Early Music-----Machaut "Le Remede de Fortune"

For the last few years, I have come to appreciate the music of the poet-composer Guillaume Machaut (1300-1377). My latest addition is the narrative poem "Le Remede de Fortune" set to a series of lyrical song forms that were central to the musical world in the 14th century. What is interesting is his format for setting the poem to music. He starts with the oldest form,the lai, a very early musical form used by the trouveres (northern French troubadours). In this case, it is a poem of courtly love set to music. Next a very long complainte (over 44 minutes!), this musical form like the lai were homophonic with instrumental accompliment. The complainte itself deals with the mystery of fate and fortune in poetic terms. Fortune est l'amour empli de haine, le bonheur malheureux, c'est l'avare generosite, c'est l'orphelinage.....[Fortune is hateful love, unhappy happiness, she is avaricious generosity, she is misery......]. Both these lyical forms are very ancient forms but in the hands of Machaut, seem almost new ( new for the 14th century!). He concludes the narrative with 5 relatively short pieces, a chanson royale, balladelle, ballade, chanson ballade, and ends with a rondelet. These last narrative songs with their different musical forms tells the story of the lover who professes his love for his lady. These last five musical forms are the latest musical styles for the times. And of course, Machaut, adds his own little twists and turns to this music and narrative,that is, in this case: there is a little doubt whether she loves him as much as he loves her (sound familar?).

This stuff is addictive and very engaging, if you have the time and inclination. The performance is outstanding musically and dramatically. This recording is done by a group of perfomers who understand the music and how this should be performed. The later being very hard since the musical notation at that time was not the modern 5 line staff/notation that we know today.

The label: Eloquentia LC11983

Of course this type of musical drama is not opera nor anything like a modern musical. It stands on its own for what it is: an engaging musical narrative of 14th century musical styles and forms from its arguably most musical poet-composer Machaut. I will make the statement: easily as good as Bach, in method and as easily as good as Schubert for aesthetic content. And if you think this stuff is good music, ahhhh......his Mass is for the Ages.....
Nice to find someone else here who enjoys early music! Thanks for the very nice commentary on this recording of Machaut's music.
There are some amazing early music groups. One of my favorites is the Tallis Scholars.
Besides his Mass and his narrative poems set to music, his set of 20 or so motets are also in heavy rotation. Early music is much more prevalent in Europe than in the United States. Most recordings are done over there and it is sometimes tough to get the CDs, though both Archiv and Qualiton Imports have a very large selection. And for real bargains the Princeton Record Exchange also seems to have a good deal of this music. Of course, after Machaut, there is Dufay. Dufay's chansons and motets are sublime. They have a much different texture even though they are polyphonic ( usually 4 part with tenor, (des)cantus, motetus, and triplum, though sometimes only 3 part). The crossovers are something of beauty. Machaut, in his Mass, has awe inspiring cross-overs. I find the aesthetic pleasures of 4 part vocal counterpoint something akin to a Beethoven or Schubert string quartet or quintet. Perhaps that is why this early music polyphony is so intriguing to me.
Check out this amazing recording by Stephen Stubbs on the ECM label:
Shubert -
I strongly recommend this Dufay motets recording by the Huelgas Ensemble. Stunning performance of some very beautiful music.


I'm not a fan of Machaut's music but since you mentioned Dufay, wanted to strongly endorse that motets disc.