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


***********************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."