Words and music in communion: an analysis of Guillaume de Machaut’s “Le Lay de la Fonteinne” incultural context
Turcic, Patricia A. (University of Maine)
M.A. Liberal Studies, The University of Maine (December, 2001)
Fourteenth-century France exhibits the effects of an era grappling for an identity through its language, poetry and music. Amidst intellectual rigidity and diurnal despair, this transitional period enfeebled by medieval traditions yet aspired to humanist artistry. Guillaume de Machaut, illustrious poet-composer in the medieval myth, offered a means of embellishing life through a variety of secular songs. In particular, the lay, a twelve-stanza traditional form and predecessor to the “virelai,” “ballade,” and “rondeau,” permitted this versatile artist to musically integrate divergent but equally imposing strains in fourteenth- century French culture. By means of rhythmic and poetic juxtaposition, traditional and innovative compositions expose the struggle between courtly convention and humanist yearnings. “Ars Antigua” and “Ars Nova” intermingle in “Le Lay de la fonteinne.” The result is the inimitable Machauvian art, an expression of secular and sacred devotion. The context and methods by which this sensitive composer sought to merge traditional rhythmic modes, monophonic song and experimental hocket in a three-voice “chace” attest to Machaut’s and medieval music’s potential for speaking two truths: the secular and the sacred in love, united in One … God. Poetic images and notational technique retain independence on a syllabic plane, only to meet in a phrase, to join hands in spiritual reverence . . . the aesthetic sphere. Duple meter combines with triple patterns to assert the near equal standing of imperfect humanity and perfect divinity, “tempus imperfectus” and “perfectus” in harmony. In this thesis, I shall attempt to define and then analyze the multiple elements present in Guillaume de Machaut’s “Le Lay de la fonteinne,” especially those elements that encapusulate the medieval myth of secular divinity. The method explored to elucidate a host of musical, semantic, syntactical and grammatical meanings in the lai is multifaceted and progressive. A cultural overview of the period initiates the evolutionary process of peering into an obscure past. A theoretical discussion of the relationship between music and language prefaces tentative conclusions on the import of the lai at a metaphysical level. Diverse comments on Machaut as a poet-composer along with an interpretive analysis of the verse in “Le Lay de la fonteinne” provide a necessary perspective on the artististic motivations behind the interdisciplinary product. The findings of this inquiry remain pertinent to medieval and contemporary scholars alike. While the conclusions sought can only be deemed non-definitive, the journey to their end undoubtedly permits the inquirer to assimilate the sensual qualities of a time, a place and a composition. A sole recommendation of open-mindedness coupled with an individual and evolving interpretation is in order for the person who seeks to grasp the essence of this thesis, symbolic of one artist and one lai’s influence.