Poet, Composer. The outstanding figure of the French Ars Nova ("New Art") movement, which helped lay the foundations for the Renaissance. Machaut was born at or near Reims, France, and probably received a clerical education at the Notre-Dame Cathedral there. From 1323 he served as personal secretary to John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, accompanying him throughout Europe on political and military campaigns. Through King John's efforts he received several important ecclesiastical positions, culminating in appointment as canon of Notre-Dame de Reims in 1337. He took up residency there three years later, though he remained in John's service and witnessed the monarch's death at the Battle of Crecy in 1346. After surviving a black plague epidemic in the late 1340s Machaut devoted himself to writing, composing, and collecting his works for noble patrons; by then his reputation as an artist was such that the future King Charles V of France visited him at his home in 1361. He was buried beside his brother Jean (also a canon) in a tomb at Notre-Dame. As a poet Machaut broke with the impersonal tradition of the Medieval French troubadors by introducing material from his personal life into his lyrics. His masterpiece, the long verse narrative "A True Story" (c. 1365), passionately chronicles a platonic May-December romance between the author and a 19 year-old woman, though historians remain undecided whether it is fact-based or pure invention. The theme of courtly love dominates his approximately 400 shorter poems, which are marked by bold experiments in versification and rhythm; these were widely circulated in manuscript copies and their influence was felt by Geoffrey Chaucer in England and the King of Cyprus, among many others. Throughout his life Machaut considered himself chiefly a poet and felt his activities as a composer were of secondary importance; yet he was just as revolutionary in this sphere and it is through his music that he is most approachable today. In both his sacred and secular compositions he advanced from Middle Age plainchant to polyphony and established standards of vocal-instrumental arrangement that endured for decades. Machaut's beautiful "La Messe De Notre-Dame" (c. 1364) is the earliest known polyphonic setting of the Mass Ordinary by one composer and probably the most famous piece of music from the 1300s. He also wrote the unusual "Hoquetus David", a piece for three wordless parts that can be arranged for voices or any combination of instruments, as well as dozens of motets and around 100 secular songs on his own texts. In the scope of his genius Machaut was a true Renaissance man a century before the fact.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards