1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Machaut, Guillaume de

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MACHAUT, GUILLAUME DE (c. 1300–1377), French poet and musician, was born in the village of Machault near Réthel in Champagne. Machaut tells us that he served for thirty years the adventurous John of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia. He followed his master to Russia and Poland, and, though of peaceful tastes himself, saw twenty battles and a hundred tourneys. When John was killed at Crécy in 1346 Machaut was received at the court of Normandy, and on the accession of John the Good to the throne of France (1350) he received an office which enabled him to devote himself thenceforth to music and poetry. Machaut wrote about 1348 in honour of Charles III., king of Navarre, a long poem much admired by contemporaries, Le Jugement du roi de Navarre. When Charles was thrown into prison by his father-in-law, King John, Machaut addressed him a Confort d’ami to console him for his enforced separation from his young wife, then aged fifteen. This was followed about 1370 by a poem of 9000 lines entitled La Prise d’Alexandrie, one of the last chronicles cast in this form. Its hero was Pierre de Lusignan, king of Cyprus. Machaut is best known for the strange book telling of the love affair of his old age with a young and noble lady long supposed to be Agnes of Navarre, sister of Charles the Bad; Paulin Paris in his edition of the Voir dit (Historie vraie) identified her as Perronne d’Armentières, a noble lady of Champagne. In 1362, when Machaut must have been at least sixty-two years of age, he received a rondeau from Perronne, who was then eighteen, expressing her devotion. She no doubt wished to play Laura to his Petrarch, and the Voir dit contains the correspondence and the poems which they exchanged. The romance, which ended with Perronne’s marriage and Machaut’s desire to remain her doux ami, has gleams of poetry, especially in Perronne’s verses, but its subject and its length are both deterrent to modern readers. But Machaut with Deschamps marks a distinct transition. The trouvères had been impersonal. It is difficult to gather any details of their personal history from their work. Machaut and Deschamps wrote of their own affairs, and the next step in development was to be the self-analysis of Villon. Machaut was also a musician. He composed a number of motets, songs and ballads, also a mass supposed to have been sung at the coronation of Charles V. This was translated into modern notation by Perne, who read a notice on it before the Institute of France in 1817.

Machaut’s Oeuvres choisies were edited by P. Tarbé (Rheims and Paris, 1849); La Prise d’Alexandrie, by L. de Mas-Latrie (Geneva, 1877); and Le Livre du voir-dit, by Paulin Paris (1875). See also F. G. Fétis, Biog. universelle des musiciens . . . (Paris, 1862), and a notice on the Instruments de musique au xiv e siècle d’après Guillaume de Machaut, by E. Travers (Paris, 1882).