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Guillaume de Machaut, The Boethian Poems: Introduction to the Music of Le Remede de Fortune

1 See, among others, Leach, Secretary, Poet, Musician, pp. 138–64; Brownlee, “Lyric Anthology”; Switten, “Carrefour d’un art nouveau”; and Jugement du Roy de Behaingne and Remede de Fortune, eds. Wimsatt and Kibler, pp. 413–15.

2 An introduction to this topic can be found in Butterfield, Poetry and Music, who suggests counting the refrain given in lines 3502–03 as a second non-musical generic interpolation (pp. 265–66), bringing up the number of lyrics to nine. See also Boulton, Song in the Story; Calin, “Medieval Intertextuality”; Huot, From Song to Book, pp. 106–34, 242–60, 274–80; and Coldwell, “Musical Interpolations.”

3 For an analysis of this work in terms of its mise-en-page in the various manuscripts, see Maxwell, “French Sung Verse,” pp. 49–92. See also Leach,Secretary, Poet, Musician, pp. 70–74. For the interplay between iconographic program, mise-en-page, and physical manuscript structure, see Stone, “Made to Measure.”

4 See Leo’s iconographical discussion in this edition, the “Art History Introduction,” pp. 81–88.

5 On the notion of multimodality as applied to medieval manuscripts, see Davies, Maxwell, and Simpson, “Performance and the Page.”

6 See Volume 1: The Debate Poems, pp. 377–79 and 28–33.

7 Jugement du Roy de Behaingne and Remede de Fortune, eds. Wimsatt and Kibler transcribed the music and reproduced all the images of the Remede in MS C, but did so within an appendix after the text, rather than part of the essential work. That volume does not contain the Lay de Plour. Leech-Wilkinson and Palmer’s edition of the Voir Dit does not include transcriptions of the music.

8 See Coleman, Public Reading. For a contrary view, see McGrady, Controlling Readers.

9 See Vitz, “Minstrel Meets Clerk.”

10 This is relevant for the Baladelle, Balade and Rondelet. As all the other works are monophonic, their visual appreciation is possible. On this aspect of late-medieval musical notation, see Smilansky, “Labyrinth of Spaces.”

11 On the literary context of such sets of interpolation and the interplay between tradition and innovation in presenting them, see Plumley, Art of Grafted Song, especially pp. 353–54.

12 Jugement du Roy de Behaingne and Remede de Fortune, eds. Wimsatt and Kibler, pp. 32–40; Switten, “Carrefour d’un Art Nouveau”; Kelly, Machaut and the Medieval Apprenticeship Tradition, pp. 23–41.

13 On the iconography of teaching in the Machaut manuscripts, see Leo, “Authorial Presence,”pp. 125–27.

14 See MS C, fols. 26r, 28v, 30v, 38v, 45v, 46v, 47v, 49r, and 56v. For scroll iconography, see discussions by Huot, From Song to Book, pp. 74–76; Brownlee, “Authorial Self-Representation”; and Leo, “Authorial Presence,” pp. 109–17. The inclusion of scrolls usually also indicates a sense of immediacy and spontaneous inspiration.

15 Fols. 26r, 30v, 47v and 49r. The full set of images for the Remede in MS C can be found, with a brief discussion, in Jugement du Roy de Behaingne and Remede de Fortune, eds. Wimsatt and Kibler, pp. 449–68. High quality, color images are available through the Bibliothèque nationale de France’s website: For interdisciplinary discussions of this iconographical program see Maxwell, “French Sung Verse,” pp. 49–92; Leo, “Authorial Presence,” pp. 89–136; Earp, A Guide to Research, pp. 139–40, 152–57, 212–15; Boulton, Song in the Story, pp. 181–242; and Huot, From Song to Book, pp. 249–59, 275–79.

16 Calin, “Medieval Intertextuality,” pp. 4–6.

17 On the Lay and its complications see Deschamps, L’Art de Dictier, ed. Sinnreich-Levi, pp. 94–97, and discussion in Volume 10: Lays, of this edition.

18 Calin, “Medieval Intertextuality,” pp. 3–4. For a discussion of the Rondelet in the context of MS C, see Leo, “Authorial Presence,” pp. 117–20.

19 For a discussion of the pitfalls of such generalizations when discussing the notation of the lays, see the introduction to Volume 10: Lays, of this edition.

20 The first version of this song (in MS C, and therefore available in Wimsatt and Kibler, eds. Roy de Behaingne and Remede de Fortune, pp. 428–29) was much more modest and included only two voices. While such a setting is perhaps more appropriate for this point in the story, as the narrator only begins his journey back into society, it was soon reworked into the four-part version known from all subsequent manuscripts. Perhaps Machaut found it unpalatable to present his fictional self as an inferior musical practitioner. More kindly, perhaps, he chose to match the combination of voices between these two songs in order to hint at the fictitiousness of the comparison and the ascription of both works (and the unquestionable musical ability they demonstrate) to himself as the actual, external author. This is highlighted by the lack of forces for their performance in the story: only the narrator and Hope are present at the performance of the first four-part song, and at the singing of the second the narrator is presented as all alone.

21 For a discussion of Machaut’s ‘dance song’ and its link to the court of Bonne of Luxembourg, see Earp, “Genre in the Fourteenth-Century French Chanson.” For the notion that a refrain used in the story to introduce a second dance (lines 3502–03) should be counted as yet another generic interpolation, see Butterfield, Poetry and Music, pp. 263–70.

22 As but one example, see the discussion of the relationship between this dit and other lays in Albritton, “Citation and Allusion,” pp. 141–218.

23 See, for example, Machabey, La Vie et l’Œuvre Musical, 2:135–57; Reaney, “Voices and Instruments,” pp. 10–17; and Godwin, “‘Main Divers Acors,’” pp. 156–59. A more extensive bibliography from 1753 to 1992 is available in Earp, A Guide to Research, p. 214.

24 See Jugement du Roy de Behaingne and Remede de Fortune, eds. Wimsatt and Kibler, pp. 40–54.

25 See Bullock, “Musical Readings,” pp. 154–65.

26 As already stated, MS C transmits the Balade with only two voices rather than the four that appears in Vg, A, B, F, and E. K and J prepared room only for the music of the Baladelle and Balade, with K delivering on the promise and J leaving even those spaces empty. Pe replaces the Rondelet with a different Rondeau by Machaut, and M, and Pm transmit texts only. W was badly mutilated and its musical readings cannot be reconstructed. For an attempt to reconstruct the structure of this source see Earp, A Guide to Research, pp. 79–84. Using this structure, Leo, “Authorial Presence,” pp. 260–64 locates the positions of its entirely absent illuminations. For manuscript abbreviations, see the Textual Notes, p. 574.

27 The text of the Chanson Roial and the Chanson Baladee appears in Pa; the text and music of the Baladelle in FP, Pit, PR, Ka, and the music of the Balade in PR, and its text also in I and Jp.


Music plays a central role in both the narrative construction and didactic design of the Remede.1 The initial impetus for the story is the unintentional discovery of a love-song by the beloved. This is fore-fronted by the interpolation of this lyric set to music into the text. It is thus part of the fabric of the dit. This is the first of eight lyrical insertions, seven of which are set to music. They place the Remede within the tradition of the interpolated roman.2

Combining music, image and text, the Remede is a multimedia platform for artistic expression, where mise-en-page gains special importance.3 For example, the penultimate miniature presents the lover riding away from his lady in possession only of his poetry.4 The irony of the situation is enhanced by the location of the miniature on the cusp between text and music. The lady, at the right, flanks the text on the adjacent folio where the story continues. The lover rides off to the left, and is engulfed by his own artistic creation — the Rondelet — written in her honor after she accepts his entreaties.

While the lady takes charge of the narrative space, leading the story to its ambiguous conclusion, the author figure retreats into his artistic artifice. This distancing from the actual story-line can be seen as pre-empting the lack of clarity of the degree of the narrator’s success in his amorous quest at the end of the work. It could even be read as an instruction by Machaut the author for the reader to pay attention to the didactic artifice rather than focus solely on the narrative.

The Remede is not the only work in which Machaut demonstrates a keen interest in multimodal interaction.5 We can only speculate as to the degree of Machaut’s involvement in designing iconographical programs, but clearly he also linked text and music in other parts of his oeuvre. The Voir Dit (True Story) is discussed in Volume 4 of this edition of Machaut’s complete works and music, and the Lay de Plour (Lay of Weeping) appears as an appendage to the Navarre in Volume 1, where the relationship between the two works is discussed.6 In all three cases, the current edition is the first to reflect fully the direct relationship between the different media, incorporating both the musical settings and illuminations found in MS A into the body of the text of each work at the position in which they occur.7

We do not know how Machaut expected his audiences to experience the music interpolated into the Remede. It is possible that he anticipated that court musicians would perform the songs as they appear in the story as part of public readings. Alternatively, he may have provided the notated songs merely as reminders of works already familiar to his audience or as a call to his readers to memorize and internalize them before the next reading. It should be noted, though, that the preferred mode for enjoying romance in the late middle ages was communal listening as the text was read aloud.8 Oral performance may even have been instrumental in the formation of medieval romance.9 Furthermore, the notational technique of the time favored consecutive presentation of entire voice-parts and avoided ‘score notation’ (where the various voices of a polyphonic piece are stacked up and coordinated in such a way as to enable their simultaneous reading, as is the norm in modern editions). As a consequence, when looking at the manuscript page, it is not possible to appreciate fully the polyphonic interpolations without memorizing each part in turn and mentally putting them together. This disjuncture between the seen and heard applies also when performance accompanies the reading.10 Silent, individual appreciation, therefore, is unlikely to have been Machaut’s preference. Whatever the manner of his readers’ engagement with these songs, the very insertion of complete lyrics with their musical settings (as opposed to merely their lyrics, or even only descriptions of a performance) sets them up as independent creations with a life and resonance beyond the manuscript page, or indeed, the narrative context of the Remede. The songs serve, therefore, not only to punctuate and structure the narrative but also to lend credence to the veracity of the tale. The aural and physical existence of the music and those performing it in the ‘real world’ blurs the line between reality and fiction. A model for this kind of interplay between external objects and orally delivered prose can be found in the veneration of relics. The experience of Good Friday sermons by King Jean II and his inner circle was much enhanced when the celebrations took place in the Sainte-Chapelle of the royal palace in Paris, which placed the listeners in the presence and perhaps in view of the relic of the Crown of Thorns. While belief in a relic and in the veracity of a sermon would never have been challenged, it seems very probable that Machaut’s dit was always understood as fiction. Still, the use of separable, independent artifacts to support a delivered text is comparable, and would have been effective also in this context.

In the Remede, however, Machaut goes further than merely integrating lyric and musical items into his narrative. The set of interpolations as a whole offers one example of each of the song forms current at the time, presenting them in a declining order of textual complexity as well as from older genres to the newly established formes fixes.11 This clear and programmatic choice supports the work’s structure and highlights the didactic traits that have led previous commentators to consider the Remede a lyric “manifesto.”12 The iconographic program of our base manuscript A supports this reading: the first image depicts a teacher and a student.13 The lyrics are presented within the text as products of an increasingly self-conscious and literate culture in which poetic creativity is the prime tool of emotional self-expression. In MS C (which dates from the mid-1350s), accompanying illuminations depict the lyrics as scrolls held by the character who delivers them,14 and often they show the narrator in the act of writing onto the scroll.15

The characters in the story also comment upon the lyrics away from their performance. For example, Lady Hope discusses the first two lyric insertions, supposedly written by the lover, and the narrator then extols the skill and beauty of the following two insertions, which are attributed to Hope in the narrative. Since all four works are creations of Machaut qua author, all compliments are self-referential.16 Towards the end of the work, the lady uses a private conversation to interrogate the lover over his behavior after the performance of the first interpolated lyric. In his reply, the lover recounts and describes his other lyrical creations, which the reader has already encountered inserted into the text.

The interpolations begin with the Lay (lines 431–680), a lengthy and complicated strophic work, that not only propels the story into motion (or even existence) but also prefigures its structure and most of the themes that will be discussed there.17 As suggested above, it also acts as a bridge between the lover and the lady, allowing her to appreciate his feelings and intentions even before his return to court and his declaration of love. The use of this genre as an introductory microcosm for the world of the Remede fits well with its circular and symbolic structure: each of its first eleven strophes offers a different syllable count, number of lines per strophe and rhyme scheme. This makes it impossible to repeat the music of one strophe to set any other. The twelfth and final strophe reproduces the structure and music of the first, thus forming a full circle. In the context of the Remede this shape is imbued with special meaning, mirrored as it is in the shape of the garden of Hesdin, Fortune’s wheel, Hope’s ring, the round (carol) dance, and the final interpolated lyric, the Rondelet (round song).18 In MS C this motif takes on a special visual significance. It appears in one of the best-known miniatures of the entire collection of illuminated Machaut manuscripts (fol. 30v). This full-page miniature is divided into upper and lower compartments. In the upper half, the narrator is seated on the ground with a flowing scroll in the Garden of Hesdin, which is encircled by a low crenellated wall. Beneath, the artist presents the subject of the narrator’s text: Lady Fortune cranking her wheel. Further into the iconographic program in MS C, this motif continues in the depiction of Hope’s ring-giving, and of the dancing nobles. Machaut’s interest in the musical lay seems to go against the historical trend, a fact of which he was perhaps aware, since he chose to notate many works in this genre in an old-fashioned style.19 The presentation of this form as the first and most complex insertion may explain this fascination: composing a lay demands poetic virtuosity, which is matched by the musical prowess shown in the through-composed style of this essentially monophonic form. This virtuosity is transferable also to the performer, who has to convey the text convincingly and hold the audience’s attention for a long stretch of time while coping with the technical demands of the music. As an example of just one such technical demand, Machaut’s lays often employ a vocal range that is unusually large for medieval songs: many of the melodies span over two full octaves.

The remaining interpolations mark and emphasize important moments within the narrative. The 36-strophe Complainte(lines 905–1480, the only example of this genre Machaut — or indeed any other fourteenth-century composer we are currently aware of — set to music) appears at the lowest point of the lover’s emotional journey. It includes a tirade against Fortune and her cruelty, which encapsulates her negative attributes while also getting to the crux of the lover’s problematic situation. Another unique musical setting in the Remede is the Chant Royal (lines 1985–2032, or Cha[n]son Roial as its rubric appears in A). This song marks an important point of change, appearing at the end of Hope’s first speech to the lover as a counterpart to his Complainte. While highlighting the beginning of the lover’s healing process, it also serves to underscore the Boethian character of the work by alluding to Philosophia’s sung reply to Boethius’ complaint in the latter’s Consolation of Philosophy. Both of these old forms are also notated in longer, by this time antiquated, rhythmic values. Hope embodies not only the transformation of the lover’s attitudes, but also the transition from old to new in lyric poetry and its musical setting. Before leaving, she affirms the ‘cure against Fortune’ that she offers the lover by singing the first polyphonic insertion, which is notated in the modern style; this is the Baladelle (lines 2857–2892) in praise of Love. In addition to the structural and technical characteristics of ‘newness,’ the shift is audibly highlighted by a transition from single-voiced works in the old style to new, four-part polyphonic song. These elements, combined with a more florid and melismatic style of text declamation and the possibility to explore the latest ideas in contrapuntal thinking, mark a clear musical and intellectual turning point that mirrors the lover’s turning point in the story. That Hope’s intervention was effective is marked by the lover’s only slightly more modest reply, which takes the form of the Balade (lines 3013–3036); this is performed en route to his reintroduction into court.20 As he sees his lady’s castle the lover’s transformation culminates in a quasi-religious thanksgiving to Hope and Love, at which point the only lyric not set to music is inserted. The Priere (lines 3205–348) is presented as the lover’s atonement for the earlier Complainte. This link with the monophonic work, which was set in the old notational and musical style may help to explain why it received no musical setting: once the transition from old to new style of text- and music-composition has occurred in the Remede, returning to the older style of creative approach was perhaps deemed inappropriate as it would go against the linearity of the lover’s intellectual and social progress. The physical reintegration of the lover to his lady’s presence is marked by the physicality of the Virelai or Chanson Baladee as the narrator instructs us to call it (lines 3451–96). This is a dance-song performed in front of the lady at her bequest.21 Although it is set to monophony, this song nevertheless uses the modern notational and musical style. The last lyrical insertion — the Rondelet (lines 4108–15) — marks the high-point of the lover’s amatory success and expresses his reaction to his lady’s acceptance and reciprocation of his declaration of love. It therefore pinpoints the opposite emotional extreme to the aftermath of the lover’s performance of his Lay at the beginning of the work. This linking of the first and last interpolation creates a neat structural symmetry and a sense of completion of the lover’s journey. The story does not end there, though it seems Machaut thought it inappropriate to use any more interpolation as part of the undermining of the protagonists’ relationship explored at the beginning of this discussion. The details of each lyric and musical insertion incorporate a much richer array of thematic and narrative connections within the Remede, and between it and the rest of Machaut’s output.22 These links, though, are beyond the scope of this introduction.

The Remede also includes a passage specifically about music (lines 3959–4014) that enumerates many instruments and generally describes courtly entertainment. Musicologists have shown great interest in this passage, assuming Machaut to be a reliable witness on musical matters.23 Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly considering the narrative context and the technical constraints of the rhyme scheme and syllable count, this expectation is not entirely fulfilled in practice. Identification of several of the instruments named is very difficult, and a number of common terms were omitted. The passage is rather vague also on the use of these instruments and their grouping into performing ensembles. Indeed, as the terminology for medieval musical instruments was very flexible, and no set models for each instrument type existed, exact identification is all but impossible. The character of the entire passage seems to privilege the poetic richness of the list over precision and veracity. It might even be argued that in such a context the exotic was more appealing than the normative. The list thus becomes an interesting testimony to the range of instruments that would have had a meaningful association for Machaut and his audience, rather than a true glimpse into their immediate context. Our translation, therefore, represents the variety of the original, augmenting the clearer identifications with more generic terms suggesting the instrument family intended.

Considering the functional and narrative importance of the music, it is interesting to note that the transmission pattern of the text of the Remede and of its music is very different. Wimsatt and Kibler identified just two very similar and internally uniform traditions of textual transmission of the Remede.24 In contrast, the transmission of the music is very uneven. Indeed, no two surviving manuscripts seem to have shared a complete set of exemplars.25 Differences range from minor musical or textual variants to changes in the number of voices given, the replacement of an entire song, or the forsaking of the music altogether in favor of purely textual transmission.26 This suggests that the music circulated in independent exemplars from the text of the Remede, a fact also demonstrated by the independent circulation of some of these works outside of the Machaut collections.27


To avoid simple duplication and to match the base source for both text and image, the musical readings incorporated into this volume follow A alone. Even when adjustments were required, the musical transcriptions presented here were made without recourse to other sources (for details of such instances, see the Notes on the Music). This decision allows us to offer a snapshot of a single tradition of transmission. By combining both music and image into the text in their original positions, the reader can appreciate the richness and subtlety of this tradition. Full lists of textual variants are presented in Volumes 7–8 of this edition, which are dedicated to Machaut’s lyrics. Musical variants are considered in Volumes 9–13, which are dedicated to that aspect of his musical output.

As only the readings of A are represented here, all the sharps and flats appearing above the stave are editorial. Brackets distinguish between more and less controversial suggestions. Detailed discussion of our editorial policy will appear in the music volumes of this complete edition. Further discussion about editorial approaches can be found on our project website, along with accompanying tailored scores and illustrative sound clips made by The Orlando Consort and Le Basile:

The presentation of scores in (modified) modern notation and with suggestions regarding editorial inflections has at least as much in common with the art of translation as it does with musical transcription. As a result, the music belongs (and is presented) on both sides of each opening of this edition: on the left as an integral part of the original reading experience, and on the right due to its modern, editorially controlled presentation.

To adhere to the policy in other music volumes, only the original voice-tags are included (the texted voice is never labeled ‘cantus’), and time signatures are placed above rather than within the staff in order to mirror the fact that they are not indicated specifically in the manuscript (at times — as with the chanson baladee (virelai) — leading to difficulties in determining the intended large-scale rhythmic organization).

In the monophony, where there is no need to coordinate voices, we decided to avoid the use of the modern bar-line, replacing it with a tick.

In the polyphony, we chose (whenever possible) to respect the medieval technique of using a single shape for each rhythmic value. As a result, rather than tying a note over, we omit the bar-line in the relevant voice (this does not alter the bar numbering). Cadence notes at the end of formal sections are counted as a single bar, regardless of what combination of breves and longae are found in the original. Another editorial decision has to be made concerning the appearance of simultaneous brevis rests in all voices. Such occurrences can be understood as marking the beginning of a new line of text after a shared cadential point, and therefore, are not to be taken literally. Nonetheless, the many cases where all voices have rests can be juxtaposed by a number of instances where all but one pause, and the remaining voice performs a bridging motif. As a result, there is no scholarly consensus as to how to interpret these signs, or even whether a single interpretation is a viable concept. In this edition, the rests are maintained in order to represent the visual effect of the original. In order to mark their special, flexible status, they have been integrated into an extended measure with the cadence notes they follow, and are not included in the bar count. In practice, it may be equally justifiable for performers to ignore them and sing through, squeeze them in as a breath at the end of a normal measure, or read them as an unmeasured pause in the music as it would be to count the rest in strict rhythm before continuing on. This decision is left to performers’ discretion.

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