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Guillaume de Machaut

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Guillaume de Machaut

Guillaume de Machaut (pronounce: "GHEE-yoam de MA-show") (born c. 1300; died April 1377), was a Medieval French poet and composer. He was the most important composer of the 14th century. He is one of the earliest composers whose life we know something about.

Life[change | change source]

Machaut worked for John of Luxemburg, king of Bohemia, around 1323. The king travelled around Europe, fighting, and Machaut went with him, working as his secretary. After 1330 he became canon of several cathedrals. After John of Luxemburg died during a battle in 1346, Machaut worked for John's daughter Bonne (who later married King John II of France), then King Charles the Bad of Navarre, Charles of Normandy who became King Charles V in 1364 and the King of Cyprus. He also worked for wealthy dukes. With all that work it is surprising that he had time to compose. He seems to have spent his later years living in Rheins, working on his compositions.

Machaut (at right) receiving Nature and three of her children, from an illuminated Parisian manuscript of the 1350s

Works[change | change source]

Machaut wrote many motets and the secular songs, as well as many poems including rondeaus, virelais and ballades). Machaut wrote a mass known as Messe de Nostre Dame. It is the earliest known setting of the complete text for the mass, and it had a lot of influence on later composers.

Many of his poems belong to the type which were known as "dits". A "dit" (meaning: "spoken") was a poem that was not meant to be sung. It was in the first person (the "I" form). Many of them are about a lover trying to get the attentions of a lady he loves.

Machaut's poetry had an influence on many later poets, including Geoffrey Chaucer.

References[change | change source]

  • The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2