le miroir de musique

Machaut and the countenances of death

Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377), chansons & motets

For Guillaume de Machaut – the greatest poet and composer of the French 14th century – the idea of death is an extremely strong poetic element, one which leaves a profound mark on his musical and literary output. Even though, during that troubled period of the 14th century, Machaut was surrounded by the physical death of the human being, it is principally the mort d’amour – the death of love – which is constantly explored in his works, symbolised sometimes by deliverance from the torments endured by the lover (De desconfort), sometimes by the grief of separation (Mors sui, se je ne vous voy). As with the chansons, many of his motets develop the theme of the servitude of love and the absolute devotion of the lover to his lady. Some of the tenors which form the basis of these works evoke the theme of death in a religious context: the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (Obediens usque ad mortem), the office of the dead (Amara valde), the story of Job (Quare non sum mortuus) or the funeral lament for the death of Absalon (Ego moriar pro te). The motet Fera pessima, meanwhile, makes simultaneous reference to the grasp of the devil and the misfortunes of the Hundred Years’ War.

Conceived for the rich colours created by a mixed formation of voices and instruments, this programme explores the subtle rapport between text and music which embellishes Machaut’s unparalleled style.