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Machaut and Ars Nova

Extraordinary developments in mathematics were matched by some extraordinary feats of polyphony. Donald Macleod considers the life and music of Guillaume de Machaut.

Extraordinary developments in mathematics in France were matched by some extraordinary feats of polyphony. Donald Macleod considers the life and music of Guillaume de Machaut and his place in the development of polyphony.

The transition from pure monophony to complex polyphony was a gradual one. It is argued that polyphony was never entirely absent from European music-making; nor did monophony suddenly go out of fashion. Nevertheless, a fascinating development can be traced between the 12 and 14th centuries, with new musical forms, new rhythmic modes, and new methods of musical notation.

In this episode, Donald traces the career and some of the music of Machaut, music that is partially indebted to the theoretical foundations of his predecessor, Philippe de Vitry, who wrote an influential treatise on the new art of music, or Ars Nova. Machaut once served as secretary to the slightly unhinged King John of Bohemia - a man who gallantly rode to his death at the battle of Crecy tied to his horse. Besides his considerable literary output, Machaut's compositions evince astounding sophistication, and his masterpiece is the first ever polyphonic setting of the Mass ordinary - a setting which he may have intended to be sung as his own memorial.

Guillaume de Machaut: Doulz viaire gracieus
Ensemble Gilles Binchois
Dominique Véllard, director

Philippe de Vitry: Gratissima virginis
Gothic Voices
Christopher Page, director

Guillaume de Machaut: Cinc, un, trese; Ma fin est mon commencement
Orlando Consort

Guillaume de Machaut: Liement me deport
Ensemble Gilles Binchois
Dominique Véllard, director

Guillaume de Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame
Ensemble Gilles Binchois
Dominique Véllard, director.

1 hour

Music Played

  • Guillaume de Machaut

    Doulz viaire gracieus

    Ensemble: Ensemble Gilles Binchois.
    • BRILLIANT 94217.
    • BRILLIANT.
    • 9.
  • Philippe de Vitry

    Gratissima Virginis

    Ensemble: Gothic Voices. Director: Christopher Page.
    • CDS 44252.
    • Hyperion.
    • 1.
  • Guillaume de Machaut

    Cinc, un, trese

    Ensemble: Orlando Consort.
    • Hyperion: CDA 68103.
    • Hyperion.
    • 2.
  • Guillaume de Machaut

    Ma fin est mon commencement

    Ensemble: Orlando Consort.
    • Archiv: 4576182.
    • 13.
  • Guillaume de Machaut

    Liement me deport

    Ensemble: Ensemble Gilles Binchois.
    • Brilliant Classics: 94217.
    • Brilliant Classics.
    • 17.
  • Guillaume de Machaut

    Messe de Nostre Dame

    Performer: Ensemble Gilles Binchois. Director: Dominique Vellard.
    • HMC : H/CD-8931.
    • HMC.

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