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Le Lai de la Fonteinne

author of text

Le Lai de la Fonteinne (‘The lay of the fountain’) is in essence a prayer and hymn of praise to the Virgin and a meditation on the nature of the Trinity, likened by the poet to a fountain. The fountain itself, the stream flowing from it and its source are three apparently separate things, which in reality are one: God the Father is the source, the fountain is the Son, and the stream is the Holy Ghost. The cleansing and thirst-quenching properties of water, its strength to remain itself even as ice or vapour, the fount of harmony and purity – all are invoked as images uniting in the vision of the Virgin as the true foundation of faith: ‘just like water the sweet fruit of life took on human flesh and human shape in your empty womb’.

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


Machaut: Messe de Notre Dame
CDA66358Archive Service


Part 01: Je ne cesse de prier a ma dame chiere
Track 7 on CDA66358 [1'22] Archive Service
Part 02: Et ou pourroit on querir
Track 8 on CDA66358 [1'49] Archive Service
Part 03: C'est celle qui par ordonnance
Track 9 on CDA66358 [2'36] Archive Service
Part 04: Ces trois un a po de pienne, assez prouver puis
Track 10 on CDA66358 [2'05] Archive Service
Part 05: Et qui de ceste eaue prendroit
Track 11 on CDA66358 [1'56] Archive Service
Part 06: Mais ceste trinité est en eternité
Track 12 on CDA66358 [2'06] Archive Service
Part 07: De la duis le Pere nomme
Track 13 on CDA66358 [1'26] Archive Service
Part 08: Et pour ce di que cil troy de no foy
Track 14 on CDA66358 [2'05] Archive Service
Part 09: Pour ce te pri
Track 15 on CDA66358 [1'20] Archive Service
Part 10: Mais de tel confort com de plourer fort
Track 16 on CDA66358 [2'17] Archive Service
Part 11: He! fonteinne de concorde
Track 17 on CDA66358 [1'54] Archive Service
Part 12: Pour laver et nettoier
Track 18 on CDA66358 [2'25] Archive Service

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