Chapter 10 Lessons

Lessons, Chapter 10

With fourteenth-century music manuscripts that are on line, one can explore the fascinating ways that medieval composers mixed music, poetry, narrative and art to create a multimedia stories. Two of these lend themselves perfectly to looking more deeply at pieces featured in Music in the Medieval West and the Anthology.

For this work we turn to Gallica, the fabulous online site created by the French National Library, with many medieval manuscripts available for study, and continue our study of the ways that Dame Fortune played out in the medieval imagination. You can start with the Roman de Fauvel, and find the motet “Tribus/Quoniam/Merito” (fr.146, fol. 41v-42r.) Try this link: 146.langEN

Too bad it’s not in color!


One of the most important Machaut MSS is in color, and you can find them all on this website Machaut MSS online can be referenced in a website at Stanford University:

The earliest surviving manuscript containing Machaut’s works is Paris, BN fr. 1586, the so-called Manuscript C. The circumstances of its production take us to the difficult years beginning in 1348, when the black death swept through Europe, taking off violently and suddenly around half of the population, and sparing none by class, age, or gender. Bonne of Luxembourg, Machaut’s patroness at this time, was the dedicatee of his Remede de Fortune, and the poem is set in her court. The poet is struggling with Lady Fortune, and with despair at the opening, and at the close, has learned his role as a public artist, nurtured by his relationship with Lady Hope. Locate the manuscript on Gallica, an easy thing to do. Just click on manuscripts and type in the number and it will come up for you.   Or try this link: 1586 machaut.langEN

You can enter folio numbers, and the Remede begins on fol. 23r, with a beautiful illumination. Only the best painter of the three who worked on the MS was chosen for this poem. What do you make of the poet’s relationship to his lady here? Move ahead to fol. 26r, and you see the poet at work, writing the lay “Qui n’aroit autre deport,” a monophonic through-composed song in French, addressing the sorrow and trembling trepidation of the poet when engaged with his lady and his difficulties in trying to write for her. On fol. 28v, the poet has presented his work to the lady, and she then asks him who wrote it, but he does not dare say, and slips into a nervous state. One of the most striking images in the poem is on fol. 30v. In the top register, the poet writes his complaint about Dame Fortune, whereas in the bottom register the fiend does her work. The poet says of her:

A poem that is called a “complaint,”

Where there would be many a rhyme
Which would be about sad subject-matter.
And it began in this way:
He who smiles in the morning, cries in the evening
And some believe that Love labours
For their good, when she attacks them
And makes things turn out badly for them,
And some believe that she is acquiring joy
To help them, when she is refusing.
For Fortune devours all this
When she turns,
Fortune who does not wait at all for a new day
To turn; since she does not pause,
But turns, returns, and overturns
Until on top
She puts the one in turn who has lain defeated,
Returns the one who has reached the top to the bottom,
And makes the most joyous defeated and miserable


Machaut is caught, for he realizes that one day he may be doing well and the next, crushed to oblivion, a state well suited to the plague-ridden mid 14th century, when some would survive and others not. What does this fortune’s wheel remind you of? It is very different from the wheel in the Carmina Burana manuscript. What invention that characterized the 14th century might fit well to this theme?

Fol. 37v shows the poet having a lecture from another Lady, the one who will save him and his art: Hope. On 39v, she soothes his brow and on 45v she sings a ballade for him in a kind of vision (for it has several voices), “En amer a douce vie.” Here notice that the notational style changes to that of the Ars Nova, and the poet then sings a ballade in return, “Dame de qi toute ma joie” (Anthology 33). What notational style is this? How does the text of the song fit into the narrative of the poem? How as Hope transformed his work as lover, as poet, as composer? Compare the portrait on 47v to that of 26r. Compare the final illumination on 51r to that of the opening scene.