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PETER ASTON explores the music of Guillaume de Machaut

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The bulk of the programme is devoted to three of the four principal types of lyric song Machaut composed. Of these, the least complex are the virelais, though they are not without rhythmic subtlety. One of the six examples recorded here, 'Ay mi! dame de valour', is monophonic and has a distinct folk-like quality despite some occasional melismas [Listen - track 4, 00:00-00:51]; the others are all in two parts, one textless. The charming interplay of voice and dolzaina in 'Mors sui, se je ne vous voy' [Listen - track 8, 00:00-00:57] shows one aspect of Machaut's style, but such simplicity is hardly characteristic of his work as a whole. Taking up the notational principles advocated by Philippe de Vitry, he exploited the exciting, new rhythmic possibilities offered by what de Vitry had called 'the new art'. His rondeaux and many of his ballades combine different, often highly syncopated, rhythms. The rondeau 'Tant doulcement me sens' is full of complex syncopations and hocketing [Listen - track 19, 00:00-00:41], a splendid example of Machaut's application of the Ars Nova. Of the twelve ballades recorded here, one is a setting of three different texts, allowing further opportunities for rhythmic ingenuity and some rich sonorities at cadences [Listen - track 10, 00:00-00:51].

The programme also includes three of Machaut's secular motets and his Hoquetus 'David'. The latter, an offshoot of the 13th-century motet, is unique in his output. It is based on a plainsong tenor, treated isorhythmically and incorporating some hocketing, while the other two voices have more complex hockets, the parts frequently crossing each other. Played here on portative organ, fiddle and harp, the dancing polyphony dazzles and delights [Listen - track 7, 00:00-00:43].

Completing the programme is François Andrieu's 4-part setting of two texts by Eustach Deschampes lamenting Machaut's death. This late-14th-century homage to Machaut testifies to his reputation as the outstanding musician of his time. Performances as skilled and sensitive as these enable us to appreciate the elegance and emotional range of his art, and to understand why his contemporaries thought him the flower among flowers.


Copyright © 8 April 2000 Peter Aston, Norwich, UK






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