Messe de Nostre Dame

Messe de Nostre Dame

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Messe de Nostre Dame is a polyphonic
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

Mass (music)
The Mass, a form of sacred musical composition, is a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy to music...

 composed before 1365 by the French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

 and cleric Guillaume de Machaut
Guillaume de Machaut
Guillaume de Machaut was a Medieval French poet and composer. He is one of the earliest composers on whom significant biographical information is available....

 (circa 1300-1377). One of the great masterpieces of medieval music
Medieval music
Medieval music is Western music written during the Middle Ages. This era begins with the fall of the Roman Empire and ends sometime in the early fifteenth century...

 and of all religious music, it is the earliest complete setting of the Ordinary of the Mass
Ordinary of the Mass
The ordinary, in Roman Catholic and other Western Christian liturgies, refers to the part of the Eucharist or of the canonical hours that is reasonably constant without regard to the date on which the service is performed...

 attributable to a single composer.


The Messe de Nostre Dame consists of 5 movements, the Kyrie
Kyrie, a transliteration of Greek κύριε , vocative case of κύριος , meaning "Lord", is the common name of an important prayer of Christian liturgy, which is also called the Kýrie, eléison ....

, Gloria
Gloria in Excelsis Deo
"Gloria in excelsis Deo" is the title and beginning of a hymn known also as the Greater Doxology and the Angelic Hymn. The name is often abbreviated to Gloria in Excelsis or simply Gloria.It is an example of the psalmi idiotici "Gloria in excelsis Deo" (Latin for "Glory to God in the highest")...

, Credo
A credo |Latin]] for "I Believe") is a statement of belief, commonly used for religious belief, such as the Apostles' Creed. The term especially refers to the use of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in the Mass, either as text, Gregorian chant, or other musical settings of the...

, Sanctus
The Sanctus is a hymn from Christian liturgy, forming part of the Order of Mass. In Western Christianity, the Sanctus is sung as the final words of the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer, the prayer of consecration of the bread and wine...

, and Agnus Dei, followed by the dismissal Ite, missa est. The tenor of the Kyrie is based on Vatican Kyrie IV, the Sanctus and Agnus correspond to Vatican Mass XVII and the Ite is on Sanctus VIII. The Gloria and Credo have no apparent chant basis, although they are stylistically related to one another.

Machaut's Messe de Nostre Dame is for four voices rather than the more common three. Machaut added a contratenor voice that moved in the same low range as the tenor
The tenor is a type of male singing voice and is the highest male voice within the modal register. The typical tenor voice lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, to the A above middle C in choral music, and up to high C in solo work. The low extreme for tenors is roughly B2...

, sometimes replacing it as the lowest voice.


In the liturgy of the Mass, the items of the Ordinary are not performed consecutively, but are separated from one another by prayers
is an anime set in the year 2014 where the young of Japan have rebelled against the government for segregating Shibuya and declared themselves to be independent of Japan...

 and chants. Machaut's unification of these items into an artistic whole is the earliest instance of an Ordinary of the Mass
Order of Mass
The Order of Mass , also called the Ordinary of the Mass, is the set of texts of the Roman Rite Mass that are generally invariable. This contrasts with the proper, which are items of the Mass that change with the feast or following the Liturgical Year...

 setting that is stylistically coherent and was also conceived as a unit. This gesture imposed on the Ordinary a previously unconsidered abstract artistic idea, and potentially influenced composers throughout the ages to continue setting the Ordinary to stylistically coherent music.

Purpose and style

Machaut composed his Messe de Nostre Dame for the Cathedral at Reims where he was a canon, a permanent member of the clergy. According to a rubric found at the Cathedral, it would have likely been performed for the Saturday Lady Mass. Some scholars hypothesize that, contrary to popular belief, Machaut did not actually come to work for the Reims Cathedral until the end of the 1350s, composing the mass as an act of devotion and dedication marking his arrival in the precinct. In conformity with the wills of Guillaume and his brother Jean, also a canon at the Cathedral, the mass was believed to have been transformed into a memorial service for them following their deaths. However, neither the specific nature of its performance (if such a performance exists) nor the service the Mass was prepared for has been conclusively ascertained.

It is possible that Machaut was familiar with the Tournai Mass
Tournai Mass
The Tournai Mass is a polyphonic setting of the mass from 14th-century France. It is preserved in a manuscript from the library of the Tournai Cathedral.-Background:...

, an even earlier polyphonic 14th century mass setting in which each movement is believed to have been written independently by different composers. The Gloria and Credo of the Messe de Nostre Dame exhibit some similarities to the Tournai mass, such as textless musical interludes, simultaneous style, and long melismatic Amens. The other four movements of Machaut's mass are composed in motet style with mass text.


It is often stated that the Messe de Nostre Dame was first recorded by Safford Cape in 1956 for the Deutsche Grammophon
Deutsche Grammophon
Deutsche Grammophon is a German classical record label which was the foundation of the future corporation to be known as PolyGram. It is now part of Universal Music Group since its acquisition and absorption of PolyGram in 1999, and it is also UMG's oldest active label...

 Archive Production Series. However, earlier recordings were made by the Dessoff Choirs under Paul Boepple, in 1951; and a partial recording by Les Paraphonistes de Saint-Jean-des-Matines under Guillaume de Van in 1936. More recent recordings include the following:
  • Guillaume de Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame. (1993), Hilliard Ensemble
    Hilliard Ensemble
    The Hilliard Ensemble is a British male vocal quartet originally devoted to the performance of early music. Founded in 1974, the group is named after the Elizabethan miniaturist painter Nicholas Hilliard....

     directed by Paul Hillier
    Paul Hillier
    Paul Douglas Hillier is a conductor, music director and baritone. He specializes in early music and contemporary art music, especially that by composers Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt. He studied at Magdalen College, Oxford and the Guildhall School of Music, beginning his professional career while a...

    (Hyperion CDA66358)
  • Early Music - Machaut: La Messe De Nostre Dame, Le Voir Dit (1996), Oxford Camerata directed by Jeremy Summerly (Naxos 553833)
  • Guillaume de Machaut - Messe de Notre Dame. (1996), Ensemble Organum directed by Marcel Peres
  • Guillaume de Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame. (2000) Ensemble Gilles Binchois directed by Dominique Vellard (Cantus 9624)


  • Guillaume De Machaut's Messe De Nostre Dame
  • Gilbert Reaney, Machaut (London: Oxford University Press, 1971).
  • Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Machaut's Mass: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • Anne Walters Robertson. Guillaume de Machaut at Reims: Context and Meaning in his Musical Works. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

External links