Guillaume de Machaut’s Mass, Messe de Notre Dame (Kyrie), was written during the late Medieval Period. In 1337, Machaut became a Canon at Reims. It is believed that the The Mass was composed for this cathedral. The piece is a four-voice polyphonic Mass of the Ordinary.
Machaunt’s Mass mainly embodies the typical formal structure of the plainsong Mass common to the period. The Kyrie has three sections, each performed three times. This three-part division was symbolic of the three parts of the Holy Trinity to the people of the medieval period. There are lines of melody added to the cantus firmus. It has usual movements with the four voices consisting of triplum, motetus, tenor, and contratenor. In many of the sections, the two higher voices are paired together as are the two lower voices. Other times all of the voices are equal.
While the piece is a classic that has, survived decades of musical changes in the church, with only an initial listening of the piece aesthetically it comes across as tonally dull and flat which is a weakness for the piece. Many individuals might pass judgment without a second listening.
There is a soothing beautiful simple flow to the piece, flowing evenly and rhythmically. As a lyrical chant, the flow of the piece would allow for instruments to replace voices if desired. This would be an aesthetic strength giving the piece versatility. If time is taken to listen to the piece repeatedly, it becomes clearer that the tone is not dull but soothing and nourishing to the soul. The piece was written not for the common individuals of the time but the musically elite. It is a complex piece with great depth.
Kamien, R. (2011). Music: An appreciation (7th Brief Ediition) [CD]. New York, NY: Sony Music Entertainment Inc. Wold, M., Martin, G., Miller, J., & Cykler, E. (1996). Music and art in the western world (10th ed.). Madison, WI: Brown and Benchmark.
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