vouloir’ appear in the opening of the triplum and the end of the motetus, and both use similar melodic material and are set over the F♯ in the second long of the two A refrains.

56 Robertson, Guillaume de Machaut and Reims, 154–6.

57 ‘Primo accipe tenorem … et debent verba concordare cum materia de qua vis facere motetum.’ Edited and translated in Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Compositional Techniques in the Four-Part Isorhythmic Motets of Philippe de Vitry and his Contemporaries, 2 vols., Outstanding Dissertations in Music from British Universities (New York and London, 1979), i, 18 (Latin) and 21 (English).

58 Zayaruznaya, The Monstrous New Art, 230.

59 Only three Machaut motets survive outside his complete-works manuscripts, and eight (possibly nine) are listed in the Trémoïlle index. The polytextual songs are similarly unpopular: two of the bitextual ballades only appear in the Machaut manuscripts and text sources, but Quant Theseus / Ne Quier veoir (B34) appears in three sources, including the Chantilly Codex. Details can be found in Earp, Guillaume de Machaut. Two motets on secular songs appear in the Ivrea Codex (Ivrea, Biblioteca Capitolare, MS CXV (115)), but they are generally dismissed as older pieces in the style of the Ars antiqua, as in Kügle, Karl, The Manuscript Ivrea, Biblioteca Capitolare 115: Studies in the Transmission and Composition of Ars Nova Polyphony, Musicological Studies / Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen 69 (Ottawa, 1997), 163Google Scholar.

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