Guillaume de Machault, classical music composer

Guillaume de Machault


Lauded today as the greatest of the 14th century composers, Guillaume de Machaut (sometimes spelled Machault) was an extremely versatile composer, whose influence lasted well into the succeeding century. Perhaps most remarkably, and to the great delight of scholars and music-lovers alike, his life is fairly well documented and his own writings provided a wealth of insight into not only his own life but also into the world in which he lived.

Machaut is believed to have been born around the year 1300 in the region of Rheims, though his surname likely derives from the town of Machault some 30km east of there. Between 1323 and 1346, he worked in the service of John, Duke of Luxemburg and King of Bohemia. His patron secured for him multiple ecclesiastical posts, the most important of which was a canonry at Rheims. The Duke also took Machaut with him on his journeys throughout Europe, many of which were military campaigns. In 1346, King John was killed at the Battle of Crécy. With his connections among the nobility, Machaut was relatively unaffected by the death of his patron, and subsequently entered the services of various aristocrats, including King John's daughter Bonne, Charles V and Charles of Navarre. In the succeeding years, Machaut was also lucky enough to survive the devastating outbreak of the Black Plague that killed a significant portion of Europe's population. In his later years, he remained in Rheims and died in April 1377.

Machaut was a highly respected poet and composer, mastering both of these sisterly art forms. His output as a poet was prolific, totally around 400 poems. This profuse body of writing did much to perfect and codify the formes fixes and remained influential on other poets even into the next century, such as Gregory Chaucer. A significant majority of Machaut's poems are portrayals of courtly love. However, many also give insight into Machaut's own life, while some relate tragic events such as the Black Death and the Siege of Rheims.

As a composer, Machaut was part of the ars nova movement. His output was predominantly in secular music, ranging from monophonic songs, many of which follow the tradition of the troubadours, to polyphonic settings. His motets are particularly interesting in their use of three different texts, the first two of secular origin and the last sacred, each sung by a different voice and sung simultaneously with the other voices. Despite his prolific output of secular music, Machaut's is most recognized in modern times for creating the first complete setting of the Ordinary of the Mass by a single composer: the Messe de Nostre Dame ("Mass of Our Lady"). It was likely composed for the Rheims Cathedral in the early 1360s, yet it's generally thought to not be a completely unified work. In all probability, it bears a resemblance to J. S. Bach's Mass in B minor in that its separate sections were pieced together from other works. Nevertheless, it served as a precursor to the cyclic masses by composers of the next century.

Composer Title Date Action
Guillaume de Machault C'est force faire le vueil 09/06/2010 Play Add to playlist