In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Guillaume de Machaut

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Studies of the Lyrical Poetry
  • Manuscript Studies
  • Digital Images of Machaut Manuscripts, Facsimiles
  • Art Historical Studies
  • Biography
  • Machaut and Chaucer
  • Machaut Reception in Modern Times

Music Guillaume de Machaut
Lawrence Earp
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0030


Guillaume de Machaut (b. c. 1300–d. 1377) was the leading poet and composer of the period from about 1340 to 1375 in France. He may be regarded as the culminating figure in the tradition of the cleric poet-musician, a professional proficient with the most subtle and complex forms of poetry as well as music, whose works served the amusement and edification of the aristocratic court. Machaut cultivated an enormously broad spectrum of genres: narrative poetry, lyrical poetry (some of it set to music), hybrid narratives (incorporating lyrics, music, and even prose letters), long and complex lyric lais (most with music), intricate motets that interlock textual and musical planes, a polyphonic setting of the Mass ordinary, a textless hocket, and numerous polyphonic songs in the fixed forms: ballade, rondeau, and virelai. Some of these genres served to consolidate new directions established earlier in the 14th century; others founded new directions that remained points of departure for more than a hundred years. In addition, many of the manuscript sources, which transmit Machaut’s works exclusively, are masterpieces of the art of late medieval book illumination. Because of the diversity of Machaut’s achievement, readers may come to this article with very different needs in mind. While for the sake of convenience the aspects of poetry, art, and music have been separated, readers are encouraged to range widely, for the different disciplines cumulate their effects in Machaut, and after all, broad reception and accessibility—of course, always within the restricted bounds of an elite courtly culture—was his artistic goal.

General Overviews

Scholarship on Machaut is largely split between specialists in literary matters and specialists in musical matters. The general overviews are subdivided accordingly, although Machaut, as a figure equally adept in both areas, is best served by an interdisciplinary approach. For an overview of recent directions of research and scholarship by specialists of literature and specialists of music, see McGrady and Bain 2012, with chapters contributed by no fewer than eighteen scholars. The Spring 2016 issue of Digital Philology includes six articles that treat both literature and music.

  • Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures 5.1 (Spring 2016).

    Includes articles on both literature and music by six scholars: Jennifer Bain, Maureen Boulton, Rachel Geer, Deborah McGrady, Helen J. Swift, and Anna Zayaruznaya. Available online.

  • McGrady, Deborah, and Jennifer Bain, eds. A Companion to Guillaume de Machaut. Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition 33. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

    A collection of new research by an international team of scholars: Benjamin Albritton, Barbara K. Altmann, Jennifer Bain, Emma Cayley, Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet, Alice V. Clark, Daisy Delogu, Lawrence Earp, Mark Everist, Elizabeth Eva Leach, Deborah McGrady, Anne-Hélène Miller, R. Barton Palmer, Yolanda Plumley, Julie Singer, Zrinka Stahuljak, Helen J. Swift, and Kirsten Yri.

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