Machaut: Songs from Le Voir Dit
The Orlando Consort
Machaut’s poem Le Voir Dit, written when he was in his sixties, recounts a love affair between himself and a young girl. Machaut included several pieces of music to help illustrate the text – a true multimedia medieval work of art.
This is spare, yet intimate music. Machaut was acknowledged to be one of the greatest poets and composers of his age – and that dual mastery is apparent. The 20-minute Le Lay De Bon Esperance, for example, is set for solo voice. Yet the text and music so perfectly match that the emotion of the poem is communicated even when the listener (such as myself) understands not a word.
The polyphonic songs, such as Se Pour Ce Muir, are textbook examples of ars nova. Macheaut uses isorhythms to develop each line independently. And yet all the voices work together, making the sound an organic whole that is as stark and beautiful as the Gothic architecture that inspired it.
The Orlando Consort is recorded with microphones closely placed. It’s a very clean record with virtually no ambiance. And in this case, that’s a good thing. Unlike Machaut’s religious works, meant to be sung in the resonant spaces of cathedrals, these songs are private messages to the reader of Le Voir Dit. Which is how the Orlando Consort performs them.