Plainsong and Medieval Music


Le Voir Dit and La Messe de Nostre Dame: aspects of genre and style in late works of MacHaut

Daniel Leech-Wilkinsona1

a1 University of Southampton

Le Voir Dit is one of the most fascinating of the works left by the celebrated poet-composer Guillaume de Machaut (d. 1377), and at the same time, as John Stevens has said, ‘one of the most curious documents of the [fourteenth] century’. Through 9000 lines of narrative, sixty-two lyrics in all the main forms (nine of them set to music), and forty-six letters which include comments on the character of the songs and on the business of producing poetry, music and manuscripts, we seem to take a guided tour of Machaut's emotional and professional life over three years of his old age. For more than a century it has proved a rich source of revealing quotations, sustaining many varied arguments. The story it tells of Machaut's literary and emotional affair with a young girl, Peronne, has been read at times as autobiography, at times as fiction; and the incidental comments on composition, performance and copying have been interpreted in studies ranging far beyond Le Voir Dit as evidence of fourteenth-century professional practice. None the less, the constituent parts of the text as they survive in manuscripts from Machaut's circle are disordered, the poem lacks an adequate published edition, and even its music – in size, at least, the most manageable of its components – has yet to be considered as a whole.