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Machaut, Guillaume de (c1300-1377)
Guillaume de Machaut composing music for the lady (from Le Voir Dit)

Guillaume de Machaut

born: c1300
died: 13 April 1377
country: France

Guillaume de Machaut (c1300–1377) is considered now, as he was in his own day, the most significant French poet and composer of the fourteenth century. Sometimes described as ‘the last of the trouvères’ because of his dual talents as wordsmith and musician, Machaut built on past traditions yet spearheaded a new school of lyric composition. In the field of literature, he developed several of the poetic forms and genres that dominated for generations to come. His impact on the musical life of his age was equally profound; he is closely associated with the new style of polyphonic love-song that became so popular in the fourteenth century, and today is considered the supreme representative of the Ars nova musical tradition that revolutionized composition and notation in that period.

Machaut enjoyed the patronage of some of the ruling families of medieval Europe. For some thirty years he served Jehan of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, whose famously heroic demise at the Battle of Crécy in 1346 is recounted by Machaut’s contemporary Jehan Froissart in his chronicle of the Hundred Years War. Through his late master Machaut enjoyed close contacts with the French royal family, especially Jehan’s daughter, Bonne, and her husband, King Jehan II of France (reigned 1350–64), their offspring, the future Charles V and Jehan, Duke of Berry, a great connoisseur of the arts, and their son-in-law Charles of Navarre. Machaut’s relationships with the great and the good are reflected in the large legacy of works he bequeathed, which includes several lengthy narrative poems called dits, many lyric poems, an unparalleled corpus of love-songs, as well as motets and a setting of the Mass. Machaut’s status as poet-composer in his own day led to eager demand for copies of his works amongst the elite, and, in his own lifetime and soon after, a series of sumptuous anthologies was produced in Paris to satisfy this demand; several of these books survive today in the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and other libraries. Amongst the owners of books of Machaut were members of the ruling Valois dynasty and their family and political associates at home and abroad, including Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy, Giangaleazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan, the turbulent Gaston ‘Febus’ of Foix, and the King and Queen of Aragon. Lesser aristocrats equally aspired to possess copies; books of Machaut, it seems, became highly desirable commodities in the late fourteenth century.

from notes by Yolanda Plumley © 2013

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