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.
A tangible monumental survives in the six manuscripts that contain all of Machaut’s compositions, literary and musical: an exceptional heritage, the more so as the author himself supervised the making of at least one of these costly books, which were destined for his various noble patrons. For no other medieval composer do we possess so many works in authoritative versions. And indeed, in their parchment are ‘incised’ many well-notated chansons, virelais, lays, and motets, composed in various ways.
Although the Messe de Notre Dame is perhaps Machaut’s best-known work, the predominant subject in his oeuvre is courtly love, with all its sufferings and—less often—joys. Bad luck in love, often personified in the figure of Lady Fortune, is ever-present in Machaut’s poetry and many times he set his ponderings about her capricious behaviour to music in a plaintive song, lay or motet. The present recording begins and ends with such a ballade, in which, unusually, both her positive and her negative sides come into view. In the grand ‘Lay de confort’, also recorded here, she plays a dominant role. Consolation for Fortune’s blows can only be found by trusting in Hope, the dous mire (‘gentle physician’) of unhappy lovers, as he is called in the Lay.
Since 2012 The Orlando Consort has been recording much of this music and has released six volumes on Hyperion Records, the latest this month: The Gentle Physician.
The ‘gentle physician’ (‘dous mire’) is Hope, invoked by Machaut as a consolation for the sufferings—and all-too occasional joys—of medieval courtly love, a world with which the ‘Orlandos’ are persuasively familiar.
Recording details: February 2017
Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Loughton, Essex, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: October 2018
Total duration: 59 minutes 34 seconds
1 De Fortune (3vv) [4’58]
2 De bonté, de valour [3’58]
3 J’aim miex languir [4’09]
4 Quant ma dame [3’21]
5 Helas! et comment aroie [5’22]
6 Maugré mon cuer / De ma dolour / Quia amore langueo [2’27]
7 Je vivroie liement [2’48]
8 Dame, comment qu’amez [7’40]
9 S’onques dolereusement ‘Le lay de confort’ [23’04]
10 De Fortune (4vv) [1’47]
Previous installments in the series include:
Songs from Le Voir Dit (Release date: October 2013)
The dart of love (Release date: February 2015)
A burning heart (Release date: July 2016)
Sovereign Beauty (Release date: July 2017)
Fortune’s Child (Release date: May 2018)
The Orlando Consort
Formed in 1988 by the Early Music Network of Great Britain, The Orlando Consort rapidly achieved a reputation as one of Europe’s most expert and consistently challenging groups performing repertoire from the years 1050 to 1550. Their work successfully combines captivating entertainment and fresh scholarly insight; the unique imagination and originality of their programming together with their superb vocal skills have marked the Consort out as the outstanding leader of their field.
These six recordings as well as others of the music of Guillaume de Machaut can be purchased from Hyperion Records.