Important Music Terms and Definitions of  Machaut's Era

  1. Polyphonic
  2. Monophonic
  3. Plainchant/plainsong
  4. Motet
  5. Ars Nova
  6. Trouvère
  7. Chanson


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.

Back to 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.
Back to Guillaume de Machaut


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.
Back to Guillaume de Machaut


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.
Back to Guillaume de Machaut

Ars Nova

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.
Back to Guillaume de Machaut


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.
Back to Guillaume de Machaut


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.
Back to Guillaume de Machaut