ii. Reference and Evolution

Understanding Machaut’s place within a cultural continuum is an extensive and complex task. The discussions here focus on but three aspects of his interrelationships with his surroundings. First, a consideration of the way Machaut made use of his musical and poetic heritage will place his activities within a cultural framework. Following this, I examine the circulation and transformation of his music as it passed outside his control, showing contemporaneous attitudes towards his output. Lastly, other practitioners’ use of Machaut’s output as their own musical and poetic heritage will be examined through tracing Machaut quotations in later music.


Uri Smilansky

1. Machaut’s Heritage

There was a long-standing practice of borrowing within the vernacular lyric tradition of thirteenth-century France, and, for all their innovations, composers of the Ars nova, like poets of the time, continued to infuse their works with citations and allusions. Machaut was no exception, and his fixed-form poetry with and without music, as well as his French motets, illustrate his particular penchant for crafting new material around existing elements.

Tracing citations and allusions across late medieval French lyric poetry and music proves a valuable methodology on a number of counts. Pinpointing borrowings can enlighten us about the compositional process, showing how an author crafted his work around existing elements; it can lend tantalising insights into how poets and composers engaged with works by peers or predecessors, and how they endeavoured to engage their listeners or readers. Sometimes citational relationships throw up surprising results, linking poets or composers from different milieux, or distant in time or geography. This can inform us as to the repertory known and meaningful to individual poets, composers and their audiences at specific times and places. In other words, they can provide clues about transmission and circulation of works, and about their reception. This can be especially valuable where it fills in the gaps of the surviving manuscript sources, which are patchy for the fourteenth century, especially up to and including Machaut’s lifetime.

It is perhaps no surprise that Machaut should have integrated borrowed material within his French motets. The motet was a citational form par excellence, since it was traditionally built upon borrowed material placed in its lowest part (the tenor. For more on the structure and structuring process see here). Usually, this material derived from the chant, but French-texted motets from the thirteenth century were sometimes built on existing rondeaux and often feature myriad quotations of popular lyric tags (‘refrains’) in their upper voices. The tradition of composing motets upon secular monophonic songs lingered on into the fourteenth century. Machaut’s Lasse! Comment oublieray (Motet 16) was apparently devised around a late thirteenth-century chanson de malmariée from the Douce chansonnier (Oxford Bodleian, MS Douce 308), Pourquoy me bat mes maris? (the music of the chanson is not extant). It seems very probable, too, that a borrowed song was the starting point for composition of his Dame, je sui cilz (Motet 11). The tenor part of this work carries the incipit ‘Fins cuer dous’ and is redolent of an early monophonic song although it has not been identified with an extant work.

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

The tonal language of this (presumably borrowed) melody infuses the motet: the upper parts repeatedly echo the characteristic inflected progression heard prominently in its opening phrase, and this reiteration results in a melding of the soundworld of the motet with that of the burgeoning Ars nova polyphonic chanson, which Machaut did so much to develop (for more on this work, see here).

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

Machaut’s ‘fixed-form’ lyrics, notably his ballades, rondeaux and virelais, are especially rife with quotations. Like his motet texts, we find enclosed within them many references to the texts of old songs by the trouvères. His songs, too, exhibit this citational impulse in their texts. It was noticed long ago that Machaut’s early polyphonic ballade Pour ce que tous me chans fais (B12) shares textual material with three other works. Its Refrain text, Se je chans mains que ne sueil, echoes the opening lines of two later thirteenth century works: a motet from the Montpellier codex (Montpellier, Bibliothèque Inter-Universitaire, Section Médecine, H196), and a ballette from the Douce chansonnier. There’s no obvious similarity with the music of the motet to suggest Machaut derived his music from there. The music of the ballette doesn’t survive but it seems likely this was the source of Machaut’s inspiration. First, a considerable number of matches link the repertory of Douce ballettes with motets from the Montpellier codex and with early fourteenth-century songs, suggesting these works, believed to have originated in Metz, were well known in Paris; Machaut himself quotes other items from the Douce collection in a number of other early songs and motets. Second, a canonic chace believed to be by Denis Le Grant, master of the chapel of Charles V (whom Machaut surely knew) evidently lifted the shared line from here, since its own closing line matches the second line of the ballette; using borrowed material to frame a work to give this ‘sandwich’ effect is very typical of 13th-century motets and it can also be witnessed in various kinds of 14th-century songs and lyrics.

Ballette 22 (Douce chansonnier)

Ballade 12, Machaut

Chace, Denis le Grant[?] (Iv)

Se je chans moins ke ne suel,
C’est por ceu c’on ne puist mie
Savoir de coi je me duel
Ne keile est ma malaidie,
Fors celle an cui signorie
J’ai vescut tot mon aei.
Or voille amors que servie
De moi puist estre a son grei.

Que par son tres dous acuel
Et par sa grant cortoixie
M’ont a ceu menei mi eul
Ke mes cuers l’ait ancherie,
Si ke dou tot s’umelie
Mes cors a sa volantei.
[Or voille amors que servie
De moi puist estre a son grei.]

Ja n’an partirai mon vuel
De li servir sans boidie,
Car sa biautei sans orgoil
Me sait espireir aie
Et me destrent et me lie,
Si ke je me rans outrei.
Or voille amors que servie
De moi puist estre a son grei.










Pour ce que tous me chans fais
De dolereus sentement,
Et pour ce que ne chant mais,
Repris sui de meinte gent.
Mais qui vraiement saroit
Ce que mes las cuers reçoit
Pour ma dame au dous accueil
Ja mais ne me blasmeroit
Se je chant mains que ne sueil.

Car pour amer onques mais
Si tres dolereusement
Ne fu nuls amis detrais
Com je sui; car, vraiement,
Langue raconter a droit
Ne cuers penser ne porroit
La dolour que je recueil,
Pour ce m’est vis que j’ay droit,
Se je chant mains que ne sueil.

Mais endurer ce grief fais
Me fait ma dame plaisant,
Quant ne puis, n’en dis n’en fais,
Plaire a son viaire gent.
Ce tient mon cuer si estroit
Qu’assés miex partir vaudroit
En je que vivre en tel dueil.
Dont nuls blasmer ne me doit
Se je chant mains que ne sueil.








Se je chant mais que ne suelh
De la simple sans orguelh
Ou j’ay mis toute ma cure
En yver par la froidure,
C’est pour l’amour des faucons
Que j’ay si biaus e si bons
A voler par la riviere;
Que riens nulle n’ay si chiere
Cume d’aler y sovent
Quant l’air est cler, sans grous vent.
Alons y, compains tres dous,
Les oysiaus sont si de sous;
Ho or tot coy,
Ho, je les voy;
Ho, gités, getés!
Ou vous les perdés!
Huo, huo, houp,
Huo, hou, houp,
Huo, hou, houp,
Hareu! Il s’en va.
Hau, ha hau, ha hau, hau,
Hau, ha hau, ha hau!
[. . .] bon gré Dieu.
Hou, ha hau, ha hau,
Hou, hou, ha hau, ha hau,
Houp, hou, hou, hou!
Levés li!
Hau, ha hau, ha hau, ha ha!
Mort est, or raissons
Nos faucons.
Hau hau, ha ha, hau!
Biaus dous compains, retornons,
Puis qu’a voler ne trovons
[Plus d’oi]siaus en cest pais,
De cues que si avons pris;
Fer[e] a ma dame present.
E se je ne les present
Plus a ma loyal amie,
C’est pour ce que ne puis mie.


 The chace seems also to have drawn on the musical setting of these two borrowed lines. These passages feature long rhythmic durations that are commensurate with an older musical style and they contrast with the lively style of the rest of the chace. The quotation of the Douce ballette, a serious love-lament, was doubtless intended to inject another layer of humour into the playful chace, which goes on to present a remarkable evocation of the sounds of the hunt (not part of the recorded section), which echo through its three voices.

Sound and Score

Machaut, too, perhaps sought to overlay his ostensibly serious lament with a layer of irony by evoking the chace, as well as the older ballette: whereas his own narrator no longer sings because of his lady’s disdain, the narrator of the chace sings less of his sweetheart because he prefers to go hunting when the weather is fine (B12 is discussed in a different context here).

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

Machaut’s game likely also involved summoning to his audience’s minds older works an older tradition of ‘singing less than before’, in particular, the Douce ballette. The suspicion that Machaut knew this old repertory is reinforced by Machaut’s next two musical ballades in the manuscripts: his B13 shares two lines with a rondeau from the Douce chansonnier, while the opening of his B14 echoes that of another ballette. 

Whether musical borrowing were involved in those cases is not clear but it seems likely it was in B15. The textual incipit of B15, Se je me pleing, je n’en puis mais, echoes that of Ballette 185 from the Douce chansonnier (Se je me plain, j’ai bien raison). We might suspect that Machaut also borrowed the Refrain-text of B15, Ma dame m’a congié donné, because this also appears as the Refrain of his ballade without music, Helas! Mon cuer, bien le doy pleindre (Lo111). Moreover, the musical setting of this text in B15 sits rather uncomfortably within the tonal context of the rest of the song. Although Machaut’s Refrain melody elaborates motivic material heard earlier in the song, thus providing a sense of unity, the final cadence onto low G sounds oddly inconclusive and creates an unorthodox tonal mismatch with the clos ending of the first musical section and thereby disrupts our expectations.[1]

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

This subsequent history of quotation involving this song is considered further here.


Yolanda Plumley

[1] More detailed discussion of various of these case studies can be found in Yolanda Plumley, The Art of Grafted Song: Citation and Allusion in the Age of Machaut (Oxford University Press, 2013)


2. Reception and Identity of Machaut’s Music

Assessing the wider reception of Machaut’s musical works is a rather problematic task. Not only is the survival of source materials irregular and patchy, with very few French music manuscripts surviving other than Machaut’s own collected works, but a distinction could be made between those who collected and copied this music and the activities of practicing musicians who would have incorporated sections of his oeuvre into their repertoires. While circulation and promulgation patterns of written copies and memorized music may well have intersected on occasion, there was no intrinsic need for them to do so. Still, as the clearest indication of at least some kind of circulation can be drawn from the diffusion of copies of Machaut’s music outside of his immediate surroundings, this evidence will be concentrated upon in the current discussion.

Clearly, knowledge of Machaut’s work can be attested to through other means than the appearance of whole works elsewhere. One such strand of evidence, namely, the practice of quoting his texts, music or both in new setting, is considered in the following discussion.

While new appearances are still being discovered, our current knowledge of musical concordances for Machaut’s works is summarized in the following table. Some of these sources survive in a very fragmentary state, which makes commenting on their contents difficult. Other versions are entirely lost to us today, but are attested to by a surviving original index (trém), a nineteenth-century copy (Str), or a twentieth-century photograph (Maggs)




The circulation of **** out of a sum total of 149 musical works (counting Mass movements individually) may seem like a small percentage, and can be taken as an indication that interest in Machaut’s music was limited outside it’s original context. On the other hand, this would still be the largest body of polyphonic music by any French composer of the fourteenth-century. The lack of other complete-works collections make it impossible to calculate a percentage of works in free circulation for anyone else, and the fact that these **** make a sum totla of **** appearances makes the list even more impressive. Some of the independently circulating songs were integrated in what Reinhard Strohm dubbed the “international repertory”, and are of the most widely copied works in the repertoire.[1] The fact that only three songs are ascribed correctly to Machaut, and that only in a single source is also explicable from context. The source in which these ascriptions appear (Ch) is the only source in this group to regularly ascribe the work of French composers. ModA supplies many ascriptions, but (with one or two exceptions) only to composers of Italian origins. Most other sources in the table above give very few or no ascriptions in the copying layers where Machaut’s works were to be found. The wrong ascription of three of the most popular songs of the time to Machaut in Str may suggest that even when actual knowledge of his compositions was ropey (none of the three works by him in this source are correctly ascribed), the name itself conveyed a sense of respectability and authority. It is as if the compiler of scribe thought to themselves: ‘these songs are so well known and popular, they must be by that Machaut person, him being the most famous composer name that comes to mind’. It may well be that some manuscript compilers were not aware of the authorship of the Machaut songs they possessed, but this does not diminish from the fact of circulation and collection, and the high rate of borrowing and quoting from Machaut's songs suggest an high degree of appreciation of these works even when their author may not have been known.

The question of musical identity was already considered as part of the discussion of alternative scoring withing Machaut’s collected works manuscripts. In that context, the variety of available versions was taken as testimony to the different attitude of our medieval fore-bearers to this issue. Further intensification of this difference results from the clear division between a distant composer and those responsible for the new input found in some of the concordances presented above.

Some scoring decisions were doubtlessly the result of the availability of materials. From the version contained in most copies outside Machaut’s own collections, it seemed clear that R7 had a wider circulation in the three-part version presented in MS E than in the two-part version contained in all the other dedicated Machaut manuscripts. While the division between MS E and the rest may direct us to question whether the new voice is by Machaut or not, a medieval collector presented only with the three-part setting had no reason to doubt its integrity or faithfulness to the composer’s intentions. Other changes, like the reduction of the scoring in the version of B18 found in Pr, may be due to a change in function, or simply the needs of a specific performing ensemble. All the works presented in that collection appear textless and in two voices, suggesting an intentionality behind the pattern.

Other changes may have been accepted as authorial, or, if recognized as new, may have been considered not to interfere with the original work. One such case could be the new contratenor present in the version of B22 is PR, which differs form the one presented in the Machaut manuscripts.




The two voices inhabit the same range and share some behavioral patterns. The only technical reason I can find for the replacement may be the decision to avoid the written in accidentals Machaut’s contratenor contains, but this could have been achieved much more simply by local changes, or by avoiding them while mainaining the original voice contour. Alternatively, perhaps the contratenor part became illegible in a circulating copy and required rewriting without access to an authorial copy. Even more prosaically, a change in personnel within a performing group may have led to a new contratenorista having to supply a voice him/herself without the guidance of their predecessor, with this version eventually being perpetuated in writing. Whatever the history behind it, its inclusion does not overly infringe on the unity and character of the piece.

Yet another group of reworked compositions show a much stronger compositional hand, and therefore, and awareness of the change in character. The versions of the two songs appearing in diminuted intabulations in Fa are so different from their original that it sometimes takes a deep knowledge of the original to even recognize the song model from the new version.




Even with the loss of the text, the reduction to a two-part scoring, the likely change of speed, and the ample ornamentation, there is no indication that the composer of the new version considered his efforts to be more than an adaptation of known works to his immediate needs. The likely function of the works contained in this source as practical, instrumental time-fillers within a liturgical, Italian, fifteenth-century context can explain all these changes without demanding an intentionally subversive or interventionist impulse behind them. The conscious effort to make something new, revise or change the essence of the old songs were probably secondary considerations, if they at all came into the mind of the musician responsible for the arrangement.

In the last example, though, the notion of a new, self-conscious ego operating upon an existing musical artifact is unavoidable. ModA includes two works with the incipit Se vous n’estes. Towards the end of its earlier layer (fol. 34r), the song is copied in two-parts in a secondary position, occupying the last three staves of the page left empty by the anonymous Virelai Je la remire sans mensure. Hidden within the second layer of this source is a single voice with the indication Cont[ra]tenor Se vous nestes par mon guerredonnee (fol. 5v), similarly occupying the last two staves of the page left over by the piece above, this time, the cantus of a Credo setting, most probably by Matteo da Perugia. On grounds both structural and musical, it is generally accepted that this too is by Matteo. Together, the two appearances can combine into a new three-part setting for this song.




It immediately becomes obvious that there was little attempt made to bridge the gap between old and new. Matteo uses extended leaps, chromaticism and augmented melodic progressions typical of his normal style, making no attempt to parody the style of the original song, written more than half a century earlier. He also chose to place his new contratenor below the old tenor rather than the more common procedure of making the two voices share a range, with the tenor occupying more lowest sounding notes than its counterpart. This decision forces the new contratenor to undermine more of the sonorities suggested by the old, structural duo, rather than act as an amplifying harmonic filler as does the MS E contratenor (at least for the most part). The artificiality of the addition is, of course, bolstered by the separate presentation of the contratenor voice. There is no pretense it forms part of an original, unified setting. Matteo takes this point even further by supplying three different ending possibilities for his new voice, presented consecutively in the manuscript. Such a procedure is otherwise unheard of. All three endings are highly unusual and avoid traditional cadence progressions. The first does lead to the standard location of the contratenor, namely the fifth between the structural duo’s octave. It does so, though, via a specifically notated chromatic progression G : G-sharp : A. The second ending option leads to a unison with the tenor and parallel octaves with the cantus, and involves the specified diminished fifth leap G : C-sharp. The last version for the final cadence, which was recorded in the extract above, is perhaps the most controversial. Here the contratenor leaps an octave downwards towards its final note, which is placed a fifth below the tenor. This changes the modal character of the final sonority of the song transferring importance from D to G. This effect echoes the beginning of the song, where the tenor harmonizes the cantus’ initial presentation of D as its modal center with the lower fifth G. In this third option, the new voice begins and ends on the same, extremely low pitch, highlighting further this mirroring effect. For me, the overall effect of Matteo’s contribution is of a subtle construct in which both his and Machaut’s musical identities remain intact and unbending, but are placed in dialogue bridging the decades, stylistic changes and indeed geographic affiliation that separate them.

For another case of the construction of a stylistic gap through Matteo’s use of Machaut’s music, see his quotation technique discussed below.


Uri Smilansky


3. Quoting Machaut

The transmission of Machaut’s songs outside the complete-works manuscript tradition both during and shortly after his lifetime is surprisingly limited. Only 11 of his 122 songs appear in the large repertory manuscripts copied in Europe at the turn of the fifteenth century such as F-Ch, PR, and ModA. And by around 1430 Machaut’s music seems to have disappeared from circulation.[1]

A previous discussion includes a table containing the evidence we have for copies of his works circulating outside his collected works manuscripts. It is noteworthy that with the exception of two attributions in F-Ch (one slightly mangled), his songs circulated anonymously in an age where composer attributions were important. Many composers who are today far less well known than Machaut were named in manuscripts that did not bear an attribution to Machaut. From this we must conclude that his fame did not extend far outside the French royal and ecclesiastical circles that employed him.

Despite the anonymity of the circulation of his songs, there is evidence that his works were known and respected by at least a small number of composers of the next generation. This is revealed by a number of cases in which his texts and music are quoted in later songs. An interesting complex may be highlighted surrounding two Ballades, B15 and B23 (B15 is also discussed in relation to Machaut’s heritage, while B23 appears also as part of the discussions of the new contratenors in MS E, and of rhythmic organization of the modus level).

B15:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

B23:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Matteo da Perugia, a singer at the duomo of Milan in the early fifteenth century and composer of more than 20 surviving songs, composed a ballade whose incipit, Se je me plaing de fortune, quotes two songs of Machaut—the textual incipit from B15 (Se je me pleing je n’en puis mais), and the text plus music of the cantus and tenor of the opening of B23 (De Fortune me doi pleindre et loer).

Sound and Score

This double quotation, in which the new song’s entire first line is composed of juxtaposed Machaut incipits, suggests a highly pointed reference, in which the poet knew the works of Machaut and his reputation. Interestingly enough, each of those ballades is quoted elsewhere by anonymous later composers. The text and music of the ballade Ma dame m’a congie donné are fashioned by reversing first line and refrain of B15: the text and music of B15’s refrain becomes the first line of Ma dame, while its first line with its music, Se je me plaing je n’en puis mais, serves as that ballade’s refrain (For more borrowings involving the line Ma dame m'a congie donné see here).

Sound and Score

The same procedure obtains in the anonymous Dame qui fust, which uses text and music of B23’s refrain as its opening line, and B23’s opening line as its refrain.[2]

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

It is remarkable that these two ballades were subject to such a density of reuse, and suggests a pattern of transmission that is lost to us today.

The ballade Phiton, phiton, beste tres venimeuse by Magister Franciscus similarly engages with both text and music of a Machaut ballade, B38 Phiton le mervilleus serpent. The first three breves of music are quoted exactly in all three voices, and the text of the new ballade recasts the subject (the mythological serpent slain by Apollo) so that the “venomous” python serves to glorify Phebus, the sobriquet of Gaston Fébus, count of Foix.

B38:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Phiton, phiton:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Other evidence of the circulation of Machaut’s works outside the surviving manuscripts comes with a few other pieces. The Italian abbot Antonello da Caserta made the only surviving setting of a Machaut text in his three-voice ballade Beauté parfaite [Lo140], a text not otherwise known outside the Machaut manuscripts.[3]

Sound and Score

And the anonymous rondeau Rose sans per (Apel FSC 3, no. 274) shares so many features of Machaut’s R10, Rose, lis, that it is hard to escape the conclusion that it is informed by knowledge of its musical setting: the opening is identical, and like R10, Rose sans per juxtaposes perfect tempus minor prolation in the cantus (3/4 in modern equivalent) with imperfect tempus major prolation in the tenor (6/8 modern barring) throughout. It might do a bit of one-upmanship in that the contratenor is in imperfect tempus imperfect prolation (2/4), so that three different mensurations sound simultaneously.

R10:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Rose sans per:     Score


Anne Stone

[1] See Lawrence Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, A Guide to Research (Garland, 1995), pp. 53-72.

[2] For more about this song’s relationship to B23, see Elizabeth Eva Leach, “Fortune's Demesne: The Interrelation of Text and Music in Machaut's 'Il m’est avis' (B22), 'De fortune' (B23) and Two Related Anonymous Balades,in Early Music History 19 (2000), pp. 47-79.

[3] See Anne Stone, “Machaut Cited in Modena,” in Yolanda Plumley, Giuliano Di Bacco and Stefano Jossa, eds. Citation, Intertextuality and Memory in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Exeter: Exeter University Press, 2011), pp. 170-189.



Yet another example:


Another case where a quotation may point to a more modest acknowledgment of modeling a new song on the work of a master, rather than a self-conscious adaptation and manipulation of an old work into a new meaningful context, can be found in the replication of the text and music of the last line of the refrain of Machaut’s R7 (musical B-part) as the refrain of the anonymous ballade S’espoir n’estoit qui me donné confort. Unlike Antonello da Caserta’s transplantation of Machaut’s text into a new musical style, or Matteo da Perugia’s created tension between the style of the old quotation and that of the rest of the song which hosts it, special care was taken to integrate the quote into its surroundings, with rhythmic and melodic elements from the quoted material shaping the setting as a whole.

R7:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile 

S'espoir n'estoit:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile (not primary source for current edition)


Uri Smilansky