3. Tension through counterpoint

Exemplary as it is in structure and mensuration, M1 also contains an exemplary contrapuntal problem. In the tenor melisma tension exists between the notes F and G, the basic notes of the soft and hard hexachords.

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

They form a polarity which is played out in the course of the motet. Machaut may well have manipulated the melisma a little in order to enhance this opposition since no existing chant source has a melody which is identical to the color of the motet; especially in the middle part, notes 11-20 (talea II), Machaut’s version is rather different and shows more opposition between the soft and the hard hexachord.

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

In the undiminished taleae the emphasis on F and G is more or less in balance (F is the final of taleae I and III, G of talea II) but in the diminution section the tension between the two poles becomes stronger by a preference for cadences on G, first in bars 110-4 in the motetus, then in the triplum in bars 118-21. In bar 119 where the tenor cadences on F the triplum even sings a dissonant f-sharp leading to g in the next bar. As a general rule tenors, and especially liturgical tenors, are not to be inflected, so the tenor’s F must stand, against the f-sharp in the triplum. The conclusion is that Machaut deliberately steered the music into a clash at this point, perhaps as a parallel of the word folettement (‘foolishly’) in the text; the word is also highlighted by its ‘wrong’ accentuation ‘fòlettèment’ whereas elsewhere in this motet the text declamation follows the natural accents. The growing tension in the counterpoint between G and F has a meaning for the text but also purely musically it can be explained as a play with two poles of contrapuntal attraction in order to create musical tension. In bars 133-4 the two even succeed each other in parallel octaves. Towards the end of the piece the attraction of G becomes still stronger and from bar 140 the listener expects a final cadence on G, so that the following real cadence on F has the effect of a surprise. Thus in this work there is not, as has been shown for several other of his motets, a gradual reinforcement of the final towards the piece’s ending.On the contrary: the closure on F comes as a surprise. Interpreting the opposition of the soft and hard hexachords as a parallel with the pun amer-amer in the texts, this surprise may well have meant as: in the end the sweet (soft) tastes bitter (hard).


Jacques Boogaart


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