Machaut’s Music: New Interpretations

Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer, 2003.

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Book description

Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) is regarded as the greatest French poet-composer of the middle ages, as he was during his lifetime. A trained secretary, with a passion for collecting, copying and ordering his own work, the number of surviving notated musical works attributed to him far exceeds that of any of his contemporaries. All the main genres of song – lais, virelais, balades, and rondeaux – together with Machaut’s motets, and his famous Mass cycle are considered here from a variety of perspectives. These incorporate the latest scholarly understanding of both Machaut’s poetry and music, and the material form they take when notated in the surviving manuscripts. The book thus presents a detailed picture of the current range of interpretative approaches to Machaut’s music, focusing variously on counterpoint,musica ficta, text setting, musico-poetic meanings, citation and intertextuality, tonality, and compositional method. Several of Machaut’s works are discussed by a pair of contributors, who reach conclusions at times mutually reinforcing or complementary, at times contradictory and mutually exclusive. That Machaut’s music thrives on such constructive debate and disagreement is a tribute to his scope as an artist, and his musico-poetic achievement.


Jennifer Bain, Margaret Bent, Christian Berger, Jacques Boogaart, Thomas Brown, Alice V. Clark, Jane E. Flynn, Jehoash Hirshberg, Karl Kügle, Elizabeth Eva Leach, Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Peter M. Lefferts, William Peter Mahrt, Kevin N. Moll, Virginia Newes, Yolanda Plumley, Owen Rees, Anne Stone



This sophisticated, penetrating, lucid collection promises to ripple through musicological approaches to music of earlier and later periods and of Machaut’s contemporaries. Many essays will infiltrate the classroom because of systematic and illuminating organization and content…. This collection emulates Machaut’s own masterful counterpoint.


[A] useful collection that gathers current discourses and debates into one convenient volume. In the diversity of views expressed and the consequential issues attendant upon them, it offers much to occupy the mind. It stands as a stimulating point of departure for anyone entering the field or wishing to survey directions in Machaut research.

DAVID MAW, MUSIC & LETTERS (2006), 262-94.

[A] welcome new addition to Machaut bibliography…. take[s] important steps towards a fuller appreciation of the richness of compositional thought at this time…. much to interest the specialist…no less accessible to the general reader.

SYLVIA HUOT, SPECULUM 81 (2006), 225-7.

A strong point of this volume is its cohesiveness…. In sum, this very rich collection offers an overview of Machaut’s musical corpus, combining in-depth examination of particular pieces and critical issues with an extremely wide-ranging coverage. It has much to offer to all Machaut scholars, regardless of their particular field of expertise.


…immensely thought-provoking and should be present on the shelves of any institution teaching and researching the music of the late middle ages.

MARK SEELEY, CLASSICAL NET 2009: read full review here.


  1. Christoph Dohrmann says:

    I think that composers of the standing of Machault deserve truly comprehensive monographs which should feature everything that we know about his biography, about the sources, a complete work list (including possible new and false ascriptions) and a detailed analysis and discussion of EVERY work, a description of the development and characteristics of his compositional and poetic style, the influences on him and from him on others, everything that we know about Ars Nova performance practice, a selective discography and complete bibliography. Of course notational examples, citations from sources and colour illustrations from manuscripts should be included. I think the best place for such monographs in the 21. century is the WWW where you can always add and correct things and even include audio and video files – later a DVD and printed edition could be made from that. I think that musicology should realize such thorough and comprehensive monographs for ALL great composers, starting with Perotinus …!
    Books such as the one you have produced are of course also valuable and interesting, but there’s always something missing – hence truly comprehensive, exhaustive monographs are desirable.

    1. Earp’s 1995 research guide covers much of the first part of your desiderata and it may be updated and put online in the future, which would be very welcome. The combination of Earp’s book and online resources like and YouTube suggest to me that a single definitive monograph (or even website) is an unrealistic idea. Scholars simply don’t agree on biography, analysis, editions, or interpretation and never will: it’s not even as it the facts are just fluid, they are radically contested. In your comment I detect a desire to simplify the vast multivocal nature of scholarly discourse, resources, and opinions and to focus a single authoritative factual discourse around ‘great composers’. Musciology was certainly established with such goals, but it has moved on quite considerably since the 19th century.

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