The lai was a major form of earlier medieval song-poetry and it is not surprising to find Machaut inheriting the tradition. What is surprising is to discover that four of his lais are polyphonic, though always derived from the single line of a solo singer. Le Lai de la Fonteinne has twelve stanzas, the standard number, which subdivide conveniently into six monodic and six polyphonic sections, alternating these textures throughout. The use of three voices of course reflects the lai’s subject and the three-in-one principle further reflects the particular substance of given stanzas, as does the canonic nature of the music – one voice makes three which are in fact but one.
Such play with words, with numbers, and finally with sound itself is not mere play, but a vitally serious and profoundly inevitable interplay of artistic invention and the recognition of eternal necessities, truths, that surround us and support us. They can be loose and flexible, utterly fluid, yet are ultimately irresistible. Man seeks to harness this force, to reflect it in his own works, by careful construction in accordance with the immutable laws of number and physics, which in turn free him to create and recreate those games of light and darkness that we call the arts.
from notes by Paul Hillier © 1989