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Guillaume de Machaut, The Boethian Poems: Notes to the Music


1 On both the structural organization and narrative importance of the inserted lyrics, see the “Introduction to the Music,” pp. 73–80.

2 The lack of evidence concerning the composition of lays after Machaut should not be taken as too strong an indication that this genre fell out of fashion — a number of fragments containing lays, as well as descriptions of some lost generic collections indicate that this form of entertainment was appreciated well into the fifteenth century. See the forthcoming Volume 10: The Lays of this edition.

3 The foliation of MS B is contested. For details, see Earp, “Scribal Practice,” pp. 113–18.

4 See Heger, “La Ballade et Le Chant Royal.”

5 See Plumley and Sleiderink, “Esperance’s Ring.”

6 See Earp, “Genre in the Fourteenth-Century French Chanson.” Like the other formes fixes the original link of the virelai with dance seems to have disappeared rather quickly, at least in the notation and collection of musical compositions if not in everyday use.

7 See Smilansky, “Text, Meter, Mensuration Choice and Un-Notated Upbeats,” available online at

8 See Smilansky, “Creating MS C.” The appearance of all the rondeaux only in the second layer of the earliest manuscript, MS C, is explained as resulting from difficulties in the book-production process rather than reflecting their time of composition. The contrary view was expressed (among others) by Rebecca Baltzer, who edited the Remede music in Le Judgment du Roy de Behaigne and Remede de Fortune, eds. Wimsatt and Kibler, p. 445.

9 For a more detailed discussion, see Bullock, “Musical Readings.”


Abbreviations: A: Paris, BnF, fr. 1584 [base text]; B: Paris, BnF, fr. 1585; C: Paris, BnF, fr. 1586; D: Paris, BnF, fr. 1587; E: Paris, BnF, fr. 9221; F: Paris, BnF, fr. 22545; FP: Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Panciatiachiano 26; G: Paris, BnF, fr. 22546; H: Oeuvres de Guillaume de Machaut, ed. Hœpffner; I: Paris, BnF, n.a.f. 6221; J: Paris, Arsenal 5203; Jp: Le Jardin de Plaisance et Fleur de Rethoricque (Paris: Ant. Gérard, [1501]); K: Berne, Burger-bibliothek 218; Ka: Kassel, Universitätsbibliothek, 4° Ms. Med. 1; M: Paris, BnF, fr. 843; Mn: Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, 10264; P: Paris, BnF, fr. 2166; Pa: Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Fr. 15; Pe: Cambridge, Magdalene College, Pepysian Library, 1594; Pit: Paris, BnF, it. 568; Pm: New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, M. 396; PR: Paris, BnF, n.a.f. 6771; R: Paris, BnF, fr. 2230; Trém: Trémoïlle, Paris, BnF, n.a.f. 23190 [lost]; Vg: Ferrell-Vogue, private ownership of James E. and Elizabeth J. Ferrell; W: Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, 5010 C.

As detailed in the front matter, the following comments do not contain variants lists, but discuss the problems presented by the readings in MS A and the way they were solved in the editions supplied. Additionally, a concordance list, technical and structural data, and general remarks head each discussion. In the “text structure” sections, letters indicate single rhyme endings. Numbers indicate the syllable count of the line in question. Apostrophes indicate an unstressed appendage syllable not included in the syllable count. Further explanations of terminology and signification technique can be found in the “Music Glossary,” pp. 571–73.


This Lay follows Machaut’s preferred 12-strophe structure for this genre, including the duplication of text structure, rhymes, and (transposed) music of the first strophe in the last. It is a relatively long and structurally complex representative of its kind, which chimes with its positioning as the first, most difficult, and virtuosic lyrical insertion into the Remede’s narrative.1 Its range also emphasizes difficulty — the music stretches over a full two octaves. Complexity, though, does not imply modernity. Both in its notational style and in its association with the Complainte and Chanson Roial, Machaut classifies this song as part of an old and established tradition.2 Indeed, it is not clear whether the archaic use of long rhythmic values in this song is an indication of it being an early work (a number of other early lays are notated in this way), or whether the choice of notational style is symbolic, and should be seen as a characterization tool separating the old tradition from the newly popular formes fixes which are presented later on in the dit.

Music manuscripts:

C 26r–28r
Vg 92v–95r
B 92v–95r (new 109v–12r) 3
A 52r–54r
F 42r–43v
E 23r–24v
Pe 4r–6r
Text only manuscripts:

M 52v–54r
K 45r–45v fragment
J 49v–50r fragment
Pm 50r–51v
Mn 6r–8r

Text structure

1 a b b c c a a a b b c c c a | | a b b c c a a a b b c c c a | |    
  7 3 4 4 7 4 3 4 4 7 4 3 4 4   7 3 4 4 7 4 3 4 4 7 4 3 4 4      
2 d d d d e | d d d d e | | d d d d e | d d d d e | |                
  8 4 4 8 8’   8 4 4 8 8’   8 4 4 8 8’   8 4 4 8 8’                  
3 f f f g | f f f g | | f f f g | f f f g | |                        
  5’ 5’ 7’ 5   5’ 5’ 7 5   5’ 5’ 7’ 5   5’ 5’ 7’ 5                          
4 h h h h i | h h h h i | | h h h h i | h h h h i | |                
  4 5 3 3 5   4 5 3 3 5   4 5 3 3 5   4 5 3 3 4                  
5 j j j k | j j j k | | j j j k | j j j k | |                        
  7 7 7 4   7 7 7 4   7 7 7 4   7 7 7 4                          
6 l l l l l l m | l l l l l l m | | l l l l l l m | l l l l l l m | |
  8’ 4’ 8’ 4’ 8’ 4’ 8   8’ 4’ 8’ 4’ 8’ 4’ 8   8’ 4’ 8’ 4’ 8’ 4’ 8   8’ 4’ 8’ 4’ 8’ 4’ 8  
7 n n n o o | n n n o o | | n n n o o | n n n o o | |                
  3’ 3’ 7’ 3 4   3’ 3’ 7’ 3 4   3’ 3’ 7’ 3 4   3’ 3’ 7’ 3 4                  
8 p p q p | p p q p | | p p q p | p p q p | |                        
  5’ 5’ 5 5’   5’ 5’ 5 5’   5’ 5’ 5 5’   5’ 5’ 5 5’                          
9 r r r r s | r r r r s | | r r r r s | r r r r s | |                
  5 5 5 7 5’   5 5 5 7 5’   5 5 5 7 5’   5 5 5 7 5’                  
10 t t t t t u | t t t t t u | | t t t t t u | t t t t t u | |        
  4 4 4 4 8 6’   4 4 4 4 8 6’   4 4 4 4 8 6’   4 4 4 4 8 6’          
11 v v w | v v v w | | v v w | v v v w | |                            
  8’ 8’ 8   8’ 8’ 8’ 8   8’ 8’ 8   8’ 8’ 8’ 8                              
12 a b b c c a a a b b c c c a | | a b b c c a a a b b c c c a | |    
  7 3 4 4 7 4 3 4 4 7 4 3 4 4   7 3 4 4 7 4 3 4 4 7 4 3 4 4      


Tels rit au main is the only complainte Machaut set to music. It also stands out for its extreme length, containing 576 lines arranged into 36 strophes, more than double the length of the next longest complaint (which itself stands out as disproportionately long in comparison with the other 14). Musically, this is a relatively straightforward work. The music not only repeats for each strophe, but has the structure a a b b (identical to that of the Baladelle) within each one. Furthermore, it sports a simple and regular sentence structure (in many cases marked out by rests), a clear and stable modal framework, and a unified rhythmic language. It is, therefore, more reminiscent of some epic text delivery techniques where the music is clearly subservient to the text declamation, or to some troubadour, Minnesanger, and trouvère habits where songs often contain a high number of strophes. Like the Lay, it is also written in old fashioned, long rhythmic values. Everything about it seems to indicate that attention should be directed towards its extraordinary text.

The strophic structure necessitates a stable pattern for the text. Most strophes use a new pair of rhyme-sounds, but this is not universal. Strophes 15 and 16, for example, use the same pair of rhymes. Surprisingly, some pairs contain masculine as well as feminine endings. In terms of the musical setting this is problematic, as the feminine endings, which do not affect the official syllable count, nonetheless require an extra note for their underlay, just like any other syllable. Masculine and feminine lines of the same poetic length require, therefore, a different number of notes to accommodate the text, or at the very least, an adjustment in the underlay pattern. While it is not difficult to make such adjustments in the musical setting, the lack of specification as to the way this should be done results in many potential solutions. A similar case can be found in Lay 1 (Loyaulté, que point ne delay), which, unusually, is also structured as a succession of strophes of equal structure and repeating music. Here, textual stresses change between each half-strophe even though the syllable count remains the same. All masculine rhymes in the first half appear as feminine in the second and vice versa. MS E is unique in offering two versions of the music, one for each half-strophe (see the forthcoming Volume 10: The Lays). All the other sources supply music only for the first half-strophe, leaving the many adjustments needed in the second half-strophe entirely to the performer.



Music manuscripts:

C 30r–35r
Vg 96v–100v
B 96v–100v (new 113v–117v)
A 55v–59v
F 45r–48r
E 25r–26v
Pe 8r–12v
Text only manuscripts:

M 55v–59r
K 49v–51r fragment
J 52v–56v
Pm 53r–56v

Text structure

1, 2, 4, 9, 12, 17, 28, 36 x x x y | x x x y | | y y y x | y y y x | |
  8’ 8’ 8’ 4’   8’ 8’ 8’ 4’   8’ 8’ 8’ 4’   8’ 8’ 8’ 4’  
3, 5, 10, 11, 13, 19, 20, 24, 30 x x x y | x x x y | | y y y x | y y y x | |
  8 8 8 4’   8 8 8 4’   8 8 8 4’   8 8 8 4’  
6–8, 15, 16, 25–27, 31, 32, 34, 35 x x x y | x x x y | | y y y x | y y y x | |
  8’ 8’ 8’ 4   8’ 8’ 8’ 4   8’ 8’ 8’ 4   8’ 8’ 8’ 4  
14, 18, 21–23, 29, 33 x x x y | x x x y | | y y y x | y y y x | |
  8 8 8 4   8 8 8 4   8 8 8 4   8 8 8 4  


While seven other Chants Royaux appear in Machaut’s output without musical settings, their structure is not stable. This, together with the specific choice here of a five-strophe structure makes the Chanson Roial a ‘one off’ within Machaut’s textual as well as musical output. The five-strophe structure without refrain (but reproducing the same rhyme sounds) appended by a three-line envoy, as well as the use of the term Chanson Roial, stands as a bridge between the trouvère tradition and its subsequent revival in popularity in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.4 This song, therefore, occupies a disproportionately central place in the history of French poetry when seen in light of Machaut’s minor preoccupation with the genre. Musically, each strophe is set in a ballade-like a a b structure. The music, though, while still offering a strong, repeating rhythmic identity (mostly in the use of long-short, long-short patterns), is more complex and surprising than that of the Complainte. Like the first two Remede insertions, Machaut also uses the archaic note-values for the notation of the Chanson Roial.



Music manuscripts:

C 39r–39v
Vg 103v–104r
B 103v–104r (new 120v–121r)
A 63v–64r
F 50r–50v
E 28v
Pe 17r
Text only manuscripts:

M 62r–62v
K 54r (1st strophe incomplete)
J 60r (1st strophe incomplete)
Pm 59v
Pa 49r


Text structure


1–5 a b | a b | | b c c d d | |
  10’ 10   10’ 10   7 7’ 7’ 7 5  
Envoy c d d                  
  7’ 7 5                  



The Baladelle marks a changing point in the lyrical and musical insertions of the Remede: it is the first of the newly-popularized formes fixes or refrain songs (rhyme of the refrain line marked in capital below); it is the first song to be notated in the typically Ars nova style using short rhythmic values, and it is also the first of the polyphonic insertions into the dit, moving directly to the four-voiced extreme of the period. Musically, this double-ballade takes the form a a b b, and demonstrates all the characteristics of the new style, including extended melismas, frequent articulation using short rests, syncopations, directional harmonic progressions (including various strengths of cadences), and modal shifts between the form parts. The ascription of this work to Lady Hope in the story makes the unusual interpolation of a work of this kind more authoritative: the narrator Guillaume, if not the author Machaut, can pretend the break from tradition is not of his doing — he only ‘reports’ it.

As the list below demonstrates, this work was relatively widely distributed outside of the dedicated Machaut-manuscript tradition, and independently of the Remede. Additionally, it seems that after Machaut’s death, it circulated in two different versions — the original four-part setting, and in a reduced, three-part orchestration without the triplum. The degree of dissemination and the popularity of this work are also demonstrated by the survival of its refrain etched onto a bronze ring found in Dordrecht, the Netherlands.5 Both the location of the find and the material used for the ring indicate a bourgeois and mercantile context rather than the high aristocratic origin that we might expect from what we know about the patronage and collection of Machaut’s work in general.



Music manuscripts:

C 46r–46v                                                           4vv
Vg 109v–110v                                                     4vv
B 109v–110v (new 126v–127v)                       4vv
A 68v–69v                                                          4vv
F 54v–55v                                                           4vv
E 31r–31v                                                            4vv
K 59v                                                                    3vv
Pe 23v–24v                                                        4vv
Ka fragment
Trém lost
FP 97r                                                                  3vv
PR 63r                                                                 4vv
Pit 122r                                                                3vv
Text only manuscripts:

M 68r
J 66r–66v (empty staves left for music)
Pm 64v–65r


Text structure

1–3 a a b | a a b | | b b a | b b A | |
  7’ 3’ 7   7’ 3’ 7   7 3 7’   7 3 7’  


The Balade is the narrator’s reply to Hope’s Baladelle and is, therefore, presented as Guillaume’s first foray into polyphonic, Ars nova song composition. The strophe structure of this song is only slightly simplified from that of the previous lyric (both works can be seen as representative of the same genre-type of three-strophed songs with a repeating refrain at the end of each one), resulting in a shorter a a b musical form for each strophe. As the concordance list demonstrates, the earliest source for the Remede, MS C, has this musical reply as a two-part work. Machaut seemed originally to have designed a fittingly humble reply by Guillaume the student to Hope the master. All later versions of the Remede, as well as copies of this song independent of its narrative context, preserve it as a four-part composition. Perhaps feeling that the implied diminishing even of his fictional self’s capabilities sends the wrong message, the expansion of the Balade puts it on a par with Hope’s supposed creation, suggesting that Guillaume is a very fast learner indeed, or even a master in his own right. It is clear that this history of composition was conducive to allowing the two new voices to refer clearly to the materials of the old pair. As befitting a master at work, Machaut resisted the temptation to compose passive, reactive voices that simply ‘fit in’ with the existing ones. In many cases the rhythmic and melodic ideas of the main cantus-tenor pair are pre-empted by the new triplum or contratenor. The list below shows that this song too circulated independently of the Remede, but interestingly, when comparing its distribution to that of the Baladelle, it becomes apparent that the Balade survives in more purely textual sources and in fewer musical versions.


Music manuscripts:

C 47v–48r                                                           2vv
Vg 111v–112r                                                      4vv
B 111v–112r (new 128v–129r)                        4vv
A 70v–71r                                                           4vv
F 54v                                                                    4vv
E 32r                                                                    4vv
K 60v                                                                   4vv
Pe 25v                                                                 4vv
Trém lost
PR 68v                                                               4vv
Text only manuscripts:

M 68r
J 66r–66v (empty staves left for music)
Pm 64v–65r
I 20r
Jp 68r–68v


Text structure

1–3 a b | a b | | c c d D
  10 10   10 10   7 10 10’ 10’


The generic terms applied to this song as well as its narrative framing expressly designate the Chanson baladee as a dance song. This was arguably the impetus behind many of Machaut’s early compositions in this genre.6 This work returns to the realms of monophony, but its notational style, form, constant movement, and various combinations of ‘long-short’ and ‘short-long’ rhythms differentiate it from the earlier monophonic songs. It is undoubtedly affiliated with the new rather than the old style. The musical-poetic structure is A ||: b b a A :||. Consequently, while the song begins and ends with a refrain of the entire A section, this should not be repeated as part of the beginning and end of each strophe (which would result in the refrain being sung twice consecutively).

The version incorporated into the Remede text presents a deviation from the standard modern barring of this song as it appears in all other editions of this work. As only semibreves and minimae were used to notate it, there is no technical way to decipher the intended tempus level of the mensuration (if, indeed, there was one). I have, therefore, avoided the necessarily interpretative choice of tempus here, and chose to present it in the modern 3/8 time signature. It is entirely possible to arrange the song — or suggest in performance — either an imperfect (6/8, as do the other editions) or perfect (9/8) tempus. Furthermore, a close look at word-stressing, cadential figures and modal organization suggests that for use in performance it may be most conducive to use the imperfect tempus, but rearrange the song to begin with a half-measure upbeat. When reading the medieval, measureless manuscript the tools enumerated above become the main staples of rhythmic organization, making this a small step to take. While this kind of adjustment is sometimes specifically indicated in the sources (by beginning all voices of a work with a rest), there are other cases in Machaut’s oeuvre where, like the adjustments to the underlay discussed for the Complainte above, upbeats are not spelled out but are left to the reader to surmise from the immediate context. This issue is discussed further (where alternative editions and sound-recordings are also presented) on the project website.7 It is particularly important in relation to the dance element of this work, as each different grouping may suggest different step possibilities and dance character.


Music manuscripts:

C 51r–51v
Vg 114v–115r
B 114v–115r (new 131v–132r)
A 74r1–74v
F 59r
E 33v
Pe 29r–29v
Text only manuscripts:

M 71v–72r
J 71r (only 2nd and 3rd strophes)
Pm 68v
Pa 49r–49v

The page in MS K containing this work is missing.

Text structure

1–3 A A B B A A B | | b b a | b b a | a a b b a a b | | ... A A B B A A | B
  7 7 4 7 4 7 4   7 7 4   7 7 4   7 7 4 7 4 7 4     7 7 4 7 4 7   4


The last musical insertion into the Remede presents the simplest and shortest lyrical text form. As each musical formal section sets a single line of text (see Text Structure below), it is only natural that the setting is more melismatic and less declamatory. Recent structural analysis of Machaut’s rondeaux-exemplars suggests this does not necessarily have to be his first attempt at setting this lyrical form to music.8 Interestingly, MS Pe exchanges Dame, mon cuer en vous remaint with the four-part Tant doucement me sens emprisonnes (R9) in its text of the Remede. While we have no evidence of the former song circulating outside the main Machaut manuscripts, the latter composition is to be found also (in a reduced two-part version) in MS Pm, and was once part of the now lost MS Trém. Its text survives also in MS Pa. While this is not a particularly wide circle of distribution for Tant doucement, it seems to have been more easily attainable than the original Rondelet. This, again, suggests problems with the musical section of the Remede exemplars. Considering also the inclusion of music only for the Balade and Baladelle in MS K, the different version of the Balade in MS C, and the degree of variation between all surviving versions of the different songs, it seems likely that the music exemplars consisted of a bundle of physically separate sheets, which could easily be exchanged, replaced, or be lost.9

The Rondelet has a very strong ‘short-long-short-long’ rhythmic pattern for the division of the brevis. It seems to be so obvious and pervasive that the reader would have followed it also in the cases where a stricter adherence to the notational rules would result in some locations being interpreted differently (resulting in the odd opposite ‘long-short-long-short’ rhythmical structure). This is often made clear by the groupings of notes or by line breaks, and by some notationally necessary dots that appear in potentially difficult places. At other times this was apparently left only to habit and choice. In any event, the intention is nearly always clear. The issue arises in triplum measures 8, 10, 16, 18, 25, 31, 34, 38, in cantus measures 2, 5, 9, 14, 17, 21, 29, 35, 39, and in tenor measures 4, 8, 11, 14, 16 and 22.


Music manuscripts:

C 57r 3vv
Vg 119v 3vv
B 119v (new 136v) 3vv
A 78v 3vv
F 62v 3vv
E 35v 3vv
Text only manuscripts:

M 76r
J 75r
Pm 72r


Text structure

  A B a A a b A B
  8 8’ 8 8 8 8’ 8 8’


Go to Music Glossary

Additional Information:

For individual Notes to the Music keyed to specific measures, see the music scores in the Remede de Fortune.