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Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century


CHAPTER 9 Machaut and His Progeny
Richard Taruskin

Another spur to the composition of Mass Ordinary settings was the growth of votive Masses—Masses celebrated not according to the church calendar but on special occasions. Such an occasion might be institutional, such as the dedication of a church or the installation of a bishop. Or it might be personal, marking the Christian sacraments or rites of passage (birth, christening, marriage, burial). Or—and this was the most frequent reason of all—it might be a posthumous memorial service. To have such a Mass celebrated in church on one’s own behalf or on behalf of a loved one, one had to purchase it with a donation. Many votive Masses were “Lady Masses,” Masses in honor of “Our Lady” (Notre Dame) the Virgin Mary, the intercessor supreme.

Votive Formularies

ex. 9-14 Agnus Dei from Cambrai, 1328 (Fascicle IV, no. 1), mm. 1-18

The earliest complete polyphonic Mass Ordinaries were votive formularies that were collected together and copied into special manuscripts for use in memorial chapels where votive Masses were offered on behalf of donors. Polyphonic votive Masses were the deluxe models, available to major donors who could afford the extra expense of skilled singers along with the best quality vestments, incense, altar cloths, and communion fare. The same manuscripts that contain them often contain monophonic formularies as well, for the less powerful or pecunious. The polyphonic Mass Ordinary, in short, was one of the finer fruits of a somewhat dubious practice—the practice of buying and selling the good offices of the church that, grown into an abuse, became one of the precipitating causes of the sixteenth-century Reformation.

Polyphonic Ordinaries for use at votive services come down to us in manuscripts from several ecclesiastical centers within the Avignon orbit. There is a “Mass of Toulouse” from the old capital of Languedoc, a hundred miles or so to the west of Avignon itself. There is a “Sorbonne Mass” from Paris. There is a “Barcelona Mass” from below the Pyrenees. They vary somewhat in their specific contents, but all of them contain a Kyrie, a Sanctus, and an Agnus Dei as a nucleus. The Barcelona Mass has a Gloria and a Credo as well, and the Toulouse Mass ends with a motet laid out over the Deo Gratias.

These were not cyclic compositions, however, but composites. They were not composed by a single author, or even composed for the specific purpose at hand. Their components were merely selected and assembled from the general fund of Avignon-style Mass Ordinary settings; individual items from these Masses turn up elsewhere, in other formularies or in miscellanies like the Apt and Ivrea codices.

The most complete and elaborate of these composite Mass-assemblages, one that Machaut must surely have known and possibly taken as a model, was the so-called “Mass of Tournai” from a Belgian (then Burgundian) cathedral town not at all far from Machaut’s home city of Reims. A full set of six items, it was gathered together in 1349 for use at Lady Masses that were available to donors at a special altar that had been set aside for the purpose in the right transept or side-wing of the Tournai cathedral building.

The Mass is a stylistic hodgepodge of local favorites. The Kyrie is uncomplicated and somewhat archaic: its note-against-note homorhythm is practically virgin-pure and its durational patterns are virtually modal (iambic, or “second mode”). Given a syllabic text it might have passed for a century-old conductus. Like the simplest chant Kyries it contains four brief musical sections to fill out a ninefold repetition scheme: a Kyrie for singing threefold; a Christe for singing threefold; a second Kyrie to be repeated once; and a final, somewhat more elaborate Kyrie to conclude. Its final is G.

The Gloria is cast in a texture that straddles the line between homorhythm and cantilena. What tips the balance in favor of the latter is the spread of vocal ranges, with the somewhat more active top voice occupying the octave above middle C, and the other two voices overlapping a somewhat lower tessitura, as a tenor/contratenor pair would do. There is a lengthy, melismatic Amen with motetlike features including a rhythmically stratified texture and some little bursts of hocket. The final of the Gloria is F.

The Credo is unambiguously homorhythmic, the three voices spitting out the lengthy text in lockstep, often in strings of uniform semibreves. The punctuation of the text is faithfully followed, each sentence being marked off from the surrounding ones by little textless bridge passages in the two lower voices. The final is D.

The Sanctus and Agnus Dei were pretty clearly composed as a pair. They collectively revert to the archaic style of the Kyrie, but their final is F, not G. And then, all of a sudden, the response to the Ite missa est is cast, as in the Toulouse Mass, as a full-fledged isorhythmic motet over a liturgical cantus firmus. It would have made Pope John XXII see red, for it sports an “upper part made of secular songs” in the form of a French-texted triplum about self-abasing service to the ladylove (here, of course, to be taken metaphorically as addressed not to the poet’s lady but to Our Lady). The Latin motetus contains a more straightforward votive prayer on behalf of the donor, uttered, significantly, not to the Virgin but to her minions, the “lords” of the church, from whom indulgences and benefices flowed.

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. 25 Sep. 2023. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-009010.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 25 Sep. 2023, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-009010.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 25 Sep. 2023, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-009010.xml