Important Music Terms and Definitions of Machaut's Era
The polyphonic style was developed between 1300 and 1500 by master composers
such as Machaut, Dunstable and Dufay. In polyphony, or many-voice
texture, two or more melodic lines are combined, thus distributing melodic
interest among all the parts. Polyphonic texture is based on
counterpoint. This term comes from the Latin punctus contra
punctum, "point against point" or "note against note" -i.e., one musical
line set against another. Counterpoint is the art of combining in a single
texture two or more simultaneous melodic lines, each with a rhythmic life
of its own.
Guillaume de Machaut
Monophonic texture is single-voiced; voice refers to an individual part
or line, in vocal or instrumental music. The melody is heard without either
a harmonic accompaniment or other vocal lines. Attention is focused on
the single line rather than on any accompaniment, although the melody may
be accompanied by a variety of rhythm and percussion instruments that embellish
it. Up to a thousand years ago, the Western music of which we have any
knowledge was monophonic; much of the music of the Far and Middle East
today is still largely monophonic.
Plainchant consists of a single-line melody, monophonic in texture, lacking
harmony and counterpoint, and generally free from regular accent. In melodic
style, plainchant avoids wide leaps and dynamic contrasts. Its gentle rise
and fall constitutes a kind of musical speech. Also known as Gregorian
chant or plainsong.
The motet was the most important form of polyphonic music. The term
"motet" derives from the French word mot, referring to the words
that were added to the vocal lines. These might present two different
Latin texts at the same time, or one voice might sing in Latin, the other
in French. A motet is usually a religious piece in several parts to be
sung by a choir or vocal group, often in the Catholic Church. In
the Anglican church a motet is called an anthem. Composers include J.S. Bach, Brahms and
Machaut. The secular motet come to full flower
in the art of Machaut. He expanded the form of the preceding century
to incorporate the new developments made possible by the Ars Nova,
especially the greater variety and flexibility of rhythm.
Ars Nova, or new art, refers to the musical style that made its
appearance at the beginning of the fourteenth century in France and somewhat
later in Italy. The Ars Nova encompassed developments in rhythm,
meter, harmony, and counterpoint that transformed the art of composing
music, as composers turned increasingly from religious to secular themes.
Mauchaut was the most important Ars Nova composer, dominating both
in sheer volume of work and in the further development of the motet and
polyphonic songs that characterized the movement, replacing the restrictive
plainchant of the preceding Ars Antiqua, or old art, period with
greater freedom of rhythm and a new complexity in multi-part songs.
Poet-musicians from northern France who, along with the troubadours of
southern France, flourished at the various courts of Europe, numbering
among their ranks kings and princes as well as members of the nobility.
They either sang their music and poetry themselves, or entrusted its performance
to other musicians. The poems of the troubadour and trouvère repertory
ranged from simple ballads to love songs, political and moral ditties,
war songs, chronicles of the Crusades, laments, and dance songs. They exalted
the virtues prized by the age of chivalry - valor, honor, nobility of character,
devotion to an ideal, and the quest for perfect love.
French word for song. Most commonly used for French secular songs of the
medieval and Renaissance periods, including monophonic troubadour songs
and also polyphonic works by Machaut, Dufay, Josquin, and many others.