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These notes were first published in the programme of Ars Nova's  inaugural concert "Music for a Cathedral" in Melbourne - St. Paul's Cathedral. March 20th (Bach's Birthday) 1975. In this performance, the solo counter-tenor parts were sung by Graham Pushee and Nigel Calloway, and the performance was directed by Bevan Leviston.

Other works on the programme were Williamson Epitaths for Edith Sitwell, Poulenc Litanies a la Vierge Noir, Ives Psalm 90 (first Australian performance), and Bruckner Ecce Sacerdos.

Machaut: Messe de Notre Dame

Guillame de Machaut (c.1300 - 1377) is best known to us today as the composer of "The Machaut Mass". In his own day, however, he was renowned as the great lyric poet of his time and a composer of secular music. In fact, Machaut's religious music makes up only a very small proportion of his total output. Yet, had he written no other work than the  Messe de Notre Dame, this would still be sufficient to establish him as one of the great composers of all time. For this is no dry academic work fit only to be mentioned in history books, but one for which we in the Twentieth Century can feel a particular affinity. Since Stravinsky's Rite of Spring we have again become familiar with the use of rhythm as a structural building block of music, and Machaut's harmonies sound surprisingly modern.

The Notre Dame Mass is the first known setting of the Ordinary of the Mass by one composer. It is set in four parts throughout, and utilizes all the techniques which Machaut had developed in his secular works. In the Medieval spirit, the music does not attempt to follow the subtleties of each phrase and word, but is more concerned with general symbolism. For instance, the Credo (which expounds the three-part nature of God) is musically divided into three parts, each of which is further subdivided into another three parts. In our performance we have therefore not attempted a Nineteenth Century expression of the words but rather an expression of the structure of the music.

The shorter movements (Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Ite Missa Est) use the Medieval technique of isorhythm. The two lower parts (tenor and contratenor) each have their own rhythmic pattern which is repeated throughout a given section. The melody of the tenor part is determined by the appropriate plainchant while the melody of the contratenori is freely composed. All the time the two upper parts (triplum and motettus) engage in independent melodic lines characterised by a virtuoso rhythmic crossfire known as hocketting (literally hiccuping).

The longer movements (Gloria and Credo) dispense with isorhythm and use a type of variation form. These movements are more homophonic and only break into complex rhythms for the Amens.

The Plainchant (Gregorian Chant)

Machaut set only those sections of the mass which occur in all Masses throughout the Church Year ("The Ordinary of the Mass"). However each Mass also consisted of a certain amount of music which is peculiar to the particular Mass on the day that it is performed (called "The Proper of the Mass"). Like any composer before about 1700, Machaut would never have expected to hear his music performed outside the context of this Gregorian Proper.  The practice of performing only the Ordinary as a concert work has led many conductors to create artificial contrasts in the music of older Masses to compensate for the missing natural contrast of plainsong and polyphony produced by a complete performance. We have chosen the plainsong for the Mass of the Annunciation, since this is a so-called "Lady Mass" and the Feast of the Annunciation occurs soon after our performance. We are using the chants that would have been used in Machaut's time. The Sequence "Mittit ad Angelum" was censored by the Council of Trent and is no longer performed today.

Our Performance

In accordance with the style of the times we are performing the work with both voices and instruments. The two upper parts were almost certainly intended for solo male voices, while the lower parts call for one or possibly more voices. We have reasonable information regarding the tempo and added accidentals to be adopted, although many performers choose to ignore it. Our choice of instrumental doubling has been such as to underline the basic musical structure of the Mass.

The plainchant is performed in the more straightforward Medieval style, and in particular the sequence is sung in the rhythmic mode appropriate to the lyrical textform rather than the free rhythm adopted in the Nineteenth Century.

The cover of this programme and the op of our posters reproduce excerpts from the best surviving manuscript of Machaut's Mass. A facsimile of this manuscript has been used as the basic authority in preparing this performance.

Bevan Leviston 1975 - all right reserved

For permission to use these notes in whole or in part, email us at arsnova@whitehat.com.au

   
Messe de Nostre Dame (Lat). By Machaut. Edited by Lucy Cross. For Mixed Voices. This edition: choral score. Published by C.F. Peters. (P67574)
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Messe De Nostre Dame By Machaut. Arranged by Leech & Wilkinson. Vocal Score. Published by Oxford University Press. (3373971)
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