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Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century


CHAPTER 9 Machaut and His Progeny
Richard Taruskin

At their most luxuriant, Machaut’s textures could accommodate four voices: the “structural” cantus/tenor pair, accompanied by both a triplum and a contratenor. This texture, which we have already observed in Ex. 8-6, was in effect a blending of the traditional motet complement (which included a triplum) with the newer cantilena complement (which included a contratenor). It was a rich all-purpose texture that could be adapted either to motet or to chanson designs.

The rondeau Rose, liz (“The rose, the lily”) is found in all its composer-supervised manuscript sources with a full four-part complement. Ex. 9-7 shows the opening of the piece, up to the first cadence. Because the parts are still functionally differentiated within a structural hierarchy, there are four viable performance options: take away the triplum and the remaining voices will produce a texture like that of Ex. 9-6; take away the contratenor and the remaining texture will be like that of Ex. 9-5; take away the tenor and the cantus can stand alone, as in Ex. 9-4.

The Luxuriant Style

ex. 9-7 Guillaume de Machaut, Rondeau no. 10, Rose, liz, printemps, mm. 1-11

Note that the triplum and the contratenor behave similarly at the cadence. Both supply the “second leading tone,” F♯, each in its respective register, producing parallel octaves. (The same was true of the cadences in the Machaut motet examined in the previous chapter.) The four-part texture is thus a sonorously amplified—and functionally redundant—version of the three-part texture. A functionally differentiated four-part harmony would not make its appearance for another century.

Of all the fixed forms, the ballade in three stanzas was for Machaut and his followers the noblest and most exalted—and musically, therefore, the most elaborate. In the manuscripts Machaut oversaw, the section containing ballades was headed, “Ci comencent les balades ou il ha chant,” meaning, “Here begin the ballades or high song” (recall the grand chant of the trouvères). “Highness” (hauteur, whence “haughty”) was expressed in the traditional way: by the use of an especially melismatic style. The ballade De toutes flours (“Of all the fruits and flowers in my garden”; Ex. 9-8), certainly exemplifies this. Otherwise it is very similar to Rose, liz, both in subject matter and (no surprise) in mode.

The Luxuriant StyleThe Luxuriant StyleThe Luxuriant Style

ex. 9-8 Guillaume de Machaut, Ballade no. 31, De toutes flours

Mode, in this style, still means more than a scale and a final. It is still to some extent a formula family. The chief formula, of course, is the cadence: note the same doubled F♯ s between the two “accompanying” voices (contratenor and triplum). And another important formula is the overall tonal progression. It is easiest to see this in a ballade, since the repeated opening section has the same sort of “open” (ouvert) and “closed” (clos) cadences we found in the monophonic songs of the trouvères, only now harmonically amplified. The first ending makes its open (or “half”) cadence on what we would call the supertonic, and the second makes its closed (or “full”) cadence on the final. The progression supertonic to final is also the way the tenor itself moves at the full cadence, and so the overall tonal progression is a kind of magnification of the full cadence.

Machaut reinforces the sense of cadential closure and rounds the whole piece off by means of a musical rhyme. Not only the final cadence but the whole final phrase of the first section returns at the end of the second (compare the first section from m. 22 with the second from m. 57); the repetition is made extra conspicuous by the use of an ear-catching syncopation in the tenor, preceded by a prolonged imperfect consonance (doubly prolonged in the second section!) that arrests the harmonic motion precisely when the doubled leading tone is sounding and demanding resolution (compare mm. 22, 56–57). In addition, the final line of poetry, which carries the musical rhyme, is a refrain uniting all three stanzas. Music and text thus work in harness to delineate the form and heighten its rhetoric.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 9 Machaut and His Progeny." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2019. <http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-009006.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 9 Machaut and His Progeny. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 22 Apr. 2019, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-009006.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 9 Machaut and His Progeny." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 22 Apr. 2019, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-009006.xml