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)



***********************STOP PRESS!!!!!!!!************************

The Complete Poetry and Music of Guillaume de Machaut Volume 1 is out now!!!!

Volume 1: The Debate Poems is now available in print.

You can also enjoy the entire volume online via the Middle English Texts Website.

Edited and translated by R. Barton Palmer, with art historical commentary by Domenic Leo, and musical commentary by Uri Smilansky, the volume contains  Le Jugement dou Roy de Behaigne, Le Jugement dou Roy de Navarre, and Le Lay de Plour.




The Ferrell-Vogüé Machaut Manuscript

Full colour facsimile with introductory study by Lawrence Earp, Domenic Leo and Carla Shapreau. Preface by Christopher de Hamel

"It is a vast manuscript of royal luxury, 390 leaves of parchment, 314 mm. by 220 mm., illustrated with 118 enchanting miniatures by a workshop of court illuminators led by the Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy.They include pictures of gothic chivalry and romance, with mythology and natural history. Music is included on 235 pages of the manuscript, with almost the entire corpus of the ballades, lais and motets of Machaut, as well as his great polyphonic setting of the Mass, the four-part Messe de Nostre-Dame.The manuscript has never before been photographed in its entirety or reproduced in colour."

"Vol. 1 introductory study (225 pages colour/mono), vol. 2 facsimile (789 full colour pages) on 150gsm matt art paper. Full size reproduction, hard bound in buckram, presented in hard slipcover."

Available now from DIAMM Publications.

The Art of Grafted Song: Citation and Allusion in the Age of Machaut by Yolanda Plumley

Available now from Oxford University Press

"Presents the first detailed exploration of citational practices in the song-writing tradition of fourteenth-century France. The first monograph-length study on the Ars nova chanson with new evidence about the emergence of the new polyphonic chanson. Provides new evidence about the circle of poets and composers who engaged with Machaut and created a new style of poetry and song. Explores little studied collections of lyrics and songs of the period and provides fresh insights and perspectives on Machaut's works."